It’s not every day that you get to meet a princess, especially one passionate about business development, women’s issues and a whole lot of other stuff—just about everything in life: well this is your chance to do just that. Readers, meet businesswoman, entrepreneur, mother, wife and author, Her Royal Highness Princess Beatrice Tsakani Nkambule of the N’wamitwa and Shilubana kingdoms…
My interview with the princess, author of the book entitled From The Bedroom To The Boardroom, was scheduled on a bright Sunday morning at a vineyard hotel just outside the beautiful town of Stellenbosch. And honestly, I did not know what to expect. While waiting, however, it did cross my mind—the thing about royal protocol, as I’ve never met an African princess before—what to do, and what not to do when meeting royalty. I mean, would it be expected of me to curtsey?
Dressed very casually, the stylish and elegant Tsakani Nkambule arrived with no airs and graces—and royal protocol never even crossed my mind after the first handshake. As we sat down and got started, Nkambule, drawing on her own successes and lessons learned as educator, motivator and phenomenal businesswoman, spoke passionately about inspiring young women to help them achieve their full potential in the boardroom and of course, beyond.
Born and bred in Zini, approximately 120 kilometers North of Pieterburg, Polokwane, Nkambule left home at the age of 17 to study and complete a degree in BSc. In Mathematics and Science at the University of Fort Hare. She later completed her B.ED in Education and Training at the University of Witwatersrand. Nkambule went on to become a science teacher before entering the corporate world. She further boasts an impressive 20 years’ experience as businesswoman with diverse interests including property development, bulk food manufacturing, distribution, industrial cleaning, medical waste, building and construction, electrical live work, vegetation control and agriculture. Today, her businesses operate in several provinces.
Our princess is the youngest of initially four siblings. Her only brother passed away at an early age, leaving her father without an heir to his line. While she is a princess from both her mother and father’s side of the family, it was a big accomplishment for her mother, Limpopo’s Queen Hosi Nwamitwa II, to finally receive official recognition as a traditional leader due to the outdated patriarchal system that has gripped many African cultures for years. But this too is changing, and as more women step up to be equally represented in these roles, it breaks down stereotypical barriers that often keep them in mental chains.
“My youngest brother was supposed to be the heir to the throne, but passed on at the age of six. I was fourteen at the time. From my father’s side that was an issue, there was no boy. I was a princess, but there was not much said about it, because I was a girl. Now fast forward to 2008, my mother had to go through a very lengthy and brazen court battle, from her own side—not from my father’s side—to become the first female traditional leader in the organisation. She made history. It was a battle that took eight years. The case was finally won in the Constitutional Court.
“So I have been a princess all along, but there were times where I couldn’t really say, ‘Okay I’m a princess’. But now since my mother’s battle in court, and that I’m a bit older things are different. She was also a member of Parliament for 20 years, so when she finally won the case, I said to myself, ‘By the way, now I’m a double princess’. As women we are sometimes too shy to come out and say it. But I have come to realise that I am a princess. I am not fussy about titles. You can call me anything, but I am a princess. And that’s how it came about,” as her royal highness states in no uncertain terms.
Nkambule is also wife and mother with a big heart. As founder of The Princess Tsakani Foundation, that has assisted over 1 000 orphaned and abandoned learners with full uniforms through its annual golf days, she also contributes to Entrepreneurial Development by hosting the Annual Limpopo Business Symposium.
She has previously served on numerous boards including NAFCOC and is currently serving at GAAL (Gateway Airports Authority Limited) and BWASA (Business Women Association of South Africa). She is also a member of the Women’s Corporate Directors (WCD) and Executive member of Limpopo United Business Front (LUBF). She was the first Chairperson of the Limpopo Businesswomen’s Association of South Africa (BWA Limpopo).
Talking about her recent book and what motivated her to write it, Nkambule—a celebrated public speaker among others—says she found at many of her formal and informal talks with women, that there was just not enough time to share all the lessons she would have really liked to communicate.
“I needed to condense my ideas in the form of a book. I often find that women are trying to achieve that elusive balance between work and home life and I realised that through my own life, through my own experiences with other women, and through what I have read, there are valuable lessons that could be shared which will assist them. They should know that if they choose to work and have a family, that it is possible. I realised that there is a toolkit and that there are tips, powerful and practical tips, that all of us can use. Like I say in my book— home and work is the same. If you succeed in one you can succeed in the other,” she says.
Nkambule says what the book tries to communicate is that you can succeed in both the bedroom and the boardroom. To her however, the bedroom signifies the home environment— including family and kids. Her premise, based on what she has experienced, is that if you can succeed as a mother, you can succeed in the boardroom since many of the rules are similar.
A simple example she gives pertains to the way you communicate at home. She says when there is a burning matter at home, you have to know how to communicate with your spouse. At work, Nkambule says, “you have a branded home”. She says you have to be a credible, strong, yet humble brand, and whether you know it or not, you are a brand at home and at work. “So to me it is the same, in the ‘bedroom’ sometimes a bit softer. But if you can succeed here, you can succeed there because the rules are the same.”
Nkambule says what she would like is for every women to first and foremost realise that they have a choice when it comes to life, as when it comes to life, it is about choices—this is what she has experienced in her life. If you decide to become a stay-at-home mom, it’s a choice, and that is fine according to her. But if you decide to work and not get married, or pursue a brilliant career, it is also a viable choice.
“Be aware of your choices. Be aware of the consequences intended or not intended, because there are times when I didn’t think that this will happen. You have a choice and you’ve got whatever it takes to be successful. You just need to learn what you have to learn and remember that as a woman you have to do what matters, because I think the problem sometimes is that we want to do everything. But you cannot do everything at the same time,” she says.
So who should read this book? According to her royal highness, all women, and even men.
“I would like all the young women to read this book, because we never had this type of book during our lifetime. In fact I would like every woman in South Africa to read this book, whether you are a stay at home, young, old, an entrepreneur, established or emerging.
“Men should also read the book. For me as a woman, I need the right partner. So I’m saying to young girls you need to choose the right partner as well, because if you’re going to have kids like me, you cannot do everything. You can’t do homework, change nappies, cook and do everything else if your husband is not supportive.
"It is a fact. So in any environment you need that support, whether it is that you need a friend or you need your family, but most importantly with kids you need your husband who is there, who is supportive.
"Joyce Banda, former President of Malawi, said as she was progressing she decided to marry a highly educated man who could assist in her career,” she says.
When it comes to the boardroom however she says that along the way, her biggest mistake has been allowing her emotions to interfere with her business. “I think even if I tried to divorce myself from my emotions, intuition will always be there—it is a woman’s thing, and it is a good thing.
But at times we can let our emotions take over and decide for us. And that is where I have made some mistakes,” she told BBQ magazine.
After nearly an hour-long interview, I still have not gotten to the bottom of the whole royalty etiquette thing, but we parted with a farewell hug, as she walked me to my car. A hug from a very warm, humble and hard-working African princes…