“We want a better life for all South Africans; we want to realise social cohesion and harmony. To this end, South Africa needs real leadership to lead us to the future we want to see. We want to see economic development that ensures South Africans a good quality of life, we want to see rural development, we want to see poverty eradicated, we want to deal decisively with inequality, we want a nation at work through job creation and an economy that is able to absorb the labour capacity of this country.” This is the future that alumnus, Teddy Ceke, envisages for South Africa. Read more about his illustrious career as a civil servant, his advice to current students and his sources of inspiration.
Q: Briefly summarise your studies and your professional career, with special mention of specific highlights/milestones.
A: I qualified with a Master of Public Administration (MPA) degree from the University of Pretoria in 2017. The MPA was preceded by the BTech in Public Management from the University of South Africa in 2000 and a National Diploma in Public Management and Administration from Nelson Mandela University in 1994.
I’m a public affairs professional with experience in South Africa's system of governance and government architecture (public administration). I have a deep understanding of policy-making processes, government’s institutional mechanisms, public finance management, public human resource management, South Africa’s international administration context (SADC, AU, UN), etc.
My background in public information management, monitoring and evaluation of government programmes, foreign affairs official experience (SADC human development issues and regional integration, AU transition from OAU, development and continental integration, UN disarmament and development issues, OPCW chemical weapons, IAEA nuclear weapons, NPT, TPNW, CTBTO, AFCONE matters), and occupying positions in South African diplomatic missions abroad, equipped me well to understand decision-making processes, legislative frameworks, government regulations and processes, institutions of governance and policy prescripts in the public service.
I joined the public service in 1996 as an Assistant Administrative Officer, later to be Assistant Planner and Planner in the Monitoring and Evaluation Directorate in the then Department of Land Affairs responsible for data capturing, collection and information management as well as conducting and supervising fieldwork related to the land reform and community-based public works programmes.
In 1999, I joined the Department of Public Works as an Assistant Director for Monitoring and Evaluation in the Community Based Public Works Programme. I joined the then Department of Foreign Affairs in 2001, now the Department of International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO) as a Deputy Director for Programme and Information Management in the Africa Multilateral Chief Directorate. I still work in the DIRCO and have performed various roles.
In my diplomatic life, I have served in three missions, namely Lusaka, Zambia as a Deputy Head of Mission at the SA High Commission; The Hague, in the Netherlands, as SA's Deputy Head of Mission and Deputy Permanent Representative to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW); and currently as the Deputy Head of Mission at the South African Embassy in Tel Aviv, Israel.
I have served as Deputy Director for Programme and Information Management, Social and Human Development and Special Programmes, Nuclear Disarmament and Non-Proliferation. I have also served as Charge d' Affaires at SA Embassies on a number of occasions, the longest being three years now in Israel, and I have coordinated issues related to the African Agenda. I have participated in SA delegations to important meetings and have led some delegations. At SA Missions abroad, I got an opportunity to interact and network at all levels with Heads of Missions, officials from governments in countries of accreditation, corporate representatives and many other players, including civil society, industry and academia promoting South Africa’s interests on a number of issues of international importance.
Q: To what extent did your studies at UP benefit you in your career and contribute to your success?
A: As a public servant, obtaining my MPA from UP assisted me in deepening my understanding, knowledge, skills and experience in public service, and this has enhanced me both in life in general and has increased my confidence and independence in my career.
Amongst other things, the MPA programme is tailored to provide a foundation and better understanding for public servants on important public affairs topics in society such as ethics, accountability, management etc., therefore I benefited immensely from it in that regard. It has also sharpened my problem-solving skills, critical thinking skills, communication skills, better understanding of policy-making processes, financial and human resource management, strategic management, high-level reporting and writing, etc.
Q: Can you single out a special mentor/trusted advisor who played an indispensable role in your life/studies/career?
A: A number of people made crucial and valuable contributions in my journey in life, studies and career, therefore it will be difficult to single out any one of them as they have all made different life-changing contributions that are equally important and without which I would not be where I am or the person I am today.
In life, my family, especially my mother and my dear wife, pushed me to achieve bigger things I never imagined by encouraging, supporting and advising my decision-making on a number of important issues, they are my sources of inspiration so to speak. At an academic level one has met and has been taught and coached by some of the finest teachers, lecturers and supervisors in various fields.
Q: Given your academic experience at UP, what advice can you pass on to current students?
A: Studying requires commitment, hard work, perseverance and striving for academic achievement and excellence. It requires diligence and discipline, and sacrifices need to be made, including disappointing your family and best friends at times by missing out on that very important occasion (parties, weddings, weekend getaways, etc.) as one focuses on their academic programme. I studied while working and it can be quite challenging and requires dedication as one has to strike a fair balance between your academic life and a full-time job, family and life in general.
Another challenge today is that posed by COVID-19 insofar as the pandemic has limited interaction between people and groups, posing a challenge to maintaining interpersonal relations and necessitating and actually compelling independence as students are pushed to a rather solitary academic life. However, thanks to technology, we can use Zoom and interact on Microsoft Teams, etc. although it also has its own limitations. In relation to their research work, students need to ensure that they work daily and consistently on their dissertations/theses - do a bit everyday; it pays in the end as it helps avoid working under pressure and ensures a quality, well-researched product as one gave themselves enough time to work on it.
Q: What really inspires and motivates you personally?
A: I like challenging myself both on a personal and academic level; development as a person and as a professional is a motivator to me as it boosts my confidence levels in both life in general and in my career.
New challenges, such as the circumstances brought about by COVID-19, provide an opportunity for constant growth in this era of searching for creative solutions for us to continue with our lives on different levels. Seeing things through to fruition motivates me, I enjoy seeing objectives getting achieved.
As a public servant, I would like to see the lives of the people changing for the better, and striving for that objective in the context of my work, keeps me on my toes. Service excellence and positive client and customer relations (the client or customer being the public) delight me. Knowing that your contribution and viewpoint is valued inspires me incredibly, and I always strive to provide quality advice and relevant information to my principals.
Q: What, in your opinion, is the foundation of a successful business/company/consultancy/organisation?
A: As I operate in the public sector space, I believe good governance is the backbone of any organisation, especially SA public sector institutions where corruption, the mismanagement of resources and maladministration are huge challenges today.
We need leaders and public sector managers guided by and observing and committed to high level and quality service delivery, high levels of integrity, high standards of ethical values and who have a good understanding of what the rule of law means.
Public representatives need to be accountable, encourage openness and strive to maintain good practices of transparency. Organisations driven by high levels of ethical behaviour that strive for service excellence and are client orientated will without doubt be successful.
Q: Which business/trade-related publications (magazines/newspapers/blogs, etc.) do you enjoy reading?
A: Business Day and similar, African Business, BusinessTech, government trade and tourism-related publications from Dti, the Department of Tourism, etc. and from other relevant departments as well as other materials from a variety of sources.
Q: If you could have a face-to-face meeting with an inspiring person – in any domain – who sets an example in transforming the world and inspiring others to do the same, who would it be and what would you like to discuss?
A: No one specifically, but any leader in various spheres of human endeavour – be it global politics and economy, world social order, and other topical issues today such as global warming/climate change, international cooperation, multilateralism and its relevance today, i.e. the important role of the UN as well as related institutions in the global world order and world affairs.
Q: Going forward, what are your professional/business/personal goals?
A: Like any other person, I am ambitious and would like to see multi-dimensional professional and personal growth and development beyond my chosen career and field of study in order to be well-rounded, confident to engage on any topic and well conversant in various issues of national, regional and global importance.
Q: COVID-19 continues to turn the world upside down. What is the biggest ‘lesson’ you’ve learnt from this pandemic and to what extent did it change your mind-set?
A: Fostering international cooperation is no longer a need or luxury; it is a must. The countries of the world, institutions handling public affairs beyond borders, individuals involved in any area of human endeavour such as academia, NGOs, etc. across the world, especially in this era of globalisation, must work together to find solutions and common approaches to the challenges of the world.
On a personal level, do what you always aspired to do, strive to achieve your goals and objectives you set for yourself today, procrastination is a non-starter. COVID-19 has shown that if you defer your ambitions, they will remain an unachieved dream.
Q: What are your hopes and aspirations for South Africa and its people for the rest of this decade...and beyond?
A: We need to bring development to our people. We have achieved quite a lot as a country but we have been rolling back the gains we made through corruption and lack of service delivery. Our people want to see, touch and realise development.
We need real leadership to take us to the future we want to see. We want to see economic development that ensures South Africans a good quality of life, we want to see rural development, we want to see poverty eradicated, we want to deal decisively with inequality; we want a nation at work through job creation and an economy that is able to absorb the labour capacity of this country we want to see crimes reduced drastically to manageable levels. We want a better life for all South Africans, we want to realise social cohesion and harmony.