Barry Blassoples Eventerprise VP of Growth, sat down with Birgit as part of a ‘Getting to know Birgit Thümecke’ Interview series.
Birgit Thumecke: But eventually when they then wanted to get really serious and get married, they had to leave. They were also listed because they were once imprisoned for a weekend in Kimberley. There was a roadblock and the police officer stopped them and said, “You are a couple?” And he put them into jail from Friday night to Monday morning. And then, on Monday morning there was a court hearing and they had no evidence that they were a couple, but they monitored them.
And they then decided, look, we want to get married, we want to have children. And they tried to get married. They went to Swaziland. I don’t know, I think they even went to Mozambique, I speak under correction though. But they asked various priests if they would marry them and they said, “We can’t. And it’s actually illegal. You should better go.”
So then at that time my mother had an ID but not her passport, so she had to apply for the passport. And eventually, she left. And when I say against all odds, then I mean political pressures, but also against her own family because they were also not so fond of the fact that she was dating, and then later on marrying foreign national from Germany going so far away from her home. So they predicted horrible things would happen to my mom.
And yeah. So besides authenticity, perseverance, feistiness. Just believing in your dreams, just pushing through. Trust, I also learned a lot of trust from her. She instilled this absolute strong trust in us. And she also raised us, my sister and myself, to speak up and to not fit in. And yeah, these are the traits I learned from her.
Birgit Thumecke: But it wasn’t easy in the beginning because we stuck out there like a sore thumb as a family and everybody oh, every colour, oh. This is now the early sixties in Germany. People weren’t that worldly at the time, and my mother was really the only person of colour. But then they were also, at that point in time, were foreigners, not from other European countries. I think there was one guy from Italy and they were interviewed, my mother and him. And actually the local newspaper, they produced the story where she is on the page standing in the snow for first time in her life in snow and yeah.
So I guess the variety of diversity and what it brings to you, the beauty that it brings to you, the stories that she brought to our house when she spoke to us about South Africa. Even my friends at school they would come sit on our couch in the living room and listen to my mom’s stories. Yeah, actually amazing. So I learned a lot from her. Very grateful for being her child and there was certainly never a dull moment. Never a worry in life. But both my parents were very worldly. Also my father. It was a reason why we left Germany to come to South Africa. So they were cool people.
Interviewer: Good. It sounds like, definitely. So then we, let’s fast forward a little bit into your early career. So here you are, a young woman.
Birgit Thumecke: Not anymore, at the time I was. Yeah.
Interviewer: Yes. A young woman starting life in corporate Germany.
Birgit Thumecke: Oh gosh, yeah.
Interviewer: Clearly an environment, which certainly at the time institutionally was designed to support and advance and promote, I guess the antithesis of what you appear to be on surface. In other words, you were not a young, white male in that environment. You were female, you were a person of colour so to speak.
Birgit Thumecke: Yeah (affirmative)
Interviewer: And I said on the surface because of course what underlies that is your drive and your ambition and your ability to do what you do. But certainly in terms perception of who you were coming into that environment.
I guess some at a glance will tag you as someone who was going to do particularly well given the circumstances at the time. And so, within that context, clearly there would be challenges that you encountered within the realm of how included or not included you were. How diverse or non-diverse the environments were. And I suppose unfortunately in many ways many corporate environments have not changed that much.
Birgit Thumecke: No, they haven’t.