By Fiona Wakelin & Koketso Mamabolo


“There is a lot of negativity and there are a lot of wrong perceptions about public sector employees,” says Zinhle Thupana, Group Executive for Corporate Services at the Central Energy Fund (CEF). 

At this year’s Top Empowerment Awards, Zinhle was recognised for her contributions with the Public Sector Leader of the Year Award. 

As she takes Public Sector Leaders into the world of an award-winning civil servant, it becomes clear that while her role may encompass a range of critical portfolios, it becomes clear that while her role may encompass many portfolios, people are at the very heart of what she does. 


You won the Top Empowered Public Sector Leader of the Year Award in 2023. What did winning this award mean to you and how has it impacted your journey? 

“Quite exciting, I must say, and surprisingly unexpected, but really fulfilling as well. And just to realise that the effort that we put, it is being recognised.

I always say, ‘public servants, we do not tell our story right’. There is a lot of negativity and there are a lot of wrong perceptions about public sector employees. And I do not think there is much time to talk about what we do and contribute to this space. So for me, that really enabled me as an individual to be able to say that this is the story, this is what we are doing and this is how we have contributed into the bigger scheme of things from the public sector point of view.

It then brings challenges of saying that I need to do better now, I need to improve more. So there is a bit of pressure now to say, ‘yes, hello, we are here, we have done it, we have won, so what is next?’” 

We need to sharpen the pencil even more. Let’s make sure that we come up with more initiatives that are still building to add to this journey of the public sector work that we do so that the status quo does not remain, but the status quo changes. 

There are people, whether in the public sector, or the private sector, that are also on the same journey as I am and would be able to learn and leverage. It really was an eye opening experience for me.

Portrait of a smiling Zinhle Thupana

Why is transformation important to the Central Energy Fund?

“We are state-owned and issues of dealing with historical imbalances are very critical in our space. And I think that it made sure that it would assist us as an organisation to be able to transform and promote issues of transformation which are aimed at improving organisational performance. 

Because I think that is what is critical. I think the transformation needs to be building that culture that is saying we want to improve but we also want to change the current status quo or the history of the imbalances, which is why then we then look into diversity, we then look into the issues of how then do we make sure that we are diverse as an organisation? 

But the diversity that we are bringing, it is really talking to the issues of innovation. It is really talking to the issues of fair representation in terms of the organisation and really trying to make sure that as an organisation we also talk to issues of inclusivity as we move forward.”


What excites you about what you do?

“Number one is working with employees, but working with employees who have a high morale but also being able to see that what I do from my portfolio contributes to employees of the organisation, whether in the office or outside office. 

If I have a well-balanced workforce, from wellness to mental health, I would then have a better workforce in the organisation that is able to deliver and perform.

I offer those initiatives that will not only improve you as an individual, but as an employee of CEF. And I think that really brings a smile to my face.”


What would be your message to our readers?

“I really want each and every leader to be able to embrace change. Let them find excitement in challenges and build organisations that drive not just to survive, but also let us become the employees or leaders out there who continue to build workplaces where everyone feels valued, respected, supported because I do believe that together as leaders, we can really shatter glass ceilings, cultivate well-being, harmonise work and life, and really unleash our full potential. 

Importantly, and lastly, remember that each one of us has a unique voice and perspective that really contributes to the richness of our society. I think let us continue to embrace our strengths and champion diversity and collaborate across teams and industry. Leaders, let us use this environment and where innovation flourishes, I believe, ideas are heard and solutions are born.”