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Dr Buhle Mbambo-Thata: a viewpoint from South Africa

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Profile by Margaret Adolphus

About Dr Mbambo-Thata

Photo: Dr Buhle Mbambo-Thata.Dr Buhle Mbambo-Thata is one of the most distinguished librarians in Africa. Her current position, which she has held since 2006, is executive director, library services, University of South Africa (UNISA), South Africa's premier, distance learning university.

Previously she spent five years as university librarian at the University of Zimbabwe where, against a backdrop of a collapsing economy, she managed to build up a state-of-the-art digital library.

In addition to her role at UNISA, Dr Mbambo-Thata is active in the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA): previously chair of the Africa Section Standing Committee, she is currently chair, IFLA Division 5, Regional Activities, and member of the governing board. This role involves overseeing developments within the standing committees of Africa, Asia and Oceania, Latin America and the Caribbean.

She also has a whole string of committee affiliations – the Library Network of Association of Commonwealth Libraries, the E-Knowledge Society for Women in Southern Africa (of which she is chairperson), and has previously served on the advisory committees of the eIFL Found.net, the Gender in Africa Information Network, and the Access to Learning Award of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

If all this makes Buhle Mbambo-Thata sound somewhat formidable, as a person she is charming and softly spoken. She is also very unassuming and modest about her achievements; in fact, she does not recognize these as her sole property. Driven by vision rather than ambition, she simply sees things that need doing, recognizes that she cannot do them alone, and works with others to get them done. For her, it's the team that counts, not the individual.