Thandiwe Khumalo: An accomplished OBV graduate



For 15 years now, Operation Black Vote has been very active in tackling BME under-representation in political life and increasing political participation in these communities. Thandiwe Khumalo is one of many of OBV’s graduates to become an agent of positive change in her community.

Getting into politics appears to be difficult and many who become politicians hail from a similar educational background and are typically white middle aged men. Thandiwe Khumalo doesn’t fit this mould, but has managed to buck this trend of exclusion.

Khumalo graduated from the OBV and CLG Parliamentary Shadowing Scheme earlier this year, where she shadowed Meg Hiller MP, Shadow Secretary of Energy and Climate Change. Having worked as a senior practitioner in the NHS, Khumalo witnessed first- hand the significant NHS reforms taking place which motivated her to get involved in politics. Speaking about her motivation, she said,

Having more female and ethnic minority representation helps society by having more people involved in decision making. What stops people getting involved is the fear of making that initial step and possibly being overlooked once they do. I went in believing in myself and my strong leadership attributes, making me more prepared than most in approaching this situation.

She went on to say,

Politics is about all of us and I want to affect change and reach out to people who don’t know much about the decision making process, or even their local representatives in the council or MP.

The Parliamentary Shadowing Scheme allowed her to see the inner workings of Parliament, the day to day activities of an MP, and understand how policies are formulated and since graduating, Khumalo has increased her participation in the Labour Party. She is now a member of the Executive Committee and a Group Observer at Thurrock Council. Speaking about this role she said,

As a Group Observer, I have attended preliminary meetings ahead of larger council meetings the following day gathering portfolios and discussing the agenda for council meetings. This means that I have to come up with ideas, and present them, typically regarding how the council could be improved and should be run. This has exposed me to different debates and discussion environments that I didn’t think I would ever be part of.

Overcoming the obstacles of race and gender was helped by the fact that Thurrock Council was helpful and welcoming to new members.

Thurrock Council champions diversity, but even then you need to have persistence and perseverance if you want to be noticed and go further. It is not easy going into these male dominated arenas, but my aim is to achieve social justice and this has never been an easy feat.

As well as working with the council, Khumalo has also been involved in various ways with the Labour Party through campaigning, and attending seminars and events with associated organisations and think tanks. She said,

I helped campaign during the May elections, doing some door-to-door canvassing. This gave me the chance to express and listen to how issues affect people locally and nationally. I was also invited to the Fabian Women’s Network Summer Reception in July. They spoke about female representation and I had the opportunity to mingle with some interesting people such as Diane Abbott MP, who highlighted the need for female ethnic minority representation as well. The event reflected a society that we should be aiming for in this diverse, multicultural country.

Having had a taste of politics and with all the experience Khumalo has gained; she is more confident and ambitious in furthering her political career and said,

I would like to do a lot more and I realise that it is all possible with the experience I have gained so far and my determination. I have been asked to consider running for as a local Councillor, and I would like to pursue that, possibly in the next elections.

OBV has followed and supported Khumalo along her journey and she recognises how important OBV has been in helping her along the way.

They understand BME issues and struggles and have helped me greatly in what I have pursued. They discuss all BME issues and do a tremendous job in promoting the plight that BME communities face.

Khumalo says that she will be eternally grateful for the role OBV has had in her life recently and giving her opportunities such as speaking at the House of Lords, engaging in political discourse plus working with and meeting many Labour Party figures.

Khumalo is a clear demonstration of how tenacity and determination can produce results. She wants to achieve change for all and no doubt her example will inspire others.

Most importantly Khumalo feels that,

There needs to be more role models for the next generation and someone has to raise BME issues. If you don’t discuss them or raise the issues, no one will do it for you.

Alan Ssempebwa


Picture: Thandiwe Khumalo pictured with Meg Hillier MP

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Well done Thandiwe - great to

Well done Thandiwe - great to see you and OBV doing so well and making advances against the odds.