As a child I imbibed deeply the human values of integrity, humility and service from my Mother, Bakkium. She was my first teacher from whom I learnt the value of love and compassion – of connecting the head, the heart and the spirit. As a teenager I was inspired by Steve Biko, the passionate and charismatic student leader who inspired an entire generation, including me to take up the fight for social justice and human dignity that apartheid had robbed us of. I joined the organisation he founded, the South African Students Organisation while in university. These political activities convinced me that i should become a full time organiser, leaving my studies of becoming a doctor to being a community organiser around the city I was born in, Durb
But I had always been attracted by the militancy and raw power of working class struggle and in 1979 joined the Federation of South African Trade Unions as a volunteer and becoming a full time organiser a year later. Growing through the ranks of the labour movement I was elected as the founding General Secretary of the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) in December 1985 and served three successive terms to 1993. Nominated by the COSATU Congress in that year to lead 20 trade union leaders into Parliament on an ANC ticket, I was tasked with coordinating the Reconstruction and Development Program (RDP) that constituted the basis of the election manifesto that won the ANC a landslide victory in the first democratic elections in 1994.
Asked by President Nelson Mandela to join the Cabinet I served first as the Minister without Portfolio in the Presidency responsible for the implementation of the RDP and then as Communications Minister until 1999. I stepped out of Government in 1999, choosing to set up a management and services company as a social entrepreneur while continuing to play a local and global role in wide ranging organisations
including Chairperson of the Development Bank of Southern Africa and the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition. I also served in various capacities for the United Nations and other international organisations, pursuing the goals of social justice and human dignity.
Currently, I serve on the board of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation which is committed to building good governance in Africa. In 2010 I decided that I would dedicate the rest of my life as a volunteer supporting the next generation find its voice, its struggle and its destiny. I serve as a trustee of the Earthrise Trust and spend much of my time at Rustlers Valley which has become a safe and sacred space for intergenerational conversations on solutions to challenges that face us from local to a global level. Here we are working with communities of evicted farmworkers to build democratic practice of innovative development models for thriving, sustainable and peaceful communities. We are committed to rethinking models of rural development with the communities here using innovative technologies from all over the world in order to build resilience to climate change and tackle the challenges of livelihoods and hunger.
I’ve written two books about my life lessons and want to spend the time now to globalise local voices, especially of youth and women who busy redesigning the world we want to leave to our children and future generations.
I am married to an amazing woman, Lucie Pagé, a French Canadian journalist and writer and we have three beautiful children, Leandre, Kami and Shanti.