RISE NTOMBAM! Because you can

13 Aug 2019

Young, vibrant, black, female straight out of the heart of the Eastern Cape, Babalwa Mbuku, is our own self-proclaimed South African Oprah. Born in Mthatha, to God-fearing parents, she was taught the old Xhosa adage umntu ngumntu ngabantu (I am, because you are), which she took and made her life’s motto. Adopting Christian values at an early age set her up for what for has become a life in the service of others.

Growing up in Norwood in Mthatha in the 80s and 90s, Babalwa, or ‘Babes’ as she is affectionately known, soon learnt the power of community. Being the first born child also instilled a sense of responsibility in her. She attended Fair Field Secondary School, later embarking on a journey that connoted her humble beginnings. Babalwa has now made an indelible mark on her counterparts and family alike, with her generous spirit and caring heart.

“Don’t chase money. Pursue purpose and money will follow you. Enjoy your own life to the fullest, but don’t forget to make a difference in somebody else’s. Finally, in all things, remember your creator.”


“Growing up as a ‘daddy’s girl’, I always loved attention and that led to a desire to look good. Since clothing was a big part of that, I fell in love with threads and began harbouring ambitions to make them myself.” Little did she know that her pet name “Ntombam” (a Xhosa word, meaning my daughter or my girl) would become of one the standout brands of the Eastern Cape. Not being able to study fashion did nothing to deter her and she established Ntombam Clothing in 2017 - a line of casual wear and accessories for women - available from the Ntombam Group premises in Greenfields. Her love for fashion stems from her desire to see women looking good and feeling like they can ‘conquer the world’.


The year 2017 saw the birth of what was to become the mainstay of Babalwa’s professional life - the Ntombam Group. Having identified a dire need for proper sanitation among young girls in the Eastern Cape, she took it upon herself, not only to provide sanitary towels for underprivileged school children, but to educate them about menstruation. “My work took me to children’s homes and schools, where I saw a need for sanitary towels, especially in disadvantaged areas. I then partnered with a company from Johannesburg to help me distribute sanitary towels, which are now called Ntombam Sanitary Towels. Girls from rural areas in particular, lack information on how to take care of their bodies, so I took it upon myself to design a manual for menstrual coaching, which goes with the sanitary towels.” In addition to being a menstrual coach, Babalwa also mentors young women and encourages them to embrace their womanhood. Her work has taken her to countries such as Kenya, Zambia, Ghana and Rwanda. “Unfortunately, a large number of African parents do not even have these types of discussions with their children and they are often left to fend for themselves in relation to menstruation. Blame it on culture, blame it on lack of education, but it is a chilling reality. I recently visited a school in Idutwya with my friend, actor Brenda Ngxoli. The stories we heard there were heartbreaking. Some children would go as far as using cow dung as pads, because there was simply no money to buy them from the shop,” she added sadly. Ntombam Sanitary Towels are imported and internationally approved. The Ntombam Group works with the assistance of its partners as well as organisations like the Eastern Cape Development Corporation (ECDC), which played a major role in securing a factory for Ntombam Sanitary Towels. This is an important acquisition as this will help Ntombam with its aim to create jobs for unemployed youth in the Eastern Cape. Ntombam has positioned itself as a proudly Eastern Cape brand, which was confirmed in the recently launched book Rise Ntombam: Because You Can, authored by Babalwa herself.


Operation Feed a Child is another one of Babalwa’s initiatives. It’s a non-profit organisation (NPO) that she started in 2015 in the Amalinda Forest. The organisation caters for the daily needs of underprivileged and orphaned children, supplying meals, clothing and toiletries in Duncan Village, Mthatha and other areas in the Eastern Cape.


Babalwa aims to create at least 200 jobs for youth in the Buffalo City area, in the next year or so. One of her ambitions is to see a drop in absenteeism in schools, during menstrual cycles. “What I desire most is to inspire girls all over the world to pursue their God-given purpose in life. I am ‘your Oprah’,” she chuckles.