For the past 22 years Regina Nemalamangwa has been used to taking care of high profile news makers in her capacity as protocol officer in the Office of the Premier, which afforded her the opportunity to continuously work with the likes of Presidents, Ministers and Premiers. Suddenly her life has taken an about turn upon her retirement that took effect last month, when she started a pre-school that came into operation a fortnight ago.
In stark contrast to the high octane existence that she maintained in the continuous company of South African and international politicians and decision-makers, she now opens her office door to the tranquillity posed by a serene setting on a Tweefontein smallholding outside Polokwane, where she welcomes a handful of little ones from the immediate surrounds to an environment of learning in the mornings. Her erstwhile task of front-running and advancing for the incumbent occupying the position of Limpopo’s Premier and a constant stream of guests has been replaced by the pressure to raise future leaders in an appealing quiet posed by the surrounding landscape. Having been supposed to go on pension towards the end of the year only, Nemalamangwa instead resigned to follow her dream of ploughing back into her community by setting up a private institution to create an opportunity for children of farm workers in the area to attend school at an affordable fee.
In revisiting the past Nemalamangwa takes one on a journey to Sophiatown were she was born in the year when the settlement was demolished. She was brought up in Soweto by her parents and later on an uncle in Saselemani area. He was a school principal who inspired her to invest in her education. A difficult life as a young adult saw her persisting and against all odds obtained matric, a teaching diploma and a university degree, that was all made possible through funding and bursaries.
While still studying she was a drum majorette and by chance her later career path was somehow cut out for her based on her training the drum majorette squad of the school where she taught in the Tzaneen area in the Eighties. On visit to Bankuna High School towards the end of 1986, then Gazankulu Chief Minister Hudson Ntsanwisi expressed his appreciation for the welcome gesture displayed by the drum majorettes of the school. During a meeting with him Nemalamangwa indicated she would want to see a simulation of the ceremony wherever he paid formal visits in future, and for the next four years she was given the responsibilities of trainer and facilitator of the Gazankulu National Drum Majorette Squad, which consisted of an estimated 50 girls from various high and secondary schools.
As senior female youth organiser permanently employed in the chief minister’s office from 1990 onwards she received training in protocol affairs, which paved the way for her taking up a position in the Office of the Premier of the Northern Province in 1995.
Nemalamangwa recalls former Premier Ngoako Ramatlhodi, the first to hold the position after the transition introduced by the dawn of democracy, as a father figure she would always look up to and a true leader with no cultural prescripts. In the same vein she describes his successor, Sello Moloto, as a leader who was more than a friend, was close to the people and was interested in the personal views of his staff. She also served under former Premier Cassel Mathale and current Premier Stan Mathabatha.
During her time at the Premier’s Office there were many highlights, among them repeated meetings with former President Nelson Mandela whom she first met while he was enjoying tea at a Polokwane hotel in between commitments on an official visit. She fondly remembers him as inquisitive, posing questions about her well-being and that of her family. He made her feel special and she yet again realised why she loved the job.
Throughout her time as protocol officer she experienced job satisfaction but remained dissatisfied in terms of limited opportunities for growth, Nemalamangwa says. Sadly politically-motivated deployments and her maintaining an apolitical stance prevented her from moving up in the ranks of the Premier’s Office, she indicates. She adds that it was in spite of the fact that she had a diploma and degree and trained newly recruited officials who were repeatedly promoted, of which some occurred almost overnight. At a late stage she became vocal as a union activist and card-carrying ruling party member, she explains.
Turning to future plans, she mentions that there is no idle moment generally associated with early retirement as she owns a general dealer with husband Victor and has stakes in two lodges in the Thohoyandou and Nkowankowa areas. All of it was afforded to her through the grace of God who has made it possible, she believes. Having found Him at a very young age ensured her devotion to her church where she remains actively involved, no matter any other pressing engagements. In the same vein she attributes her achievements to her husband whom she regards her pillar of strength.
As the conversation gets drowned out by the excited voices of tomorrow’s generation on the trampoline outside her office door, it is evident that Regina Nemalamangwa has already made the necessary transition.
Story & photos: YOLANDE NEL