Mrs Mathabo Kunene has been considered very much the muse and wife of Prof Mazisi Kunene. Instrumental in establishing the Mazisi Kunene Museum. she has worked tirelessly to support her family and associates over the years. Quite an entrepreneur and innovator in her own right, she has developed many projects over the years both to assist in feeding her family and for the enthusiasm she has for new ideas and projects that she feels will benefit disenfranchised communities.
As Prof Kunene had written one day to Mrs Kunene, “I felt like writing you a nice and non-problematic letter to thank you for your energy, for your concerns and for your untiring ways of finding new solutions…….Our people must experience not only greatness in their own terms, but must be made to see the image of themselves in something larger than life……You my friend have many gifts and your (and our) era will come. All the pains will be compensated so enormously that we shall wonder whether we did work enough to deserve so much.”
Mrs Kunene had long ago endeavoured to defy the Apartheid regime that prevented her from being fully actualised. Early in her career, she studied nursing and reflects on the people who assisted her to ‘exit’ (as she says) South Africa. They not only assisted in her acquiring a passport under difficult circumstances, but made it possible for her to access work in London. Mr Allistar Sparks, Prof Hoffenberg and Stanley Uys, she recalls, were amongst those unsung heroes to her. Arriving in London in the early Seventies, she soon met other South Africans, including Mazisi Kunene, who became friends and later married in 1973.
Mrs Kunene displays a strong sense of justice and an ability to challenge where she needed to. Having lived for some time in Los Angeles after moving from London with her family, she ‘took on’ people who attempted to extort money from her and other families. It proved to be the biggest homeowners scam in the USA at the time. Many people had lost their homes as a result. She remembers thinking that “There are laws in this country to protect people. And I’m not going to let anyone take this home from me!” This sense of justice and energy, has seen her through many battles and challenges. She is certainly the other side of the ‘Kunene story’.
BA English Literature: University of California
Mrs Kunene was born in 1940 in Rustenberg, to Mr and Mrs Mabowe. She attended Adams College during the apartheid years and later, the Nursing College at Edendale Hospital. After completing three nursing diplomas from the South African Nursing Council in Cape Town, and working as a nurse for a number of years, she travelled to the UK. She met Prof Kunene in London, where they later married. The Kunene’s decided to raise a family in the USA. Between 1976 and 1994, she became an anti-apartheid activist and a Committee Member in a Community-based activist group such as the South African Women’s Coalition. She founded The House of ISIS Catering Company in Los Angeles, in 1988 to augment her family’s income and to support her community initiatives. She then completed a BA in English from UCLA.
After her return to South Africa, she joined the business community as a board member, executive director and trustee of various organisations, among them: Ikhwezi Lomso Laundries, A division of the Bidserve group, Durban, SA; Business Women’s Federation, KwaZulu Natal; Women in Oil and Energy South Africa (WOESA), Gauteng, and South African Women in Dialogue (SAWID). She founded Akhona Trade and Investments (PTY) Ltd (the largest women empowerment group in KwaZulu Natal) in 1996 and was Founder and CEO of Nandi Heritage House (PTY) Ltd in 2000. She received the Gold Award NBS House and Garden Show 1998 (Authentic African Cuisine and Décor) and became Director at Dinatla Investment Holdings (Pty) Limited (2003 - 2011). She was Chairman of PBM Petroleum Services (Pty) Limited (2006 – 2010) and elected Non-Executive Director of Bidvest Group Ltd. (2003 – 2012). She was voted KwaZulu Natal Women of Excellence Award Winner in the Social Entrepreneur category 2012 and was finalist in the KZN Women of Excellence Award in Arts, Culture and Heritage. She is currently Chairman of Gcinamasiko Trust and the Voices of Women Trust.
To date, she serves as the Executive Managing Trustee of the Mazisi Kunene Foundation Trust, where, together with her son, she was instrumental in pioneering the Foundation’s Rural Schools Education Programme in the Amahlongwa Village.