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Chantell Witten, 49

Faculty of health sciences, University of the Free State, and nutrition lead for the South African Civil Society for Women's, Adolescents' and Children's Health (SACSoWACH)

Chantell Witten had wanted to study social work when she left school, but her marks in maths were not up to scratch. A friend suggested she apply for dietetics at university since a good maths grade was not a prerequisite. “I always knew I wanted to help people. Helping people is at the core of who I am.”

Witten began her career in 1996, practicing applied dietetics at Livingstone Hospital. It was the height of HIV infections, and many of the children she saw coming into the wards were suffering from malnutrition. This had a profound effect on her. While completing her master’s at the University of the Western Cape (UWC), Witten had the opportunity to work with the late Prof David Sanders — a strong advocate for child nutrition. The experience set Witten on her path towards public health nutrition and, after spending time in Bangladesh and Egypt, she joined the UN Children’s Fund (Unicef) in 2011 as a nutrition specialist.

Witten believes in mentorship. At the height of her career, she was encouraged by her former lecturer at UWC, Prof Edelweiss Wentzel-Viljoen to pursue her PhD. Despite initially being reluctant, she returned to study nutrition in 2015 and completed her doctorate in 2020.“If I wanted to change the world, then I had to change me,” she says.

Witten’s passion is in infant nutrition with a particular focus on breastfeeding advocacy. Globally, mothers are advised to breastfeed to obtain optimal development and health in children. However, South Africa has a low breastfeeding rate mostly due to societal and economic barriers. Many children are being fed formula, especially during the crucial first 100 days of development.

Witten is working relentlessly to change these statistics and challenge the notion that infant formula is an acceptable substitute for mother’s milk. Witten says that the incorrect feeding of infant formula often leads to tragic consequences. Formula is one of the major contributors to malnutrition in children. Mothers who cannot afford the volume of formula that would provide adequate nutrition dilute it, with the result that the child does not have their nutritional needs met. When a lack of access to clean water means that the water used in formula is unclean, this additional factor leads to more health issues.

Witen would like to see an environment that supports women, enabling them to optimally breastfeed their children. Cultural attitudes to breastfeeding deter mothers from providing this essential nourishment. “The research was blaming women for things that were actually structural barriers for them to do what was appropriate,” she says. “They understand exclusive breastfeeding, but they can’t apply it if they are constantly looking for work, having to leave their child home to go to work, or standing in a queue for a child support grant. These economic barriers are the big stumbling blocks, but we also have cultural and home environment barriers. The mom is first at a public health facility, which does support breastfeeding, but she goes home to a community that doesn’t believe in breastfeeding.

“Children are a long-term investment. You invest today and you will reap the benefits in the future.”
Witten is inspired by children thriving in the context of South Africa. “I like photos of happy kids because it gives me hope. All the recent coverage of children has been of hunger, violence and negative stories. Kids are the inspiration. Children are the future and give us hope. If we get it right with them, we can look forward to something better.”

Witten has been humbled by her nomination. “We all want acknowledgement and it’s good to get it. I have 10 years left before I retire. I think the journey ahead will bring a lot of change and I’m looking forward to this.”

Chantell Witten has been engaged in the field of food and nutrition for children for 25 years. She is a dietician with a PhD in nutrition and is currently a lecturer in the faculty of health sciences at the University of the Free State. Her passion lies in infant and young child food and nutrition, with a particular focus on the normalisation of breastfeeding.

Author - Carol Chamberlain
Thokozile Nhlumayo, 34

Thokozile Nhlumayo, 34

Executive secretary
International Youth Parliament

Thokozile Nhlumayo is a young politician who is an advocate for social justice and gender equality. Although her political career began while studying at the University of Cape Town, her defining moment came when she was denied an opportunity to run for public office due to her age. “I realised that there is a gap in our democratic and political system in South Africa: young people are not considered leaders.”

In response, Nhlumayo started #nottooyoungtolead, an online company formed to hold the South African government accountable by allowing young people to hold strategic positions in public office. Her campaign gained momentum, spread across Africa and led to her current appointment as executive secretary to the International Youth Parliament (IYP), an institution which “advocates for the meaningful inclusion of young people in political, leadership and decision-making roles in Africa and globally”. “As women, we are still trying to find our space in this highly conservative political territory,” she says.

South Africa has seen a substantial number of women rising into political roles. However, Nhlumayo believes that the political structure in South Africa is still largely patriarchal and misogynist. Its political territory is protected by tradition and she has constantly had to prove herself, both as a young person and as a woman.

Nhlumayo’s advocacy extends further. On her appointment as executive secretary to the IYP, she introduced the LGBTQIA+ Political Leaders’ Programme, which focuses on empowering young political leaders who openly identify themselves as LGBTQIA+ to be represented in politics.
She says she would like to see the political system in South Africa become more inclusive: “We have seen progress — not much — but we have seen progress here in South Africa and in Namibia.”

Nhlumayo was selected for a Mandela Washington Fellowship, a US government programme founded by former president Barack Obama. The initiative recognises young, accomplished leaders who have made a positive impact in their communities and countries. Through this initiative, she recently received a certificate of recognition “for being a resilient leader in times of crisis”, signed by President Joe Biden and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken. She says modestly: “I am really proud of that.”

She follows Obama’s approach of leadership from strength. Another leader who inspires her is Paul Kagame, president of Rwanda. By giving marginalised groups, including women, an opportunity to work with him in his government, Nhlumayo considers Kagame to be a true embodiment of inclusive and collaborative leadership.

“I have a passion for creating a collaborative, inclusive and democratic political system in Africa, free of prejudice and bigotry.”
Nhlumayo’s accomplishments have been recognised internationally, but it means more to her to be recognised in her own country. She would like to build a political leadership academy with the aim of producing the next presidents, ministers and decision-makers in South Africa and across the continent. Does she see herself running for the presidency one day? “Yes, definitely!” she says with a chuckle.

Focus on what you are good at; forget about your weaknesses.

Carol Chamberlain |
Vuyokazi Nkevu Langbooi, 38

Vuyokazi Nkevu Langbooi, 38

Social worker
Department of social development

Vuyokazi Nkevu Langbooi grabbed headlines in Gqeberha recently when she managed to reunite a 74-year-old man with his family, who had lost hope that he would ever be found alive. “I think he had Alzheimer’s or dementia, because the name he gave me the first time was wrong, but I’m very patient, so I was able to link some of the things he said and eventually found out what his real name is,” she explains.

Armed with the man’s surname, “Doch”, Langbooi scoured Facebook, messaging anyone she could find in Gqeberha who shared this surname. “The only person who responded said it was her uncle, and [that] they had long given up looking for him; they thought he had died.”

Although her official designation is that of social worker, Langbooi says she thinks of herself as an activist, and it’s clear to see from her dedication to her work that she goes above and beyond the call of duty.

Throughout 2020, she worked without taking leave after the department set up a shelter for the homeless and assigned her as the co-ordinator. “It was a new challenge for me; I had never done that before.”

No funds were allocated for the running of the shelter, leaving her to appeal to community stakeholders to give what they could — donations, time, food — to keep the doors of the shelter open, and to make three meals a day for her charges. “I built relations and got commitments from churches, an organisation called Ubuntu Pathways, another one called Soul Food and others who brought food, donations and cleaning services. Health workers volunteered their time and we built relations with the local police, because some of the sheltered individuals had been involved in gangsterism, so it became a potentially dangerous situation.”

She acknowledges the widespread mistrust of government and says that this has made her even more determined to deliver a good service, so that people understand that there are still people in government who care about their communities and not just their paycheque at the end of the month. “I was taught to treat people with respect and dignity. If I have to sit where you are sitting; eat what you are eating, or even bathe you in order for me to build trust and help you, I do that.”

A foster child herself, Langbooi says she believes in the goodness of people because when she lost her mother and grandmother, and her brother — the sole breadwinner at home — left to go to school, it was social workers who were there to help. “So, I felt called to do this work, seeing that people who care and are there to give hope exist. That’s what I gain from this work: the fulfillment, because this is my ministry.”

She also works with a local LGBTQIA+ organisation, Sibecise Social Inclusion, which seeks to teach kids how to deal with violence and share resources.

I was taught to treat people with respect and dignity. If I have to sit where you are sitting, eat what you are eating, or even bathe you in order for me to build trust and help you, I do that.

Sandiso Ngubane |
Minah Mkhavele, 35

Minah Mkhavele, 35

Case manager and GDSD girl child ambassador
Gauteng department of social development

Minah Mkhavele is determined that young women of South Africa stand up and be counted. Through her close association with the Young African Leaders Initiative, she is empowering young South African women to proactively engage their communities and effect meaningful change.

As a cohort of the Young African Leadership Initiative, Mkhavele was widely praised for her bold letter to parliament, encouraging consultation on bills concerning young women and children.
Her bold move paid off. She is now among a select group of parliamentary participants. This election has enabled her to propose and execute a mass drive to distribute female sanitary products to schools and other centres throughout the country.

Mkhavele is currently studying towards in a master’s in child protection, where she has identified a particularly vulnerable group of interest to her as an advocate for children’s rights and child-headed households. Child-headed households are at risk of having to cope without parental care or regular income and are located in areas where services are poor. Homes where a sibling undertakes the role of caregiver frequently destabilise a child’s sense of safety and security.

Mkhavele imagines that they “have got no shoulder to lean on at all, I can imagine if there is nothing there, nothing at all”.

Mkhavele has always had an inclination for community-building and advocacy. She remembers herself as a very determined little girl who hosted book clubs, debates and participated in Love Life programmes — an ambitious, focused child who wanted to lead.

She is currently an ambassador for the Girl Child Ambassador programme, a project that “aims to inspire and empower girl children living under disadvantaged circumstances to lead successful, independent and fulfilling lives” Mkhavele’s role as an ambassador is to co-ordinate the multiple events, workshops, training sessions and awareness drives that form part of the organisation’s activities. Mkhavele directs all her energy into this single pursuit. “My wish is to see all African girl children educated, nurtured, empowered and safe.”

Mkhavele is also an alumnus of the Young African Leaders Initiative. The Young African Leaders Initiative was launched in 2010 to support young African leaders as they spur growth and prosperity, strengthen democratic governance, and enhance peace and security across sub-Saharan Africa.

Mkhavele’s association with the programme sees her continuing to advocate greater access to education and feminine healthcare for South African girls.

When it comes to restoring energy for the tasks ahead, Mkhavele recalls the strength of the women at the historic Women’s March of 1959. In August of that year, 20 000 women of all races descended on the Union Buildings in Pretoria to protest the introduction of the apartheid pass laws for black women in 1952.
She is awed by the bravery of those women who “stood up and expressed themselves to be part of the government we see today and to be equal before the law”.

Each day, she brings herself back to her primary goal. The needs of the girl child must be met. “We need to face this head-on,” says Mkhavele. “Out of weeping comes wisdom.”

We have to face the challenge head-on. Out of weeping comes wisdom.

Francesco Nassimbeni |
Phinah Kodisang, 43

Phinah Kodisang, 43

Soul City

From a young age, Phina Kodisang has always had an inclination to help others and contribute to society. She shares this with her family who she says has always extended themselves to the community. “My home is a ‘go-to’ when there are issues in the community, be it an ill person needing help, parents needing advice on how to handle their children, or any kind of support. This has shaped how I engage with people generally. I engage from a position of respecting every person and always wanting to make life better for them in whatever way I can.”

Kodisang became a teen mom at 19, but did not allow that to define or limit her future. Instead she went on to acquire a master’s degree from a university in the UK and has held positions with organisations such as World Vision, the Ndlovu Care Group, and the Wits Reproductive Health and HIV Institute before joining Soul City, where she is now the chief executive officer.

When Kodisang first came to Soul City, she was offered the position of monitoring and evaluations manager. Eight months later, she was appointed executive head of programmes, which is where she demonstrated her leadership abilities. “So when the CEO position became vacant, many colleagues, including the former CEO, encouraged me to apply as they believed I had what it takes to be the next CEO and here I am.” She describes her current role as chief executive of Soul City as her greatest career achievement to date, and says it inspires her to want to learn more, to be innovative and lead by example.

“The work of Soul City is very inspirational. The organisation has remained relevant to issues facing the different generations through its different programme offerings, be it the work we do in TV, radio, social media or print media. We are able to reinvent ourselves as an organisation,” says Kodisang.

A great example of some of the recent inspirational work Soul City has done is the show It’s a Feminist Thing. It is an eight-episode talk show that was broadcast on SABC and is now available to watch on YouTube. “We wanted to produce something that will document and publicise feminism and why it’s needed.” Kodisang says “I learnt so much about my own politics as a woman during the shooting of the eight episodes. I had to interrogate my own privilege as a cisgendered, educated, middle-class woman and how easy it is for me to collude and be complacent with patriarchy because some women don’t enjoy the same freedoms I get to enjoy because of my positionality.” She says each episode challenged the status quo in a way that was unapologetic and unique to all presenters and guests. There are also plans to produce a follow-up season.

When asked about the legacy she hopes to build and leave behind in her career, Kodisang says “I want to be remembered as a woman who inspired others. A woman who does not celebrate having a seat at the table but one who creates space for other women to be at the table both in my personal and professional spaces.” She says she wants to be celebrated as one of the women who contributed to the dismantling of patriarchy. “The majority of black women in our country suffer triple oppression, by virtue of them being women, black and poor. This oppression must be confronted at a political, social, cultural and religious level, and I want to be among those who bring this system down, for the generation that will come after me.”

“I want to see many more black women achieving greatness, not being apologetic for wanting more, wanting better and claiming positions and spaces — without the threat of violence hanging over their heads or discrimination putting them at a disadvantage.”

Afrika Bogatsu |
Buhle Madlala, 40

Buhle Madlala, 40

The Brand Factory

Buhle Madlala’s intuitive knack for entrepreneurship is the fuel behind her remarkable trajectory in sports marketing.

The award-winning brand strategist and events planner is the co-founder of the National Cycling Academy Forum, the largest organisation advocating for and effecting transformation in cycling. She is also a co-owner of the Criterium Racing cycling event. In 2018, Madlala was the event organiser of the inaugural Tour de Limpopo — an elite race comprising continental, national and provincial cycling teams.

The Limpopo Tourism Agency wanted to create a cycling race that would showcase the province as a top tourist destination, and Cycling South Africa had been wanting to launch the first international road cycling stage race. “Being the first event organiser to realise this dream is an experience I will treasure forever,” she says.

Maritzburg-born Madlala cut her teeth in social development as a project manager at Umngeni Water. From there, she moved to an accounts management role in marketing and advertising, working with various government agencies. In 2005, Madlala and her consortium Thinta Thinta Telecommunications helped launch a network that expanded mobile network access in rural areas on the south coast of KwaZulu-Natal. Feeling that there were no further heights for her to ascend to in KwaZulu-Natal, Madlala relocated to Johannesburg, where she worked on an engineering and turnaround strategy for Transnet. Here, she gained experience working with executives at a board level. The hosting of the 2010 Fifa World Cup in South Africa provided the perfect opportunity for Madlala to turn her focus to sports marketing. As part of the ticketing and hospitality programme, she was responsible for selling the most stadium hospitality packages for the Confederations Cup — an achievement for which she received an award. This experience enabled her to start her own sports marketing agency.

Madlala is most compelled to make a change in cycling as she feels that representation in the sport excludes the majority. “Cycling is not a widely accessible sport in South Africa and this situation did not change in post-democratic South Africa. In the Olympics in Tokyo — and for the first time in the history of the Tour de France — Nic Dlamini is the only professional black cyclist to represent Africa. Our country has not invested in cycling development at a grassroots level. I want to push for change and help structure and formalise cycling academies in underprivileged areas where academies are excluded from meaningful participation in cycling administration, events and high-performance cycling,” she says.

Madlala, who was a runner up on the fifth season of Survivor South Africa: Champions, says that sport has always been an integral part of her life. “I’ve always been athletic, love the wilderness and enjoy the outdoors. I wanted to have a career that felt like a hobby and the universe has aligned these experiences so far,” she says.

Although Madlala would like her work to feel like leisure, she does hope the day that sportswomen stop getting paid in pocket change comes sooner rather than later. “The sports business is predominantly male-dominated. Women have to work harder to prove their worth in administrative and coaching elements of this business. I hope that one day women will get offered the same credentials and afforded the same opportunities as their male counterparts. Women athletes still get paid far less than men and are overlooked for sponsorship, which undermines their talent. This needs to be a more open discussion so that it can change.”

I hope that one day women will get offered the same credentials and afforded the same opportunities as their male counterparts. Women athletes still get paid far less than men and are overlooked for sponsorship, which undermines their talent.

Jabulile Dlamini-Qwesha |
Danai Nhando, 38

Danai Nhando, 38

Country director, South Africa

Danai Nhando is a multi-talented human rights lawyer who has dedicated her career to fighting injustices.

Nhando is particularly passionate about the intersection between social justice and technology to ignite change. As the country director of, a Silicon Valley firm that helps people start campaigns and petitions aimed at driving solutions, Nhando is spearheading the strategy to grow in Africa. The organisation is the largest citizen-driven petition platform on the globe.

Nhando is using the same justice lens that made her a force to be reckoned with in court, to help build learning solutions that are accessed by millions. “One of the reasons I ventured into education from a career in law was because roughly 80% of the clients I used to work with were illiterate and of the ones who were illiterate, the majority were women.”

The journey to the top, while rewarding, has come with its fair share of challenges. “’I’ve always been very mindful that I’m a woman and I have to fight a bit. I’m the only girl in my family — I have two brothers. I was raised by a very strong mother who ingrained in me the belief that my voice matters.”

Upon venturing into the tech space, Nhando learnt to build a tenacity of character that went beyond her own personality — to ensure that what she wanted to say would be heard, and what she felt was important to be done, would be done. “I have learnt not to let feelings of inadequacy overwrite the fact that I am skilled and I need to be sitting at the table.”

This strength extends to how she carries herself and her womanhood in the workplace. “Whatever organisation I serve, I am always upfront about my family and children. If swimming is at three o’clock on a Thursday, then I cannot have a meeting at three o’clock on Thursday. I want to be in spaces where people understand that being a mother by no means affects the quality of what I produce. I can be strong and successful at work while being a present, loving mom and amazing wife in the process.”

Nhando encourages young girls and women to consider entering into typically male-dominated fields. “I want to see more young women venture into areas that look very daunting and to realise that they can take up those spaces and own them.” She is a firm believer that if an industry wants you to change who you are, it may not be the right place for you. “Women need to own their skills with grace and passion, and not allow the norms of society to determine who they become.”

Likewise, she encourages organisations to be more open-minded when it comes to their hiring process. “Organisations need to recruit for growth. And within these organisations, to build mentorship programmes that help candidates understand the potential of technology. We need more corporations to forgo limiting protocols and instead take on young people who are passionate, mission-driven and can grow into a role.”

I want to see more young women venture into areas that look very daunting, and to realise that they can take up these spaces and own them.

Loren Shapiro |
Nthabiseng Moleko, 39

Nthabiseng Moleko, 39

Deputy chairperson and development economist
Commission for Gender Equality and University of Stellenbosch Business School

Dr Nthabiseng Moleko left the private sector, where she worked in the pension fund industry, to study development finance. She was compelled to study further by her passion to find ways to better serve South Africans. Little did she know that she would become the first woman to obtain a PhD in development finance. “I was also looking to utilise economics and finance developmentally,” she says.

“It was then that I spotted an advert in the paper for a master’s programme in development finance. I had never seen this type of programme and knew it was perfect given my passion and interest in alternative theory
and the developmental use of finance and economics.”

During her tenure in the economic development sector, she was again notified by a colleague of applications open for a PhD in development finance. “I applied as I foresaw its relevance theoretically and practically in the advancement of the South African and the African economy.”

By 30, she was already an experienced former project manager and researcher at the Eastern Cape Socio-Economic Consultative Council and had just been appointed chief executive officer of the Joe Gqabi Economic Development Agency. “A silent challenge I want to mention is age discrimination, particularly against women, where people think that, because of your age, you cannot handle specific roles,” she says of her experience of being successful at a young age.

“I don’t believe that you have to wait until you’re much older. People can do much good in their youth, while they have energy. We need energy, passion and innovation to rebuild South Africa and our continent. We need new ideas, and these will likely come from younger generations.”

What makes Moleko most proud of her PhD is its relevance to South African society today, as it means she can offer thought leadership on matters of development finance. “The PhD is about pension funds and national development. It’s a real issue in the country right now, so I’m very proud that it’s a relevant thesis. That’s how education should be – that we inform on issues in the country and how to improve policymaking and advise on reforms.”

As commissioner at the Commission for Gender Equality, Moleko is charged with the agenda of monitoring and putting into place compelling policy imperatives to ensure that gender equality objectives are attained and remain at the forefront of public and policy discourse.

Disparities between what men and women earn for the same work, limited participation in informal sectors, men being 12% more likely to find employment — and once employed, receiving better wages, benefits, pensions, leave and more — are all challenges that remain, in spite of the many gains South Africa has made regarding tackling its gender inequality issues. Conscious of these challenges, Dr Moleko acknowledges there is so much more work to be done and says gender-based violence remains an issue “we have no panacea for”.

​​“Gender equality cannot exist in an environment where women and children are brutalised or are at the risk of being brutalised daily,” she says.

I would encourage us to find local, Africa-embedded solutions that consider the local context. All disciplines need us, and women are able to conceive new things that bring life. The generation of ideas for the current and future generations needs more innovators, diverse thinkers and disruptors.

Sandiso Ngubane |
Fundiswa Ndlela, 35

Fundiswa Ndlela, 35

Project manager
Oxfam South Africa

Fundiswa Ndlela is the Alfred Nzo District Development Initiative project manager for Oxfam South Africa. She is a women’s rights and gender justice activist and a 2020 graduate from the Thabo Mbeki African Leadership Academy.

After working in Pretoria at Statistics South Africa for three years, Ndlela returned to the Eastern Cape and soon became the co-ordinator for Vulamasango Singene, a land restitution campaign. “It was initially a single-issue campaign that sought to pressurise the government to reopen land restitution claims. Vulamasango Singene claimed victory when the Restitution of Land Rights Amendment Bill was passed in March 2014, which allows a five-year window in which further land claims can be lodged,” she says.

After the campaign, she remained active in civil society and thereafter joined Oxfam South Africa, where she has worked since 2018. Ndlela has also worked for the Eastern Cape provincial government’s treasury in the capital, Bisho. “I have fond memories of that, because my dad and I would often go through local newspapers and talk about current affairs. We came across a bursary advert for the treasury position and I grabbed the opportunity. The rest is history,” she says.

The high points in her career have shown her the impact she can have on the lives of women and young girls. These were preceded by low points, though, and for Ndlela, the timeline of her journey has affirmed her commitment to activism. “The lowest moment in my career was when I moved back home from Pretoria. I thought: ‘there go my ambitions and goals’. I was going back home to be unemployed, but that turned out to be my moment of strength as I joined and led Vulamasango Singene,” Ndlela says.

Her work at Oxfam focuses on rural democracy and women’s rights as a means of alleviating poverty in the Alfred Nzo Municipality, one of the poorest districts in the Eastern Cape. “Gender inequality and denying women’s rights are key drivers of poverty and they’re more detrimental in societies of low economic status, like South Africa, like Alfred Nzo; and women and girls form the majority of those living in poverty,” the project manager says.

This Women’s Month, Ndlela wants to see women, young people and children being prioritised for social protection measures. She emphasises that this work must continue after August, to lend influence at the decision-making level.

She has plans to start her own Nongqawuse youth academy. Nongqawuse was a young Xhosa woman in the mid-19th century, and a narrative has developed that her prophecies led to the Xhosa cattle-killing. “History has not been kind to Nongqawuse. She suffered humiliation and other violations from her oppressors,” she says.

Nongqawuse provides historical parallels of denying women’s rights and disenfranchisement with the lived experiences of South African women today, and the academy is also an act of reclamation. “It’s a skills development academy that also aims to equip young people with the necessary skills to adapt and respond to the evolving world out there,” Ndlela says.

My work in rural democracy and women’s rights inspires and heals me at the same time because it’s something I believe in.

Nabeel Allie |
Lwethu Zwane, 33

Lwethu Zwane, 33

Head of investment
A G7 government department

Lwethu Zwane is the first head of investment of one of the G7 government departments operating in South Africa — a position involving working with government agencies and private sector stakeholders to increase investment in South Africa. Prior to this, she held the position of trade coordinator for southern Africa with a remit spanning 14 countries, responsible for (but not limited to) strategic coordination of the government’s trade efforts. This role came on the back of a two-year stint driving the pilot for a regional network across southern Africa.

In 2017, Zwane was chosen as part of the first cohort of a select group of emerging leaders across Africa to participate in a 12-month programme. This programme, designed by the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, is for young professionals who are exceptional in their potential, their achievements and their drive to contribute to organisational change. For Zwane, trade and investment is critical to long-term, sustainable economic growth and development, especially considering the growing and untapped commercial opportunities across the continent. She has her sights set on unlocking the power of trade for youth and gender inclusion within the economy — and feels strongly about expanding the opportunities for women entrepreneurs and the tremendous impact this would have on African growth. Although, she adds, “this requires the active participation of all stakeholders within the entrepreneurial ecosystem, financial institutions, government and private equity”.

Considering that women entrepreneurs often face an uphill struggle in Africa, despite the research showing that women often generate better investment returns, Zwane is proud of her contribution towards engaging global businesses, investors and banks to remove barriers for women entrepreneurs, and to proactively include women-led and gender-smart businesses in their supply chains. High-quality investment has the potential to transform the South African economy while promoting growth, diversification and job creation. Zwane believes that these goals cannot only be the government’s concern and it is crucial to centre mutually beneficial partnerships within trade and investment, especially in the context of the current Covid-19 crisis, a second recession in two years, growing unemployment, unsustainable poverty levels and persistent inequality.

Despite still considering herself a work-in-progress and having to regularly rein in her imposter syndrome tendencies, Zwane’s achievements fall nothing short of spectacular. In 2020, at the first UK-Africa Investment Summit, she was awarded the Her Majesty’s Trade Commissioner’s Award for her contribution to facilitation of access to international markets, global supply chains and investment for African women entrepreneurs. Zwane continues to shatter perceptions of the kind of high-growth businesses that women entrepreneurs are building in Africa and exposing financial investors to opportunities or biases posed by gender in their investment analysis.

Zwane encourages young women to have the audacity to be great and to go out there and conquer. “I would advise younger women to not shy away from ‘stretch’ opportunities. In fact, seek them out and do not be scared to fail. It’s how one learns and develops skills. Advice I sometimes need to remind myself to take in my own life every now and again!”

I advise younger women to not shy away from ‘stretch’ opportunities. In fact, seek them out and do not be scared to fail. It’s how one learns and develops skills.

Shai Rama |