Social – Grand sendoff for Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka

2013-08-11 14:00

Former deputy president gets a flashy farewell before jetting off to New York for UN post.

Old political friends – and a few from the current administration – joked and jived until well after midnight to see Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka off to New York for a four-year stint with the United Nations.

Mlambo-Ngcuka has been appointed as the executive director of UN Women.

Former president Thabo Mbeki, looking somewhat nostalgic while delivering his tribute to Mlambo-Ngcuka at the dinner, said it was her lack of “selfish personal ambition” that made him appoint her as his deputy in 2005.

She replaced Jacob Zuma, who was fired after he was implicated in corruption.

Zuma was not invited to Friday night’s dinner at the grand Sandton Sun, where Mlambo-Ngcuka’s husband, former prosecutions head Bulelani Ngcuka, was in attendance.

Mbeki joked that he considered his wife, Zanele, for the position, “but then I would have been accused of nepotism”.

The huge dinner, with seared salmon starters and juicy lamb ribs for mains, doubled as a private Women’s Day celebration.

Bottles of JC le Roux Scintilla, Rupert & Rothschild Classique and Plaisir de Merle fuelled warm conversations between old political friends.

The long line-up of speakers included Minister of Women, Children and People with Disabilities Lulu Xingwana; South Africa’s ambassador to Italy, Thenjiwe Mthintso; and UN high commissioner for human rights Navi Pillay, who admitted she had a hand in landing Mlambo-Ngcuka the prestigious position.

Pillay said she was called on to give her opinion. “Just as well I knew only the good stories,” she quipped.

“Phumzile represents the best of Africa, also in terms of humility and human rights,” she said.

The South African government didn’t lobby for Mlambo-Ngcuka to get the position, as would often happen, said a source with information about the process.

Mlambo-Ngcuka fell out of favour when she briefly joined ANC splinter group Cope after Mbeki was fired in 2008.

The highlight of the evening was the two arias delivered by a gorgeous Pretty Yende, who was so spellbinding that National Assembly speaker Max Sisulu shouted, “Bravo! Bravo!” when she hit the high notes.

Also at the dinner were Geraldine Fraser-Moleketi, who will soon start at the African Development Bank after a stint at the UN, Minister of Home Affairs Naledi Pandor and Minister of Police Nathi Mthethwa.

The evening was bankrolled by Gloria Serobe’s Wiphold, a women’s investment company, and Nozala Investments

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