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Zanele Mbeki: Africa's Peace Envoy

Written by Rosemary Okello
It is hard to point her out in a crowd as she fits snuggly amongst the common people. It's only when you are told of her high position in society that you get a jolt, for she is none other than South Africa's First Lady.
As she walked around one would most probably dismiss her for being just a common woman. There were no burly men around her and this was made evident by the security detail that was conspicuously absent. Sitting in the midst of Sudanese women, one would most probably have dismissed Zanele Mbeki as just any other ordinary woman.

Yet the First Lady of South Africa, admired across the continent for being a level headed individual, with deep convictions, sat dignifiedly as she listened to the Sudanese women discuss what the future holds for them in the reconstruction of their country.

Impressed by her unassuming character, one Sudanese woman was overheard saying:

"I cannot believe I am eating on the same table with the First Lady of South Africa. This is really a lesson for us especially women from the south who see the women from the north as very learned."

But that was the real Zanele for her. To erase any doubts about her character when being introduced by an ordinary woman from South Sudan who sat next to her, she said:

"I am a housewife, I have no children and I am a citizen of South Africa."

Emboldened by her statement and her presence, the Sudanese women knew that here was someone who would support them as they began the long road to reconstruction and empowerment of women in Sudan.

By presenting herself like any other ordinary person, Zanele broke all the barriers of protocol to bring home the peace message. She even took time to walk along the streets of Oslo in Sweden with the Sudanese women and it would only have taken one with sharp eyes to notice the security following her a distance away.

The small petite First Lady who never grants interviews to the media was still able to share her experience, in an open forum, about her experience during the apartheid and how the South Africans eventually got independence and began the road to reconstruction. In her never endless strength to help, the South African First Lady is now campaigning for a united women movement in Sudan that surpasses class, colour and education.

"Unlike South Africans, the women of Sudan have the opportunity to make many things right but this will only happen if you work together," she said.

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