Sunday sit-down with… Councillor Josephine Mudzingwa, North Tyneside Council
We caught up with North Tyneside’s first black, female councillor to find out why she got into politics, how she’s working to improve Benton, Newcastle, and what representing her diverse community means to her.
Following the local elections last week, Councillor Josephine Mudzingwa has made history by becoming the first elected black, female councillor in North Tyneside Council’s 48-year history.
Labour candidate Josephine was elected to serve the Benton ward with a landslide victory over her competitors, winning 1,577 votes. But behind her success lies more than just a desire to improve the future of her ward for her constituents. In her new leadership role, Josephine is proud to be able to represent her diverse community.
We caught up with Josephine to chat about what this role means to her, how she’s hoping to improve Benton and her mission to reduce racism in North Tyneside.
What inspired you to become a councillor?
I experienced racism on the first day of living in North Tyneside. I had just moved from London and a neighbour cut my washing line, leaving all my three-month-old baby’s clothes on the grass. She had never said a word to me. She didn’t even know if l spoke English but continued to do many things to make my life uncomfortable. I vowed after this to do my bit to make the world a better place to live.
My desire to make a difference and help shape the future of the local community inspired me. I have always been keen to ensure that my community gets the right services.
What did you do before taking on this role?
I spent the bulk of my career working as a nurse in Zimbabwe, then as an auxiliary nurse in the UK. More recently, I’ve split my time between running our business with my husband and working as a project coordinator on our project, which helps to reduce racism through community cohesion. We’ve had dance sessions, cooked African food for people in isolation during the pandemic, and I am a proud activist for social issues.
What do you think may be most challenging about being a councillor?
Having just been elected, I’m still finding out what’s the most challenging part, especially since I am the first black, female councillor in North Tyneside for 48 years. But having met residents across Benton as part of the campaign, I heard some of their concerns and learnt how I can best make a difference to them, which will be key going forward.
Why is it important to you to represent your community?
You’ve really hit the nail on the head there; representation matters. It’s important for young people to see a diverse range of visible community leaders so that they can visualise anything they wish to achieve. I want people across Benton – and the country – to be able to identify with my story, whatever their background may be, and for them to feel encouraged to use their voice and dream big.
Have you felt like you’ve faced discrimination in your career?
Unfortunately, yes. The world has moved on so much over the last two decades, in many ways. But sadly, racism and bias still exist in many walks of life. As I begin my journey as a councillor, I hope to play a part in changing that. I plan to use my voice to represent my ward in Benton and bring genuine diversity to the council’s ideas, drawing from my life experience and work in my community.
Following the recent ‘skirt scandal’ involving Labour MP Angela Rayner, why is it essential for more women to get into politics?
We need fair treatment of women in politics – whatever their political party, background, belief, religion or race. Gender equality is very important to me.
Encouragingly, there are many female councillors in North Tyneside, a female elected mayor and a female MP. That being said, it’s important we encourage and empower more women to stand for election and to represent their communities.
What would your advice be to women who want to get into politics but are afraid of being trolled?
Be resilient and keep your eye on the ball. Get some supportive people in your corner. I’ve been fortunate to have a strong support system in my friends and family, which has held me up during tough days.
What issues are you most passionate about changing in North Tyneside?
I believe diversity leads to better decision-making for the people we serve. As a councillor, I will fight for local issues – including more investment in Benton – and to make sure the priorities in the Our North Tyneside Plan have a positive impact on my residents. I would love for all residents across North Tyneside to feel they can approach their local leaders and engage with us on the different issues they face. My residents have told me that they’d like safer, better pavements and roads and more police to fight crime and anti-social behaviour.
And what do you most want to protect about North Tyneside?
North Tyneside is my home. I have lived here for over two decades. All my kids have grown up here and went to school here. We have friends and family here. My grandchildren will be born here. The sense of community and feeling of safety I have felt is something we need to protect.
Right now, we are all facing challenges with the cost-of-living crisis. It becomes very important to fight for bigger issues, like ensuring a higher living wage so everyone can live a good quality of life.
What drives you in your career?
I stand firmly in my faith, having grown up anchored to my religious beliefs, and have raised my own family in the same way. Regarding challenges and what’s driven me, I always say two things to my children: 1) you are enough, and; 2) if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. These are the two mantras I’ve held with me when things seemed impossible.
What are your plans for the future?
This is just the start of my political career. I have an eye on becoming an MP or even the elected mayor. But for now, my full focus will be to represent the community that has elected me and help create the change I want to see and which I truly believe in.