Meet SA's man in Israel: Sisa Ngombane

DIRCO replaced their ambassador to Israel last Dec with the most savvy & experienced candidate available, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary* Sisa Ngombane.
by ANT KATZ | Oct 13, 2013

When the Department of International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO) sought to replace their Israeli ambassador after the retirement of Ambassador Coovadia last December, they could not have selected a more heavy-weight candidate than Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary* Sisa Ngombane!

While in SA for a minor medical procedure in July, Ambassador Ngombane granted the Jewish Report an exclusive interview – and what an informative and enlightening meeting it turned out to be. offers users an introduction to Ambassador Ngombane.

The 56-year-old ambassador is a struggle-veteran and one of the most seasoned active diplomats the country has to offer. Prior to taking up his post in Tel Aviv last December, career-diplomat Ngombane served for two years as DIRCO’s Deputy Director General for Asia and the Middle East.

Sisa Ngombane rose through the ranks of the African National Congress and, at the time of the unbanning of the organisation at home, in 1990, he occupied the position of Deputy Chief Representative of the ANC to Zambia.

Ngombane, who is a fluent French speaker and educated in international affairs, was then appointed as the Chief Representative of the ANC to the European Community and Belgium from 1990 to 1994.

2a-Ambassador Sisa Ngombane & Howard Sackstein catching upPictured at right catching up with Ambassador Ngombane is Jewish Report director Howard Sackstein who founded Jews for Social Justice during the struggle. The two last met when Sackstein took Nelson Mandela to Brussels on behalf of the World Jewish Congress. He also led the only ANC delegation ever to visit Israel and spent six years at the Independent Electoral Commission (1994 to 2000) ending as executive director and becoming largely responsible for the 1999 SA general elections.

After the first democratic elections in 1994 Sisa Ngombane joined the new democratic Department of Foreign Affairs. Between 1995 and 1999 he was posted as the SA Ambassador to the Ivory Coast - with accreditation to Togo, Benin, Burkina Faso and Niger.

From 1999 to December 2006 he served as Ambassador to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) – playing a significant role in helping to bring peace to the war-ravaged country and then assisting in conducting democratic elections and the setting up of democratic institutions.

This was one of the most successful and significant diplomatic roles that the (then) newly-democratic SA diplomatic service had been called on to play and included the coordinating of an inter-departmental task force from SA which included Defence, Home Affairs, Safety and Security, the IEC, SAPS and other role-players.

This all had to be dovetailed and coordinated with the international efforts of the UN, AU and the EU – and it was all facilitated through Ambassador Ngombane’s office.

First Asian appointment

His next appointment was as South African High Commissioner to Malaysia from 2007 to March 2010 – when he was recalled to Pretoria to take over as Deputy Director General for Asia and the Middle East.

In this capacity Ngombane oversaw DIRCO’s diplomats posted to the Middle East, Levant and Israel – but only visited the region once during his tenure as the real diplomatic work of his office was, naturally, directed towards the fast-growing SA relations with China and India.

His two years as DDG have, however, ensured that this highly skilled diplomat arrived in Israel with a deep understanding of the regional politics today. This is fortified by a career at the forefront of ANC political and diplomatic relationships since the early 1980s.

Sisa Ngombane hails from the north Eastern Cape village of Tsolo – situated 75km from the town of Maclear. He attended school in Mthatha and matriculated in 1975 at St Johns College.

Worked to pay for studies

In 1976 he joined brother who was working at the dynamite factory in Modderfontein. He, too, secured a job there and saved whatever he could as he remained passionate about studying. By 1977 he was able to enrol as a BSc student at Fort Hare.

After completing his second year, however, the changing political landscape saw Ngombane joining the ANC and going into exile in 1980. He says that after Steve Biko was killed, the political temperature rose dramatically. This was followed by a prolonged period of strikes and unrest which led him and a few friends to decide to go into exile in Lesotho.

Cadre Sisa Ngombane was quickly identified by the ANC as a bright young man and duly shipped off to the Moscow Institute of International Relations where he graduated in Social Science. (He would subsequently further quench his thirst for education with a Bachelor of Arts Honours degree in Political Science at Milton Keynes in the UK in 1994, and a Master of Management at the Open University Malaysia in 2011. In 1993 he also completed a course in Diplomatic Training and Conflict Management and Negotiations at the Institute of International Relations in The Hague.) 

Between 1983 and 1985 Ngombane worked in the underground structures of the ANC in Lesotho coordinating political and military activities. In 1986 his base of operations was moved to Botswana for three years – and from there to Lusaka as Deputy Chief Representative of the ANC in Zambia.

Already a seasoned diplomat

By the time Ngombane took up his post as Chief Representative of the ANC to the EU and Belgium in 1990, he was already a seasoned diplomat.

The Ambassador has attended many high-level conferences at Heads of State and Ministerial level over the years. These include professional conferences on Energy, Environment and Muslim religion focussed discussions.

Sisa Ngombane is married to Thathanyana and they have two adult children, Mpho and Bonga - and a laat-lammetjie, Silindile. South Africa’s ambassador to Israel relaxes and keeps fit by jogging.


* Plenipotentiary refers to a senior diplomatic envoy invested with full and absolute power of authority. The word originates in Medieval Latin plēnipotentiārius, from plēnus=full + potential=power. Ambassador Ngombane explains that, in practice, if there are legal matters that require Presidential signature, President Zuma can delegate - by means of a Presidential Minute - a power of attorney for a suitably qualified ambassador to sign a specific document on his behalf.


  1. 2 Xolisa Ngombane 20 Nov
    You are an intellingent person and a brave person,we thank God and we love.
  2. 1 Sekiwe Ngombane 15 May
    Great man indeed. You make us proud. 


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