In a surprise move for many observers of United Nations top appointments, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka of South Africa has been named the executive director of UN Women, the lead agency for promoting gender equality and women’s rights worldwide. She replaces Michelle Bachelet, a former president of Chile who returned to her country in March 2013 to run for that office again this year. Mlambo-Ngcuka, 57, is a former deputy president of South Africa.
The announcement about the new appointment was made on July 10 through a statement issued by the spokesman’s office of the UN secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon. It follows on four months of top- secret vetting and much speculation.
“Ms. Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka brings to this position, a wealth of experience in advocating for women’s issues with a combination of strategic leadership, consensus building and hands-on management experience,” the statement said. “She was the first woman to hold the position of Deputy President of South Africa from 2005 to 2008. Ms. Mlambo-Ngcuka initially became a member of parliament in 1994, chairing the Public Service Portfolio Committee. She was deputy minister in the Department of Trade and Industry (1996-1999), Minister of Minerals and Energy (1999-2005) and briefly served as acting Minister of Arts, Culture, Science and Technology in 2004.”
Mlambo-Ngcuka was the young women’s coordinator for the World Young Women’s Christian Association in Geneva from 1984 to 1986 and was the first president of the Natal Organization of Women, an affiliate of the United Democratic Front, when it was formed in December 1983. She has a master’s degree in philosophy in educational planning and policy from the University of Cape Town and a bachelor’s degree in education from the University of Lesotho. In 2003, she was awarded an honorary doctorate from the University of Western Cape.
Mlambo-Ngcuka is married with three children.