A man among princes

2012-08-13 00:00

IN some countries, Nqe Dlamini would be a prince. That’s because it’s something of a tradition that national presidents of the Red Cross are often princes. Like Prince Charles in Britain and Prince Albert in Monaco, both presidents of their respective national Red Cross societies. Dlamini’s met them both, thanks to being national president of the South African Red Cross. A position he’s rather bashful about. “I feel more comfortable at grass roots,” he smiles. “My colleagues here, they know me and my community work background, but abroad they take me very seriously.”

Dlamini was born in the Highflats area in 1967. “My rural village is KwaThathane-KwaBhidla, about 11 kilometres southeast of the town of Highflats. I love this community and I am still involved in its development.”

Dlamini’s father was a farmer and ran a small business, while his mother was a nurse. Dlamini attended primary and high schools in the Highflats area — one of which required a 40-kilometre commute, there and back. In 1987, he went to the University of Westville to do a BA with the intention of later teaching. “I wasn’t sure about teaching, but I also did a post-graduate qualification in teaching in preparation for a teaching career which, embarrassingly, didn’t last for a year.”

Instead, Dlamini went back to university, to the Pietermaritzburg campus of the then University of Natal — “and I have stayed in Pietermaritzburg ever since”. In 1993, he responded to an advertisement for a community development intern at the Institute of Natural Resources (INS). “I thought if I’m not sure about teaching, I better do something I love.”

A love for community development runs in the Dlamini family. “My mother and father were into development and I’m told my grandmother built the first primary school in Highflats,” says Dlamini. “Growing up, I belonged to a youth club, which kept me away from politics — in those days it was suicidal — and it also kept me away from drugs and bad company. I was young and energetic, and wanted to do something for the good of society.

“Together with other youth, we established a youth organisation in 1986. We would do mainly sporting events. In 1989, this grew to become a development committee where I served as a secretary. A number of projects were implemented through this committee. The same committee secured Australian aid through the Mvula Trust for a water project that commenced construction around 1996. And the water is still running.”

Dlamini was duly brought on board the INS where he came under the wing of Professor Robert Fincham. “He played a big role in my life,” says Dlamini. “He picked up that I was in a bit of a dilemma — changing careers — and he told me to be slow in taking on new courses. When you are young, you do things without thinking long term. Rob said I shouldn’t be one of those who later moan that they did the wrong course.”

Dlamini has been involved with community development work ever since and now runs his own rural development consultancy. He is also on the board of the Lima Rural Development Foundation and, together with Anton Krone, created the highly successful SaveAct savings and credit model. “Microfinance is very close to my heart,” says Dlamini. “It’s the one project where I can point to an ongoing impact. It has made tangible changes in people’s lives.”

But much of Dlamini’s time is taken up with his unpaid and voluntary work with the Red Cross. Initially, he wasn’t a volunteer. Back in 1994, he was employed by the Red Cross during the pre-election violence. “When the violence was at its height in KwaZulu-Natal, the Red Cross advertised for a field relief officer to go into violent areas and provide support. I was assigned to the South Coast. The violence was bad. It was the time of the Shobashobane massacre. I was told that prior to me six people had resigned from the same job within a week.”

Dlamini was in charge of co-ordinating and deploying first aiders and counsellors, as well as making sure food parcels, tents and blankets got to the right people. “We had to find the victims of violence, women and children and the wounded. We had to set up rescue missions and decide who would survive long enough to get to hospital. Sometimes we just had to support families to make sure they survived to the next day.

“Victims were shot in front of me. I remember giving a woman a food parcel and, as I turned away, hearing a shot. By the time I turned back, she was down. You couldn’t see anybody, but you knew they were watching you. But I survived.

Dlamini says the experience deepened his spirituality and made him more aware of the necessity of helping victims of violence and those unable to help themselves. “I did the job for three or four years. When the violence subsided, I no longer had a job.”

He continued to work for the Red Cross on a voluntary basis. “There are three pillars of the Red Cross,” he explains. “First there are the individual National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, then there is the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), based in Geneva, and, thirdly, the International Committee of the Red Cross, which is also based in Geneva — that’s the one that turns out for disasters.”

In 2004, Dlamini became chairperson of the Pietermaritzburg branch of the South African Red Cross Society (Sarcs) and subsequently provincial chairperson. In 2011, he was elected Sarcs president.

The profile of the Red Cross is changing. “People know the Red Cross in times of crisis, but people should also know the Red Cross in times of peace.” To that end, the Red Cross has become increasingly involved in running HIV-Aids and other health programmes as well as implementing programmes around issues of food security, sustainable development and human migration.

Dlamini spends his weekends and spare time voluntarily working for the Red Cross, attending meetings and helping raise funds. “It’s a hectic schedule,” he says. “There are 187 national societies around the world and South Africa is currently a member of the governing board, so I have to attend four meetings a year in Geneva as well as the meetings of Neparc — the New Partnership for African Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies — in Nairobi.

“It is the nature of the organisation that you have to do substantial fund-raising. There are donors from the UK and you have to meet them.” Which is how Dlamini met Prince Charles, president of the British Red Cross.

In May, Dlamini was in China. “We were meeting with their department of economic development and looking at how they could support the Red Cross in Africa.”

June saw him walking the red carpet at the 52nd Monte Carlo Television Festival in Monaco. “It was not me, but I had to be there.” As did the obligatory prince, in this case Prince Albert II, president of the Monaco Red Cross, along with his South African spouse, Princess Charlene. “She is coming to Cape Town later this year to help raise funds for us.”

Dlamini was in Monaco as head of the jury awarding the International Committee of the Red Cross Prize, one of the special prizes awarded at the festival. “We had to watch four to six movies a day.

“We were looking for films that would impact on people and help to prevent war. We selected an Austrian film. World War 2 movies tend to be all the same, but this film, Hanna’s Decision, was about the impact war had on families. The film was about the strength women have.”

Dlamini is clearly not without strength himself, and if his track record isn’t sufficient to demonstrate that, add the fact he’s also a single dad bringing up four boys and two girls. “They are all doing well at school,” he says proudly.

Dlamini’s own self-esteem comes from doing what he loves best. “I love working at what is called the base of the pyramid, working with the poor and destitute. The Red Cross, SaveAct and Lima Rural Development Foundation have allowed me to do exactly that.”

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