As I sat penning my reflections of the success of our Women's Month programmes in the Province, devastating news arrived of Dr Thandi Ndlovu's tragic death in a car accident in North West on Saturday.
As the tears welled in my eyes, those reflections had to turn into this tribute of an exceptional South African whose entire life was about shattering stereotypes.
To say that Dr Ndlovu was a legend in her own time is an understatement of an extraordinary woman who had such a powerful hand in both our struggle for freedom and the consolidation of our democracy.
In the built environment sector, she is known best for her brainchild Motheo Construction which she founded in 1997.
As an African woman in business, she was an exemplar for all those who were to follow. She learned construction from the ground up literally from the simple task of brick making.
Her life and her work was characterised by honesty, integrity and sheer hard work. As a grade 9 firm in the construction industry grading system, Motheo had worked itself up to the top end of the premier league in the construction industry. Her company, I am reliably informed built over 80000 homes across the country while being contracted to government for projects.
It was not an unusual sight to see this elegant, soft-spoken yet commanding woman in a hard hat and overalls on a construction site. She was always on the ground, personally directing that her work was of the highest quality. That trait earned her numerous awards as a top businesswoman and a leading light in every sector in which she became involved. In the days ahead her colleagues in the Black Business Council and elsewhere will no doubt convey sterling tributes of her gravitas in the corporate world.
My tribute is to the lesser known aspect of her phenomenal life as a woman comrade in the fight for our liberation from racial oppression and patriarchy.
Dr Ndlovu was born in Soweto and went to Orlando High School which has secured its historic place in the annals of South African freedom. Her contemporaries attest to her powerful academic record and active involvement in the community. Among the student organisations she participated in was the Student's Christian Movement, of which she was a founding member.
When the student rebellion of 1976 erupted in Soweto and soon spread to the entire country from Langa to Mdantsane to Durban she was at the University of Fort Hare reading for a BSc degree.
With the spirit of activism running in her veins, she also served as the administrative secretary of Student's Representative Council (SRC) at Fort Hare. Like many of her peers, she was forced to abandon her studies in the wake of the repression of the apartheid state that followed. Like thousands of her generation, she made the journey into exile to continue the fight from outside. Thus, she joined what was to become known as the June 16th detachment of Umkhonto we Sizwe taking its place among other noble formations like the Luthuli detachment of a generation earlier.
She underwent training in the ranks of Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK) and was part of the contingent of cadres who were posted to Novo Catengue in southern Angola. Within MK she served as a Senior Political Commissar with responsibilities for running a literacy and education programme for new recruits. She also served as a Commander of MK. Even though she was not yet medically trained at that stage, she was appointed a medical officer under the guidance of the Chief Medical Officer responsible for the health of MK cadres.
She was eventually to obtain her medical degree in Zambia. When she returned home after the unbanning of the African National Congress she set up a medical practice in the informal settlement of Orange Farm in Johannesburg and literally made medical rooms out of a shack. Working with local health committees she became convinced of the public health model which dictated that social conditions like housing had a direct impact on the quality of people's health.
Her journey as a successful entrepreneur growing a major company and thousands of people began at that point. As members of the ANC Women's League and women working in different facets of the built environment from government to industry we honour Dr Thandi Ndlovu's great contribution to uniting our people and building our country. She leaves a formidable legacy for us to build on.
May her soul rest in peace and rise in glory.
* Neliswa Peggy Nkonyeni MPL serves as the MEC for Human Settlements and Public Works in KwaZulu-Natal.