Now at age 37, she has achieved more recognition and political influence than many people have ever dreamed. And for this Eastern Cape-born politician, it all started with being a marshal for the African National Congress (ANC) in 1989, through a recruitment program by amongst others Ayanda Peteni. She never looked back. These days Ndabeni-Abrahams is one of the dominant voices in South African politics. In 2012 she was elected to the ANC Eastern Cape Provincial Executive Committee (PEC) and is also a member of the Provincial Working Committee (PWC).
As the Deputy Minister of Communications, her role includes ensuring that South Africans are informed about everything they need to know about government.
Those who know her will tell you that Ndabeni-Abrahams is not shy to put her views across, even it means not seeing eye-to-eye with her colleagues at times.
“I left the youth league as a National Working Committee member… I was expelled because I like to challenge the status quo,” she says referring to a decision by the ANC Youth League to expel her in 2008.
Speaking to Sky News Africa during one of her many Women’s Month activities in Soweto recently, Ndabeni-Abrahams spoke fondly about her up and down political career and her humble beginnings in the former Transkei. She grew up in Qunu, in the Eastern Cape, and is the first-born of six children in her family.
Ndabeni-Abrahams’s family was strictly religious and never political, but her political interest was highly influenced by learning that the first black president of South Africa, Nelson Mandela, was born and bred in Qunu.
“I grew up curious and inquisitive about many things that happened around me. I would ask so many questions about uTata Mandela. I wanted to know why everybody talked so much about him,” she says.
“I grew up in a very spiritual home. My parents are Christians; everything that I was taught had built me.
“I am a disciple of Jesus Christ. Whenever I experience challenges, I keep reminding myself that I named myself after Christ, therefore I will endure hardship sometimes, because Jesus would do the same.”
She attended several schools in and around Mthatha, but could not proceed with her studies after matric because her family could not afford to send her to university.
She had to get a job to contribute to her family income, and to get her to study further.
“I had my first job as an administrator. I was working for a parastatal of the Premier’s office, advising government on HIV& AIDS policies.”
She served the ANC Youth League in a region in Mthatha. This was followed by a position on the provincial executive committee until she was elected to the national leadership team in 2008.
During a Cabinet reshuffle in 2011, President Zuma appointed Ndabeni-Abrahams as Deputy Minister for the then Department of Communications. In this position, her passion for education saw her aggressively implementing the schools connectivity programme which culminated in 1650 rural schools nationwide being connected. She further committed Telecomms licensees to implement their universal service obligations in connecting rural schools.
Following this year’s elections, she was appointed Deputy Minister in the reconfigured Department of Communications, which is made up of the SABC, GCIS, MDDA, ICASA, Brand SA and the Films and Publication Board.
The wife to Thato Abrahams and a mother of three children, Ndabeni-Abrahams says she oftentimes draws her motivation from some of the older women Parliamentarians and Cabinet members.
“There are those that I admire and want to be like when I grow older, but some are just too resistant to change. Others would tell you that they have been doing things in a certain manner for forty years and they do not intend to change.”
She confesses to the difficulty of having to balance family life with her political life.
“As a mother and wife, I have the responsibility to make sure that at least twice a week, I spend time with my family… sometimes I’m not around Pretoria for a week due to political activities, I would then ask my husband to come along with the kids to join me wherever I am,” she says.
She feels proud of the fact that she joined Parliament at a time when her party, the ANC, had more than half a million members.
“The President had to tell us that we should consider ourselves very fortunate that we became Members of Parliament, chosen out of 500 000 members of the ANC.
“It was not because we were too smart or too clever, but because the ANC had decided to give us the opportunity to serve the country the best way we can and showcase our talents.”
Ndabeni-Abrahams is giving back to the community through her own organisation/foundation http://stellandabeniabrahams.co.za
Her projects include helping Eastern Cape children to get back to school and donating school uniforms to the needy, amongst other things.
“I would like to have more partners that would help me. My dream is to make sure that I lift other people as God has given me the opportunity to rise.”