Dr Baldwin ‘Ben’ Sipho Ngubane was born on 22 October 1941 at the Inchanga Roman Catholic Mission in Camperdown, Natal (now KwaZulu-Natal - KZN). He matriculated at St Francis College, Mariannhill, Natal, in 1960 and went on to graduate with an MB ChB in 1971 from the Medical School of the University of Natal (now the University of KwaZulu-Natal – UKZN) in Durban, KZN.

Following this, Dr Ngubane obtained Diplomas in Tropical Medicine and Public Health from the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits University), Transvaal (now Gauteng) in 1982 and 1983 respectively. In addition, he obtained an M Prax Med (Master of Family Medicine and Primary Health) degree in 1986 from the then-Natal Medical School, and a Postgraduate Diploma in Economic Principles from the University of London, England, in 2003.

Although he came from a family that was involved in traditional politics, Dr Ngubane first came into contact with the broader political issues that were prevalent in the country while he was in medical school. He subsequently got involved in student politics and served as vice-president of the National Union of South African Students (NUSAS). It was during this time that he worked with Steve Biko while Biko was active in NUSAS.

Dr Ngubane taught Latin at St Francis College, KZN, for two years before becoming a member of the South African Red Cross Society (SARCS) in 1977 and Regional Councillor of the Red Cross in 1978. He represented the SARCS at international congresses of the Red Cross in 1981, 1983, 1985, and 1987.

He became a member of the Council of the University of Zululand. In 1976, he joined the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) and in 1978, he was elected to represent the Enseleni district in the former Natal legislative assembly.

Dr Ngubane was appointed Minister of Health in the KZN government in 1991(a post he held until 1994). He also became a member of the National Boxing Board of Control. In 1992, he served on the Convention for a Democratic South Africa (CODESA) working group which dealt with constitutional principles and constitution-making, on behalf of the IFP.

From August 1994 until 31 August 1996, Dr Ngubane served as the first Minister of Arts, Culture, Science and Technology in the new democratic South Africa under former President Nelson Mandela. He was re-appointed again to this same position in February 1999 by then-president Thabo Mbeki, leading it until February 2004. In 1995, Dr Ngubane delivered the Lord Zuckerman Lecture to the Royal Society in London, England, on the subject: Future Directions for South African Science and Technology.

He served as a Member of the Executive Council (MEC) in the KZN provincial government from September 1996 to February 1997 and Premier of the same provincial government from 1 March 1997 until February 1999. During his tenure as Premier, Dr Ngubane is recognised for his role in bringing about peace and helping to tame the political violence that plagued the province during that period.

In October 2000, Dr Ngubane became chairperson of the ComNet of IT for Development and in February 2002 until 2003, he was elected chairperson of the Commonwealth Science Council. On 24 June 2004, he was appointed as Ambassador to Japan, where, among other projects, he initiated the South Africa-Japan University Forum (SAJU). He remained in this position until 2008. After many years as a member of the IFP, Dr Ngubane resigned from the party in 2006 and joined its rival, the African National Congress (ANC).

He served on the Eskom board from December 2014 until June 2017 when he resigned after serving as chairperson from October 2015. Other boards he served on include the National Committee for the Rights of Children (NCRC), the Community Based Development Programme (CBDOP), the Grassroots Early Childhood Education Project, the Community Peace Foundation, and chairing the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) board as well as the Land Bank.

In 2010, Dr Ngubane was presented with the Grand Cordon of the Japanese Order of the Rising Sun for his work in enhancing the relationship and improving the cooperation in science and technology between South Africa and Japan.

He was conferred an Honorary Doctorate for his role in helping to position South Africa as an influential and major player in the development of arts, culture, science and technology globally. He was awarded Honorary Doctorates from UKZN, the University of Zululand, the Medical University of South Africa (MEDUNSA – now Sefako Makgatho Health Sciences University), and the Tshwane University of Technology (TUT).

After dedicating his life to serving others through politics and healthcare, Dr Ngubane’s public image sadly became tainted towards the end of his life when he was implicated in the 2016 State Capture Report by former Public Protector, Thuli Madonsela. He was accused of being involved in some acts of misconduct during his time as board chairperson at Eskom and was consequently called to testify at the Zondo Commission of Inquiry in 2020.

Dr Baldwin ‘Ben’ Sipho Ngubane died on 12 July 2021 in Richards Bay, KZN, after contracting covid-19. He was 79 years old. He is survived by his wife, Sheila, his four children as well as grandchildren.


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