The curious case of Nomzamo Mbatha's activism

The curious case of Nomzamo Mbatha's activism

Jan 30, 2019, 12:00 PM

The nation joined hands to congratulate Nomzamo Mbatha after the superstar was named as a United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Goodwill Ambassador on Tuesday.

The announcement was greeted with plenty of fanfare from the masses, with many (including Cosmopolitan Magazine, who famously put Nomzamo on their first ever "Activism Issue") taking a moment to congratulate the multi-talented entertainer on her latest appointment.

Nomzamo has been involved with displaced people across the African continent for the last few years. She hosted the 2018 Nansen Refugee Award Ceremony while also speaking at the first ever TEDx event to take place in a refugee camp.

Her appointment comes less than a month after she found herself in hot water after she posed for a picture with court-accused abuser, Arthur Mafokate. This particular incident drew light to celebrity activism and made many people question if the Isibaya actress had the right to call herself an activist, despite her range of work with the UN and other similar organisations.

We spoke to journalist, Ayanda Sishi, who commented on Nomzamo's brand of humanitarian work and equated it to good, positive publicity; rather than consistent activism. She did not single out Nomzamo specifically, but she spoke about celebrity activism in general when she said: 

"Celebrity Goodwill Ambassadors in general are only there because they are prominent individuals within society, they hold a certain type of status. Does that status correlate to policy change in the countries in which they are ambassadors through the UN? Is there effective policy change that is happening by these ambassadors? If you're going to Sudan and you're going to highlight the plight of children in Sudan, children in Ukraine, children in Yemen, what laws are going to change because a celebrity went there? Let's be real. It is because you are a celebrity. Does your celebrity status have an effect on policy or law? I don't think so."
As well as that, if you look at the duties that a Goodwill Ambassador is assigned, you will realise that many of these are focused around publicity and shifting the spotlight to the work being done by others. A description on the UN Website reads:

"United Nations Messengers of Peace/Goodwill Ambassadors are distinguished individuals, carefully selected from the fields of art, literature, science, entertainment, sports or other fields of public life, who have agreed to help focus worldwide attention on the work of the United Nations."

With this in mind, it would probably be fair to describe Nomzamo as a strong ally in the fight against the displacement of people. This title rightfully acknowledges the causes with which she's aligned her brand and the work she's doing to draw the spotlight to some of the continent (indeed the world)'s biggest issues.

An activist, however, is described as: "a person who campaigns to bring about political or social change." In other words, someone who puts themselves on the front line and is willing to be arrested, harmed or even lose their lives for the cause – if that's what it takes.

This isn't an attempt to discredit Nomzamo's good work, nor her Goodwill. It's not to say she doesn't deserve to represent the United Nations. But as our conversations around the world's biggest issues become more eloquent, maybe we need to revisit the definitions of certain titles and words before we apply them to people in society.

What are your thoughts on the matter, do you view Nomzamo as an activist or a very strong celebrity ally?

Main image credit: Instagram/@nomzamo_m
Written by

Tinashe Venge

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