THE PEOPLE’S PRINCESS
Tackling everything from education to female empowerment, Princess Nandi Zulu has proven herself a Royal who lives to serve her kingdom.
On 30 May 1977, the day Princess Nandi Zulu was born, her mother, Queen Buhle kaBhekuZulu left her handmaids behind and whizzed past the guards as she drove herself to the local clinic. When the Zulu King, His Majesty King Zwelithini Goodwill kaBhekuZulu, who was immersed in running the Zulu nation, questioned where she was, none could find her. The next day, the queen calmly returned to a concerned royal household with a baby in her arms. Named by her father after Queen Nandi, the fiery dispositioned mother of the legendary Zulu King Shaka, Princess Nandi’s lineage of strong women seemed to seal her fate as a woman with a mission.
Taking her birth right and forging it into a path of charity, Princess Nandi has become a beacon for the Zulu nation of South Africa. Wearing the hats of a businesswoman, golfer, aspiring pilot and all-round champion for philanthropy, Princess Nandi is first and foremost a Royal who lives by and for her people.
Seen here with her father, His Majesty, King Zwelithini Goodwill kaBhekuzulu, Princess Nandi attributes him with much of her learning and inspiration.
Hard Earned Roots
“When I was young, I loved this television character named Heidi, who was an orphan living in the Swiss mountains with her grandfather. She was inquisitive, compassionate, loved people and was always giving. She resonated a lot with me because that is how I am – I only want to give and share with the people,” reminisces Princess Nandi. However, the princess’s journey to compassion began even before her television watching years. At the tender age of three, tradition called for her to live with her newly married aunt in Swaziland, where she would help in minor day-to-day chores. This led to her shuttling between her home in South Africa and Swaziland till the age of six. As she explains, “For me it was such a great experience because I learned to be independent at such a young age. Being away from my parents taught me that I do not belong to just them but to other people as well, and the village I am living in.”
But from distributing sweets to the children in her pre-primary school, the princess was whisked away to boarding school in Durban where more difficult experiences were in store. “School taught me how to make friends from different backgrounds but it was not always easy. There were tough initiation rituals and some kids used to bully me because they wanted to see how I feel or just bring me down. I would often cry and wonder when I could go home to my parents.” On the plus side, she quickly found herself becoming a close confidant for many of her friends, which helped her develop important facets such as diplomacy, authority and wisdom. “I have kept the same friends for more than 36 years. This also shaped me to relate well with people at all levels – whether they are living in a hut with no electricity or a palace with marble floors – I treat them all the same,” she adds.
The princess then continued her high school from 1990 to 1994 at St Anne's Diocesan College in Hilton, a mixed colour private school at a time when black schools and white schools were largely separated. “I had previously gone to a black school and at that time kids were starting to go to white schools. So I told my parents I also wanted to go to a white school where I can learn and speak English.” These were tough times in South Africa, with few black students attending mixed schools until Nelson Mandela’s release from prison in 1991. The momentous years that followed are still vivid in the princess’s memory. “In 1994 on 27 April, the first democratic elections were held and all South Africans races voted together for the first time. Even though I was too young to vote, I knew things were changing for the better in my country,” she recounts.
St Anne’s was also well known for its social work in the region, especially with black schools in rural areas, complementing the princess’s pursuits to this day.
Moving Up The Ladder
Despite her proverbial silver spoon, Princess Nandi endeavoured to make her own name by studying Business Communications and majoring in Public Relations at Tshwane University of Technology in Pretoria. This too, was not easy, she explains, as most of the lectures were in Afrikaans, a previously foreign language to her that forced her to rely on English textbooks. But she remained determined and sailed through her studies with positivity. “I originally wanted to be a teacher but in South Africa then, people expected that as a black person, you would be either a teacher, nurse, police man or an administrator. But I said ‘no way’; I was going for something totally different.”
After receiving her National Diploma in Business Communication, the princess interned at Meropa Communications in Johannesburg, whose clients included Pharmacare and Proctor & Gamble. Suddenly thrown into menial tasks like making tea or photocopying, she found herself reaching out to her father for advice. “I told my father I did not think this job was working out and he said, ‘Stay right there. You have got to keep working; you have to understand that a ladder has steps. You have to climb to get to the top, so make the tea and make it well.’ That was one of the very significant things he taught me and I still embrace it to this day.”
Princess Nandi went on to earn a National Certificate in Project Management from Executive Education and a Management Advancement Programme (MAP) certificate from Wits Business School.
A Community Calling
In spite of her corporate experience, Princess Nandi never took to the industry and eventually returned to her true passion – serving the people. Doing community work was a part and parcel of growing up in the royal Zulu household. As she reveals, “My father would give me and my siblings responsibilities in the village – maybe take food for the elderly or visit a local non-government organization (NGO). My mother was very strict about us carrying out these tasks and realizing the importance of getting to know the community. That was my childhood.”
Her first independent step, however, was at the age of 21 when she began engaging the locals to contribute and host parties for underprivileged children in hospitals. “My first party was held with a budget of only $10 but each of the 20 children received a toy, along with cake and juice and music. It was fun but the following year people began requesting me to visit their wards next. That is when I knew it was getting serious.” The princess went on to conduct similar parties at other welfare institutions like schools for disabled children, finally formalizing her efforts to form the Princess Nandi Zulu Foundation.
The Foundation has since moved into a number of social spheres, with education being number one on the priority list. While her father is well known for his work on HIV and AIDS awareness, the princess realized that the needs of the people are far too multifaceted and must be addressed in many forms. “For me, I have decided that education is very important – especially for young girls. Because when you are educated, you become empowered and empowerment liberates you,” she explains. With this in mind, she also supports young people outside of school, including funding their uniforms and ensuring they have food on the table. A shining example of this is her current personal responsibility for three children aged 11, 9 and 6, whose mother was incarcerated for drug trafficking. “It is a very critical age for them so I need to really look after them,” she notes.
Princess Nandi has also worked with Mpilonhle, an NGO in Mtubatuba, Northern KwaZulu, which is funded and supported by Oprah Winfrey’s Angel Network and Charlize Theron’s African Outreach Project.
Princess Nandi spending her birthday party at Intuthuko Special School at Hlabisa, north of Zululand.
To Greater Heights
In addition to her education drives, the princess has also put two unique social initiatives into play for underprivileged children in the region, namely golfing and aviation. Her passion for golf was ignited in 2007 after a meeting with Jack Nicklaus, one of the greatest golfers of all time, who gave her an interesting insight into the sport. “He told me there is a lot to be learned from golf and urged me to go back to my community, teach at least two or three children, and see the difference. That is how I began this project,” she shares. South Africa’s excess of land has allowed it to host over 521 sprawling golf clubs, which are among some of the best in the world. Taking advantage of this, the princess began her golfing project in 2010 for children from rural areas. “It is amazing because they do not know anything about golf but they soon start to learn that to play this game, you need to be disciplined, quiet, focused and completely clear in your mind.”
Princess Nandi’s aviation initiative stems from her personal love for flying, which has “always fascinated” her. Currently juggling her studies and other interests, the princess has given herself the deadline of three years to complete her own Private Pilot Licence (PPL) course. Having experienced the benefits of flying herself, she now hopes to expose more women, especially young black rural women, to aviation.
“Flying gives me a totally different look at life,” she explains, “It is similar to when I play golf and I always compare these two things. At the golf course, I am alone and everything is green; when I am flying, my mind feels elevated and the ideas just come to me.”
For The Love Of Thanda
Going hand in hand with the princess’s multitude of social initiatives is her association with Thanda Royal Zulu Group, a massive undertaking by billionaire philanthropist Dan Olofsson and his wife Christin. Beginning with the restoration and incorporation of an expansive private game reserve patronized by the Zulu King, Thanda has expanded to include an award-winning safari lodge, a number of conservation and social initiatives and, most recently, an ultra-luxury residential project named Thanda Royal Residences. Princess Nandi’s connection with the project goes far back to her childhood when she was first introduced to the CEO of Thanda, Pierre Delvaux. “Pierre and his family were our neighbours and knew our family well. Pierre was fascinated by the King’s company and he used to visit them often. In fact, Pierre’s aunt is actually my brother’s godmother!” she reveals.
The Thanda grounds bordered the King’s lands, which he eventually agreed to lease, thus bringing the two families together into business. Representing her father, the princess was especially excited about the project after learning of the Olofsson’s commendable philanthropic efforts in the area. Beyond being just an ambassador of the project, the princess clarifies, “I am involved in the real estate and I look after the interests of my father and the kingdom. Another important aspect is my role as a princess, in which I share the culture of my country with the world.”
Describing the Thanda experience, the princess explains, “Thanda is a different world altogether. It is like a fairyland that is completely untouched. I always go in hoping to see a lion, or some new bird or tree. It is just different from anything you have ever seen.” What makes being part of Thanda most special, however, is the connection and friendship element of being part of such an exclusive club. “You get the opportunity to exchange cultures and talk about the most important issues in a completely elite circle with very elevated mindsets.” The conservation efforts Thanda is making are also a huge draw, especially those seeking to prevent poaching of the African rhino. “It is so heartbreaking to see a rhino being killed; if you do not protect the rhino now, what will we have to offer our future generations?” she laments.
A Royal Legacy
The princess has had no lack of interesting experiences in her life, but perhaps few compare to the great men she has had proximity with. Nelson Mandela, for example, was one of her primary inspirations to champion education. “Just being around Nelson Mandela told you he was a great man. He had such an aura; half of the time I was listening to him, I was just teary eyed and in awe. He just kept telling me to empower myself as a woman – that education is so important and time and again, to just go to school.”
Similarly, the princess’s relationship with her father, the Zulu King forms an indelible part of her character and outlook. “I look at him as my father first and then a king. Outside of the crown, he is just a father, a farmer, a golfer, and an activist. He prays a lot of late. It is not that he is so spiritual, but he is really praying for the nation; and he embraces all nations.” While the father and daughter do share their special moments talking and laughing over dinners, the princess still appreciates the value of her father’s time. “When I need to discuss something serious with my father, such as a business proposal, I make an appointment and we have a proper business meeting. I do not take him for granted and respect his space,” she asserts.
Looking to the future, the princess aims to further her work for women’s causes by adding a more business element to their development, such as enabling and easing the path to creating their own small businesses. As she concludes, “Women are powerful, fascinating and creative. Whatever their status, they can multitask and do a million things at once. They say men do, but I think it is really the women who are always trying to put food on the table. Be it through empowerment or mentoring – if women can work together, it is a victory for the entire nation.”
Princess Nandi Zulu with Group Publisher and Managing Editor for MillionaireAsia, Brian Yim.
This article was first printed in MillionaireAsia Issue 45 - Aug 2017