by Shalane van Rensburg
Most Influential South African Women in History
In general, all racial and ethnic groups in South Africa have long-standing beliefs concerning gender roles, and most of these beliefs are based on the premise that women are less important, or less deserving of power, than men. Twentieth-century economic and political developments presented South African women with both new obstacles and new opportunities to wield influence. WIM features the 10 most influential South African women in history and how they changed those long-standing beliefs.
Bridgette Radebe is the Executive Chairperson of Mmakau Mining. She is also an Independent Non-executive Director of Sappi Limited. Bridgette was closely involved in developing the South African Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act and the Mining Charter. As Africa’s richest black woman, Bridgette has come a long way. She is a champion of the poor and an outspoken advocate for the
nationalisation of the mines. She wanted to study law at University of the Witwatersrand, but was barred because of her race (though her younger brother Patrice Motsepe managed to get in and graduate. It was apparently Bridgette who persuaded him to go into mining). Mmakau Mining is today a successful but under-the-radar business with quality assets in platinum, gold, uranium, coal, and chrome, as well as exploration and mining services. As founder and President of the Junior Mining Chamber, Bridgette has pioneered the creation of sustainable mining communities. She is married to Jeff Radebe, South Africa’s Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development.
Elisabeth Bradley still retains influence as the fourth wealthiest woman in the country. Elisabeth’s parents were businessman Albert Wessels and journalist and renowned poet Elisabeth Eybers. It was Albert who brought Toyota vehicles to South Africa in 1961, and, by 1968, they were the most popular commercial vehicles in the country. In 1986, Elisabeth was appointed Managing Director of Wesco Investments, which had a large stake in Toyota South Africa, and, after the death of her father in 1991, became Executive Chairperson. She has served on the boards of blue-chip companies such as the Standard Bank Group, Tongaat Hulett and Sasol, and the Rosebank Inn. She also serves on the Wits Business School Advisory Board. In 2007, she was honoured with a Manex Award, which recognises excellence in leadership.
Gill Marcus is the ninth governor of the Reserve Bank – and the first woman to do the job. She was born in Johannesburg in 1949 to antiapartheid-activist parents, so notions of democracy and political dedication were inculcated in her from a young age. She worked for the African National Congress’s (ANC’s) Information Department and became editor of its weekly bulletin. When the party was unbanned 20 years later, she moved back to South Africa from London and was asked by the party to start an information department here. She became the ANC’s media interface at this crucial time of political upheaval. In 1994, she travelled throughout South Africa with Nelson Mandela. She was elected a Member of Parliament that year and became Chairperson of the Joint Finance Committee. She was Chairperson of the Absa Group, a Non-executive Director of Goldfields, and Professor of Policy, Leadership and Gender Studies at the Gordon Institute of Business Science at the University of Pretoria. She supports the Johannesburg Children’s Home and Children of Fire (a burns charity) and is Chairperson of the Rhodes Scholarship Fund.
Helen Zille serves as Premier of the South African Western Cape Province. She is also the Leader of the Democratic Alliance (DA) and Councillor of the City of Cape Town. Helen previously served as Mayor of Cape Town. She was also the Director of Communications at the University of Cape Town. She began her working life as a journalist. It was she who, as a reporter on the liberal Rand Daily Mail, exposed the truth behind the death in police custody of antiapartheid activist Steve Biko. She was an activist herself during the 1980s, and was involved with groups such as the Black Sash and the Independent Media Diversity Trust. She joined the Democratic Party in the mid-1990s and, after the 1999 general elections, was the DA’s Member of the Executive Council for Education. A global think tank called City Mayors named her World Mayor of the Year in 2008. Under her leadership, the Western Cape was this year given top marks (82%) by the Public Service Commission for the performance of provincial premiers. Performance was measured on the basis of criteria such as ethics, career-development practices and transparency.
Dr Mamphela Ramphele is Chairperson of Circle Capital Ventures Limited. She is the former Chairperson of Goldfields Limited. She is also an academic, businesswoman and medical doctor and was an antiapartheid activist. She was one of the founders of the Black Consciousness Movement, along with Steve Biko. Mamphela Ramphele was placed 55th on the list of the Top 100 Great South Africans in 2004. She currently serves as a Director of Medi-Clinic Corporation Limited and Business Partners. In February 2013, she officially launched a new political party called Agang, which is Sesotho for ‘build’. Her years at university were formative ones: she became involved in politics and met the love of her life, Steve Biko. She and Steve became the foremost proponents of the Black Consciousness Movement, which aimed to give black people a sense of their worth and power. She was also dedicated to community upliftment, in the process establishing clinics and literacy projects. As an activist, she suffered greatly at the hands of the apartheid government, ranging from banishment to the murder in police custody of Steve in 1977 while she was pregnant with their son.
Maria Ramos is the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Absa Group. Maria has served as Group Chief Executive of Transnet Limited and served as Director-General of the National Treasury. She also serves on numerous boards, including the World Bank Chief Economist Advisory Panel. She was rated as the world’s ninth Most Influential Businesswoman by Fortune Magazine. Her family struggled financially, so she had to get a job straight out of school. She went to work at Barclay’s Bank as a clerk. Maria wanted to apply for the bank’s university scholarship scheme, but was told it was only open to men. However, she persuaded the bank to give her the scholarship and went to the University of the Witwatersrand in 1984 to study for a Bachelor of Commerce. Here, as a student and later as a lecturer, she became involved in politics. When the ANC was unbanned, Maria was involved in drawing up its economic policy, and, in 1996, she became Director-General of the Treasury, where she worked closely with then Finance Minister Trevor Manuel (whom she married in 2008) to strengthen the country’s economy. In 2004, she became CEO of Transnet and embarked on an ambitious restructuring of the transport parastatal, making it profitable.
Nicola Newton-King is Chief Executive Officer of the Johannesburg Stock Exchange (JSE). She also serves as a member of the Financial Markets Advisory Board. Nicola previously served as Deputy Chief Executive Officer of the Johannesburg Stock Exchange. She was one of the primary drafters of the Insider Trading Act, a world leader of its kind. Before she worked at the JSE, she was a partner at one of the country’s biggest law firms, Webber Wentzel Bowens, where she advised clients in the securities and financial services industry. In 1996, she joined the JSE to sort out an insider trading scandal, just as major changes began in the almost-bankrupt exchange. In addition to her normal duties, Nicola also led the transformation process at the JSE, consulting with all staff about the implementation of employment equity. Nicola has three law degrees, has a fellowship at Yale, and attended Harvard for a development programme.
Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma is a South African politician and former antiapartheid activist. She was South Africa’s Minister of Health from 1994 to 1999 under President Nelson Mandela, then Minister of Foreign Affairs from 17 June 1999 to 10 May 2009 under Presidents Thabo Mbeki and Kgalema Molanthe. She was moved to the position of Minister of Home Affairs in the Cabinet of President Jacob Zuma, her ex-husband, on 10 May 2009, in which capacity she served until her resignation on 2 October 2012. On 15 July 2012, Nkosazana was elected by the African Union Commission as its Chairperson, making her the first woman to lead the organisation (including its predecessor, the Organization of African Unity). The Department of Home Affairs received a clean audit for the first time in 16 years in 2011. She was also a leading activist as a student in the 1970s.
Precious Moloi-Motsepe is Executive Chairperson of African Fashion International (AFI). Her company owns and hosts fashion weeks in South Africa. AFI’s mission is to promote and develop South African and African fashion and to bring it into the mainstream. She is also a Chairperson of Leisureworx. Precious was a speaker on ‘Women and Health in the Workplace’ at the Global Summit of Women held in South Africa in 2000. She has worked in public hospitals in Johannesburg and Pretoria, specialising mainly in paediatrics. She later found that her passion was gynaecology and subsequently ran a successful practice in Johannesburg. She has said that, if women are healthy, they have healthier families.
Thulisile Madonsela is South Africa’s Public Protector. She is also a human rights lawyer and equality expert. Thulisile is one of 11 technical experts who helped the Constitutional Assembly to draft the final constitution in 1994 and 1995. She gave up a scholarship at Harvard to do this. Previously, she was a member of a task team that prepared constitutional inputs for the Gauteng Province for the ANC. She presented the final document at the ANC’s Gauteng Constitutional Conference in 1995. Thulisile has been involved in community and social justice issues since the 1980s, and, in her early career, was a teacher and union organiser. She has helped draw up many statutes enacted since 1994 and was the co-architect of the policy framework that formed the basis of the Ministry for Women, Children and People with Disabilities. She has written extensively and her achievements include co-authoring the bench book for equality courts and a handbook on family law. She was in the headlines when she was threatened with arrest after investigating the police for maladministration.
Wendy Ackerman is a Non-executive Director of Pick n Pay Holdings Limited. She has been recognised by the South African Nature Foundation for outstanding achievements and for contributions to environmental conservation. She has also been acknowledged by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) as a Diamond Custodian of Table Mountain. Wendy’s husband Raymond may have made a success of Pick n Pay, but she was instrumental in developing the brand, particularly its social responsibility ethic. Her focus has been the development of Pick n Pay’s employee benefits. Wendy has worked hard to mould Pick n Pay into a socially responsible retailer. The Ackermans were staunchly opposed to apartheid and Pick n Pay was one of the few companies to promote black employees. Wendy is also a patron of the arts and rescued the Cape Town Opera from funding difficulties.
Wendy Appelbaum is a businesswoman and philanthropist and one of the richest women in Africa. Wendy, daughter of Liberty Life founder Donald Gordon, was a director of Liberty Investors, the holding company of Liberty Group. Wendy is involved in many philanthropic projects. Through the Wendy Appelbaum Foundation, her company initiates, selects and drives programmes addressing health and education interests and concerns of South African women. She is a director of Sphere Holdings, a black empowerment company focused on the financial services and mining sectors.
Top Ten Female Political Activists in South Africa
Winnie Madikizela-Mandela (born 1936)
Sophia Williams-De Bruyn, anti-apartheid activist (born 1938)
Irene Grootboom, housing rights activist (c. 1969–2008)
Ruth Hayman, antiapartheid campaigner (died 1981)
Fatima Meer, scientist and political activist (1928–2010)
Elias Motsoaledi, political activist (1924–1994)
Victoria Mxenge, antiapartheid activist (1942–1985)
Lilian Ngoyi, antiapartheid activist (1911–1980)
Rachel Simons, communist and trade unionist (1914–2004)
Albertina Sisulu, political activist and wife of Walter Sisulu (born 1919)
Source: www.leader.co.za Wits Business School Journal