Working with the Prime Minister is humbling, exciting and scary- Thabile Mdluli

09 July 2024

Despite a challenging childhood that saw her lose her parents at ages 5 and 12, Thabile Mdluli persevered and now serves as Assistant Government Spokesperson under the Prime Minister’s Office. In our latest civil servants’ blog, Ms. Mdluli talks about her life and the experience of working with the Prime Minister.

Government Communication (GC): “When did you join the Civil Service?”

Thabile Mdluli (TM): “In August 2018.”

GC: “Could you tell us a bit about your background and upbringing?”

TM: “I am the fourth child in a family of seven. I was born and raised at KaMjuda, a tiny peri-urban neighbourhood outside Mbabane. I did my primary education at Mangwaneni Primary School, and my high school at Mbabane Central High School. I never attended pre-school though, and I assume it’s because my recently widowed mom didn’t have the means to pay for my pre-school education. I lost my parents when I was 5 and 12 respectively. I didn’t have an easy upbringing, and did most of my education through sponsorships. I am grateful, however, for the support of my family, church and my late high school principal, Mrs Doreen Nhleko, who treated me as her own daughter and even sponsored my school leavers party. Academically, I hold a BA Communication Science and I am currently pursuing my MBA. I also have qualifications in Development Journalism and Environmental Education, amongst others. My professional background is in media and communications, having started out as a journalist briefly at The Nation magazine, then joined the then Swazi Observer for approximately 10 years before doing media consultancy at Multimedia International Consulting Engineers. Before joining Government, I was the General Manager of Tee & Jay Investments, having been promoted from the position of Head of Marketing and Communications.”

GC: “Growing up, what events or occurrences in your life do you think shaped you and how you view life?”

TM: “Quite a number, the biggest being the loss of both my parents at a tender age. This experience taught me survival skills and shaped me into a strong, spiritual and independent woman. When you know you have nowhere to go for help, you learn to depend on God. You also learn to make the right decisions for yourself, because you just know if you mess things up, you will have to pick up those pieces yourself. It also moulded me into a woman of impact, and inculcated the spirit of excellency within me. To this day, I believe in leaving a legacy wherever I go. I don’t do things in half measures.”

   

GC: “What is your current job now and what does it entail?”

TM: “I am currently the Assistant Government Spokesperson. Besides deputising the Government Spokesperson, I am responsible for the overall quality assurance of Government information disseminated to the public. This includes proofreading and editing press statements and speeches from Government ministries. I also supervise the Government communications cadre and assist the Government Spokesperson with the coordination of Government communication to ensure that Government speaks in one voice. Part of my job is to write press statements and the Prime Minister’s speeches; arrange media interviews and press conferences as well as cover events officiated by the Prime Minister. I am also tasked with preparing the Government calendar as well as providing an accurate assessment of the effect and reception of Government policies and programmes on different audiences.  

This involves monitoring and analysing domestic and foreign media. It is therefore important that I am well-versed with current news trends and issues in a bid to ensure proactivity where necessary. Over and above that, I am tasked with the development of reactive communication capabilities to deal with potential communication crises; develop national messages, goals, values and themes to communicate and promote the core objective of Government. I am also required to respond to public queries on behalf of Government, and influence action where required. Lastly, by virtue of being part of the Government Communication cadre, I also play an advisory role to my minister, who in this case is the Prime Minister, on communication related matters.

But that’s just as far as my job description goes. On the ground, it is a totally different ball game altogether.”

GC: “Before this role, what other positions did you occupy in the Service?”

TM: “I was the Ministerial Communication Officer at the Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Trade between August 2018 and September 2020.”

GC: “So far, what would you say the biggest highlight/achievement of your Civil Service journey has been?”

TM: “The biggest and most challenging highlight of my career was when I acted as Government Spokesperson for seven months at the height of the civil unrest in 2021/2022. I grew a lot professionally during the period. Would I want to do it again? I don’t think so.”

GC: “What is the biggest project that you have been involved in working for Government?”

TM: “It must be when I led PR for Eswatini’s bid to host the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) head offices in 2019. It was such an exciting exercise and it made me appreciate my country more. Eswatini narrowly lost the bid to Ghana, but it was all so worth it because I am definitely sure that Africa took notice of us right at that moment.”

GC: “What do you love the most about working in Government?”

TM: “A lot, actually. I have never seen an environment more conducive for growth than Government. If you want to improve yourself academically, Government offers so many opportunities for that. And there is also the element of personal growth. Working with many different professionals opens your eyes to the many opportunities for personal development that are there.”

GC: “What do you love the most about your job and profession?”

TM: “The most fulfilling part of my job, for me, is helping to tell the good story about my country. Even with many challenges confronting the country, I would still want to be born in Eswatini because I believe there is so much potential for this country, both economically and socially.”

GC: “What would you say are some of the challenges that come with your job?”

TM: “You live your life on edge, not knowing when the next crisis will hit. Also, you become an easy target for those with dissenting views about Government and the country in general. Internally, the biggest challenge is insufficient resources to effectively communicate to the Nation at large – both human capital and financial resources. However, there is hope as we have seen a lot of improvement in recent times – at least in terms of the recognition of the role Government communicators play in promoting Government work and the country.”

GC: “As a Government communicator, what kind of future do you foresee for Government communications?”

TM: “I foresee a future where Government communication is taken as one of the priority areas for investment by Government. I would like to see Government communication develop to the point where other countries will use us as a successful model of Government communication globally. I foresee a future where Government communication becomes a fully equipped institution, like in some developed countries, where we will have all the diverse communication skills and resources required for a Government to be effective in its communication function under one roof.”

GC: “Government communication is said to be very unique, compared to communication in other sectors. What kind of considerations do you have to make when communicating on behalf of Government?”

TM: “Government communication comes with a huge load of pressure and considerations that are not found anywhere else. Firstly, Government serves the population in its entirety. We are not serving just one section, so our messaging needs to speak to all emaSwati, even if we do break it down for specific audiences. For example, Government has responsibilities in health, social services, education, youth affairs, security, public infrastructure, etc.- all emaSwati are, in one way or the other, impacted by the decisions Government takes on these sectors and we, as Government communicators, must communicate effectively with all of them. Furthermore, the nature of Government itself means that what Government does is scrutinised way more than private or non-profit organisations are scrutinised. So, there is added media scrutiny and added public scrutiny. As one writer once put it, the nature of our job is public, which then means Government communicators are held to much more demanding standards of public and media accountability. In addition, while we try to separate politics from Government communication, the nature of the environment is, in itself political, so that also adds layers of complications. Furthermore, Government communication involves a whole lot of diplomacy and dealing with respective Governments and countries. What we do as Government communicators can have a huge effect on our country’s relations with other countries and its standing globally. Lastly, as Government communicators, we represent something bigger than ourselves. Therefore, we always have to be careful with our actions and words and must always communicate a Government position, not our own thoughts or feelings.”

GC: “You also work closely with the Rt. Hon. Prime Minister. How is that experience like?”

TM: “Humbling, exciting and scary. The most humbling part is being able to sit on the same table with the Prime Minister and discuss issues of national importance. Having direct access to the Prime Minister is something that many people can only dream of, so I feel blessed in a way. The scariest part is having to advise a person of the Prime Minister’s stature. Naturally, giving advice is not easy, so you can imagine how it is having to advise the Prime Minister of the land, particularly for a middle manager like myself.”

GC: “What lessons have you learnt working for Government?”

TM: “Quite a number. I have learnt that Government is not as bad as many people portray it to be. We do have public servants that have a spirit of excellence. I have also learned that you really need to assert yourself – it is easy to get lost in a big institution like Government. I have also learned that the power to determine your future in Government sorely lies with you – you can choose to be a bystander if you want, but you won’t really go far. The days of being promoted because you have been in an office longer than others are soon coming to an end as the civil service is being professionalised.”

GC: “What advice would you have for someone who wants to work for Government?”

TM: “Do not join Government if you want to rest. Join Government because you want to share your skills, grow and reach your full potential.”

GC: “What are your aspirations for the future in Government?”

TM: “I have always wanted to work in foreign service. I hope one day I will get the opportunity to represent my country in a foreign land and proudly promote our values, unique democracy and culture, which not only unite us but also set us apart from other Nations.”

--Ends—

 

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