UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, today announced the appointment of South African actress and human rights activist Nomzamo Mbatha as its newest Goodwill Ambassador.
The announcement elevates Mbatha from her previous role as a UNHCR High Profile Supporter. Commenting on her appointment, Mbatha expressed enthusiasm to take on her new role.
“It is an incredible honour to be appointed a goodwill ambassador,” she says. “I can't wait to embark on this journey, learn more and use my voice and to truly be an agent of change.”
She adds that her journey with UNHCR, which started in 2017, has been one of learning.
“Many people think that this role is about giving but it's also about receiving,” she explains. “It’s about receiving and understanding the human spirit, receiving empathy and understanding our common language as human beings.”
Mbatha takes on the role at a time when war, conflict and persecution have forced over 68 million people worldwide to flee from their homes – the highest level of displacement ever recorded. Over 25 million of these are refugees with Sub-Saharan Africa hosting over 31 per cent of the global refugee population.
Mbatha has become part of a movement of leading voices from the African continent that advocates and aims to change the narrative on refugees from one of despair to one of hope and resilience.
Prior to her appointment, Mbatha has been working closely with UNHCR to raise awareness about the forcibly displaced in Africa. As a High Profile Supporter and advocate for UNHCR’s LuQuLuQu campaign, she has travelled to several countries hosting most of the continents’ displaced.
“I have been inspired by refugees’ resilience and by the fact that we are more common than we are different,” she says of her experience meeting displaced people and hearing their stories.
“I can't wait to embark on this journey, learn more and use my voice and to truly be an agent of change.”
In 2017, she travelled to Dzaleka, the largest refugee camp in Malawi. The following year, she visited Kakuma camp and Kalobeyei settlement in northern Kenya, where she met vulnerable groups including women and children, accommodated in safe spaces in the camp.
“Their strength, their ability to overcome and their ingenuity for making the best of a difficult situation is what I celebrate,” she said as she reflected on the refugee women she met in Kakuma.
Mbatha’s third trip with UNHCR was to South Sudan where she visited refugee camps and settlements for internally displaced people in Juba and Maban. The visit left a lasting impression on Mbatha as she recalls how the people she met there inspired her.
“There are so many stories that touched me,” she says. “I think it is through these stories that you truly encounter the human spirit.” She adds that many of the refugees she has met exemplify hope and resilience and have helped her understand true humanity. She recalls meeting Adut Idris, 17, in Maban, South Sudan.
“Adut was the only blind student in a school that has no braille machines and is in one of the most remote refugee camps in the world,” she says. “He told me that he wants to be an engineer when he grows older, so that he can help other refugee kids know that anything is possible.”
Mbatha was also a speaker at the first ever TEDx event to be hosted in a refugee camp - TEDxKakumaCamp. In her speech, she explained how her deep attachment to the refugee cause and her interest in issues affecting women and children, are rooted in her personal life story of overcoming adversity.
She also attended the 2018 Concordia Annual Summit where she moderated a panel discussion on how to explore the private sector’s role in helping refugees rebuild their lives. Later in the year, she hosted the Nansen Refugee Awards which honoured South Sudanese humanitarian, Dr. Evan Atar.
"It is with great delight that we welcome Nomzamo Mbatha to the UNHCR family,” said UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi. “I have personally witnessed her tireless commitment to shining a light on refugee situations across Africa and look forward to seeing her inspire many more people in this new role.”