She’s got great plans for PMB

2014-05-23 00:00

THE new face of Msunduzi is the attractive, smiling and effervescent Thobeka Mafumbatha. She arrived at the city hall this month — Pietermartizburg’s busiest month, and had to hit the ground running.

First there was the co-ordination around the 150th anniversary parade of the Umvoti Mounted Rifles. This was followed by planning and preparations for the Royal Show, the Golden Horse Casino Sprint Race Day, Art in the Park and the Comrades Marathon. During all of this, there were people to meet, speeches and press releases to write, and the co-ordination of an endless number of arrangements.

Three weeks on, and Mafumbatha has not lost her smile or her sparkle. She says she is used to being in the midst of a hive of activity because she lived in a large extended family while growing up in Bizana in the Eastern Cape. “You had to find your space and get on with whatever you had to do, despite what seemed like chaos all around,” she said.

So far, the city’s new marketing and communications manager is ticking all the right boxes. Journalists who met her at a media breakfast last week were forthright, saying that they were not going to give her an easy ride and that she must expect tough questions from them.

An unfazed Mafumbatha believes that criticism and tough questions go with the terrain. “It will help us see our weaknesses and what needs to be put right,” she said.

After primary school in Bizana, Mafumbatha completed her high school education at Ridgepark College in Durban. Her childhood dream was to be on TV or radio, so communications, marketing and public relations were a natural career choice, especially as she was always outspoken as a child.

Mafumbatha’s first job was at the O.R. Tambo District Municipality, where she learnt how local government worked. She then joined the public-relations team at the South African Social Security Agency (Sassa) and believes this was where she refined her PR skills. “Sassa was new, and being there from the beginning was a challenge. The marketing had to start from scratch — new logo, new corporate image and a grant system based on a new identity card that had to be marketed to millions of people,” Mafumbatha said. She thanks her senior manager there, Vusi Mahaye, for showing her the ropes.

According to Mafumbatha, a friend of hers saw the advertisement for the Msunduzi job and felt that it would be the perfect fit for her. “By this time I was ready for a new challenge and I thought why not; I’d been living in Pietermaritzburg for a while and fell in love with the city. Working for a capital city is also a marketer’s dream,” she added.

There are other factors that appeal to her. She says Maritzburg is a city that combines the old with the new.

“There is a more leisured pace — an element of comfort, of subtlety. You can’t quite put your finger on what Maritzburg really is, but it grows on you,” Mafumbatha said.

She also enjoys the sense of community and closeness, and the fact that residents are generally very friendly.

“I want to change the image of this city to a positive one, so that people will want to come to live here. I want it to become not only an economic hub, but a tourism destination as well.”

Having studied project management focusing on SMMEs at the Nelson Mandela University Business School, Mafumbatha’s special interest will include local economic development in Msunduzi. More importantly, she plans to work hard at getting people to take ownership of the city. “Residents must feel the city belongs to them and perhaps they will then take more pride in keeping it clean. The city does not belong to the municipality, it belongs to all of us.”

Mafumbatha knows this is going to be the biggest challenge of her job. “I have no illusions; it is not going to be easy, but I am up for the challenge. In PR there is a saying that the more we are challenged, the better we become.”

Mafumbatha says the other reason she believes she will cope is because her religion is an essential part of her life. “I’m a born-again Christian and very passionate and grounded in my faith. I believe my success is through God’s intervention, and that he will not present me with impossible challenges.”

She also says that she owes her can-do attitude to her mother, who is her role model. “She is the centre of my universe. My father died when I was eight years old and my mother, Olivia, who had no education, brought up her seven children. She had no formal job. She worked in shops and as a domestic worker. She believed that education was the key for us to escape from poverty and she pushed us girls to study. This was tough in a rural environment, where the general belief was that education was wasted on girls, but she persisted.”

The other centre of Mafumbatha’s universe is her seven-year-old daughter. She is a single mum and determined to juggle both work and domestic life. If that is not tough enough, she recently took on the care of her late sister’s six-year-old son.

For the woman who is now the face and the voice of the Msunduzi Municipality, life is about being challenged and doing the best you can, while never losing your sense of humanity.

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