Colleen Makhubele: The rising star in Joburg politics

Colleen Makhubele was set on a business career but then politics happened.

About three years ago, Johannesburg council speaker Colleen Makhubele was the chairperson of Metropolitan Trading Company in Jozi, so good in her job that Cope approached her to become a member of the party.

Makhubele admits she was taken by surprise and had to apply her mind to the idea of joining politics.

The decision to join Cope was not easy considering that she had led and served on several boards of private and state-owned companies, including the South African Post Office, where she was the chair and was first exposed to politics.

She says: “As the chair, you have to report to parliament and the portfolio committee. I was not satisfied and pleased with what I saw.”

This might explain why Makhubele was axed in 2020 after she accused then communications minister, Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams, of abusing her powers and acting unconstitutionally.

Makhubele recalls how she was introduced to the provincial leader and ultimately, party president Mosoiua Lekota.

She quizzed party bosses on why she had been poached despite not being affiliated with a political party. She says she was told at the time:

“We are recruiting you because we believe there’s potential in you and would like to work with you because Cope is on a renewal path. We’re trying to rebuild the party with a different calibre of people who have competence, capability and expertise. People who can be put anywhere, in any portfolio, and perform.”

“I was sold,” she says, and this culminated in the start of her political career in 2020.

After familiarising herself with the party and its internal processes, Makhubele was announced as a Joburg councillor in 2021.

Little did she know she would soon rise in the ranks and take up several critical positions. She served the council for seven months as the chair of chairs and as deputy speaker.

In September 2022, she was elected as speaker after going head to head with Democratic Alliance councillor Alex Christians.

The ANC and EFF alliance, which holds the majority of seats in council, was instrumental in her election.

Despite this, her election was widely welcomed as it had been a first for a minority party with just one seat in the 270-seat council.

Since then, Makhubele has made headlines mostly for good reasons. But she came under serious criticism in September as the centre of the row over Vasco da Gama’s ousting as council speaker, which led to her party’s leadership being at odds with her.

Despite this, Makhubele soldiered on, fronting the effort to change the government.

Top of her list of priorities for Jozi was good governance, getting the city on a financially stable footing, delivering services to its residents and righting social aspects in the city.

Makhubele was born and raised in Giyani, Limpopo. The third of four siblings raised in a middle-class family, her mother is a retired nurse and her late father was a teacher.

“We always had cousins,” she recalls. “I think at any given time, we were about 10-15 children in the house my father was taking to school because he was the only educated person in the family. We were not poor, but weren’t rich either.”

Makhubele said while she was growing up, her parents always had other small business interests they pursued – some of which she and her siblings had to be a part of.

“There was a spaza. When we came back from school we would be selling popcorn or ice blocks, that was my job after school.”

Her parent’s love for business also inspired her to become business-minded. They left their jobs and invested in Golden Products.

“The products were similar to that of Herbalife. They were very popular and opened my parents’ eyes to many opportunities.

“They were the first few to join in Giyani – many people joined after them. At the time, they made so much money they had to resign. They would travel to the US to understand the world outside.”

But her life took a turn in 1995 when her father died in a car accident resulting in serious financial challenges for her family.

“It changed my life tremendously. When he passed on, he did not have insurance, he was owing tax. So the entire business collapsed and my mother had to get a job again to raise us. I was 15 and my younger brother was eight at the time,” she says.

Makhubele and her siblings had to depend financially on their mother and other relatives. Her father’s death had hit her hard, but she found solace in God.

“I think we found solace and a lot of assistance in church. So I became a born-again who spent a lot of time in church. Even now, I’m still in church.”

Several years later, Makhubele followed her parents’ footsteps by pursuing different business interests. She founded the Mzumbe Group and among others, was responsible for the company’s ICT, energy and manufacturing.

“I always had the mindset that you have to do other things instead of depending on your career.”

Despite her achievements and a busy schedule, Makhubele says she lives an ordinary life and makes time for church and her family.

This includes her two sons aged 12 and 14 and her husband of 15 years.

She enjoys reading in her spare time, being at home and spending time with her family.

“Growing up, I was never really the type for parties. I was more at home by myself reading or working … I just like to read and study a lot.”

A proud soccer mom, she says because of her sons, she enjoys local and international football.