INSPIRATION Decades of fighting for justice
Ntombizakhe Mcaba is committed to fight for those who can't fight for themselves
THE contribution that Lieutenant-Colonel Ntombizakhe Mcaba (59) has made in her community can never go unnoticed. She is committed to raising her voice for the voiceless, marginalised and oppressed and taking action against injustice. When she speaks about fighting for equality, this sums up her life as it is what she has done for over three decades in the South African Police Service (SAPS).
BECOMING ONE OF THE WOMEN IN BLUE
Growing up in Port Elizabeth, Eastern Cape, Ntombizakhe has always been brave to speak up. Her mother was a nurse and her father a policeman.
“My mom wanted me to follow in her footsteps, but I found what my dad was doing more appealing,” she says.
She says there were not a lot of career options for black people, especially women. She recalls how she was part of the “disruptors” in 1976 during the apartheid regime. At the time, she was still in high school.
“Perhaps that’s where my obsession with justice started,” she says. In 1981, the first group of black women were inducted into the SAPS and in 1982, she was part of the second group to join.
Her enthusiasm of starting a new job was soon met with disappointment when she and her fellow female colleagues experienced oppression.
“We were not taken seriously. Imagine going to arrest a white man (a suspected criminal), who would not sit at the back of a car or van. Because they were white, they sat in front. When you got to the station, you had to hand-over the suspect to a white or coloured officer to continue with documentation. It was so disheartening,” she says.
Although black policemen were also oppressed, things were even worse for policewomen. “We went through the same training and work routines but, were not treated the same by virtue of being women,” she says.
She says the worst was when women were not allowed to have children with men outside of the police service, but men could.
“Furthermore, you had to be married first before having a baby with that man otherwise you would
WE WERE NOT TREATED THE SAME
face a disciplinary hearing and dismissal,” she says.
“Those conditions were ridiculous for women, while the police men would be allowed to be with any woman even outside the police service.”
WINDS OF CHANGE
Ntombizakhe's bravery would not let her leave things as they were.
This is why she was at the forefront when the Police and Prisons Civil Rights Union (Popcru), which represents police, traffic and correctional officers, was formed.She was determined to bring about change.
“I am so proud to have been part of making sure change happens. It gives me great joy to see that today, women are able to benefit from the seeds that were planted by people like me,” she says.
It has been 36 years since she dedicated her life to the SAPS. She served for two terms as the vice president of Popcru, where she was at the top when it came to making necessary changes.
After over three decades in service, she still retains what may be considered a junior post, but she says she chose not to give it too much attention.
“I know I was probably perceived to be too opinionated as one would hear in the corridors that people were afraid of me and thought I would not be ‘submissive’ to authority. I think those perceptions might have been the reason for not being in a higher rank despite having what it takes,” says Ntombizakhe.
Her impact also spread internationally, where she served as president of the Public Service International, Sub-Regional Advisory Committee (SUBRAC).
Ntombizakhe says being an activist means sacrificing your life to make others' lives better.
Her two daughters, aged 40 and 30, had to learn from a young age that their mother chose a career that requires her to be on the road. If she was not touring the country, she was abroad making a difference in public service.
“When I look back, that is a sacrifice that hurt a lot, especially as my children are girls. They had to get used to not having me around a lot,” she says.
In 2016, she was in South Sudan for a United Nations peace-keeping mission at a time when a war had broken out there.
“I could not abort the mission. I told myself that I would go there and do the work I was entrusted with. While the war waged on and others were scared that their lives would end in a foreign country, I calmed them down and told them we would finish the peacekeeping mission as we had initially committed,” she says.
In 2017, she came back to serve at the SAPS head office in Pretoria, where she leads the women’s network forums and championing for women’s rights. She was awarded the life-time achievement award during the 2018 Women’s Network and Men for Change for Pre-Eminence Awards.
STAND-UP FOR OTHERS
Ntombizakhe says to be great as a woman, you don’t need to hold a high position and make a difference.
“We have not arrived, but as women we have made changes. Be strong and liberate yourselves of injustice. Be a voice for those who are marginalised in the spaces you are.”
She will be retiring soon, but says she is proud to have served with pride and will continue to do the work she has always done.