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Nomahlubi Jakuja, 30

Economic policy researcher
National department of health
Johannesburg

Politics and economics top achiever.

Nomahlubi Jakuja describes herself as an opportunist because she has an eye for opportunity and is never afraid to seize one, a trait she believes she inherited from her father. The 30-year-old from Johannesburg is the youngest of four children; her parents were working-class and gave their children the best that they could, moulding Jakuja to be a goal-driven person.

She believes that the continent and the country are eager to embrace talented young politicians, and in the next five years she hopes to be a significant game-changer in how women engage in the political space in South Africa.

Jakuja was selected as one of the Africa Institute of South Africa’s African Young Scholars. As a youth ambassador of One Young World, she collaborates with youth around the continent, lobbying for youth-centric policy change. The continent has a very large young population, and she hopes to forge an African unity that creates intercontinental projects for youth, as well as women-led economic change. She believes that sharing of ideas among young people in Africa not only strengthens ties beyond borders, but is also a way of defeating xenophobia and Afrophobia.

For Jakuja, feminism is a force driving equality and justice. She embodies these principles in her approach to work and in how she creates opportunities for women to change the status quo in male-dominated spaces.

Jakuja wants the earth to breathe better. As a climate change advocate, she calls for green building methods and reduced food waste. She is constantly looking for solutions to grow SMMEs, as she believes that small businesses play a large role in creating a sustainable economy and protecting the earth.

She holds a bachelor of social sciences degree in economics and politics from the University of Cape Town, an honours degree in international relations from the University of KwaZulu-Natal and a master’s in public policy from the University of the Witwatersrand.

In her final year of university, she was the only South African student to be invited to the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation’s headquarters in Brussels for the summer. She worked at the World Bank on implementing reforms to improve the business environment for small and medium-sized enterprises. She worked as a country coordinator for the United Nations and was head of economic research and policy for the South African Federation of Trade Unions (SAFTU). Jakuja now works at the national department of health, leveraging private sector expertise for dispensing chronic medication.

She draws a lot of inspiration from fearless women who never allowed where they come from to stand in the way of getting what they want. Despite her many accomplishments, Jakuja believes that her greatest achievement is yet to come. This belief ensures that she’s constantly improving herself.

Author - Nelisiwe Msomi
Pinky Mashiane, 49

Pinky Mashiane, 49

Founder and president of the United Domestic Workers of South Africa
United Domestic Workers of South Africa (Udwosa)
Pretoria

The founder of the United Domestic Workers of South Africa has championed the rights of those in an often ignored sector.

Pinky Mashiane is not the type of trade unionist we often find today. The founder and president of United Domestic Workers of South Africa (Udwosa) does not have her own office. And, if she did, it would be rare to find her behind a desk. “Some believe in sitting at meetings in boardrooms and speaking with employers over the phone,” Mashiane says. “But I believe in facing the employers in person. I’ve created that space, where we can have the courage to sit down and talk with the employers.” Confronting an employer is how she got a taste for organising and empowering domestic workers like herself.

“To empower somebody is to help them to grow … You give that person something that they can use to help and empower other people.”

In 2001, Mashiane was walking in Moreleta Park in Tshwane and saw a man strike his gardener. She walked up to the man and told him she was a labour inspector. Mashiane says he offered her R1 000, which she refused. She told him to give the money to his gardener instead and apologise, which he did.

Domestic workers are among the most vulnerable workers in the country. There are almost one million domestic workers in South Africa and most of them are black women. They are excluded from crucial legislation that is meant to protect workers.

“That is why I work so hard. I want to do everything in a way that, at the end of the day, I see the results of what I am doing. I want to see that what I have done has helped other people. I hate failure. Not for myself, but for other people.”

It is also difficult to organise domestic workers. They all work for different employers and are separated by the walls of the homes they clean. With little on-site intervention by the department of employment and labour, domestic workers are often subjected to the whims of their bosses: many are underpaid, fired without notice and abused.

Despite these difficulties, Mashiane has kept going for 20 years. Her journey led her to spearhead the court battle that could lead to the inclusion of domestic workers in the Compensation for Occupational Injuries and Diseases Act. Since the Act was enacted in 1993, it has allowed for the compensation of employees, or their survivors, for work-related injuries, illnesses or death.

Mashiane took up the case after she read a newspaper article about the death of Maria Mahlangu, whose family was not compensated after she drowned in her employer’s pool. After a high court victory, the case was heard in the Constitutional Court earlier this year.

This year Mashiane was chosen as one of the Nelson Mandela Foundation’s Atlantic Fellows for Racial Equity, a programme that connects scholars and leaders in South Africa and the United States.

But Mashiane is not about to stop there. She believes empowerment is a chain.

Her biggest fear is failing the domestic workers she has set out to defend.

Sarah Smit | mg.co.za
Nokuzola Ndwandwe, 26

Nokuzola Ndwandwe, 26

Menstrual Health Activist
Team Free Sanitary Pads
KwaHlabisa, KwaZulu-Natal

Nokuzola Ndwandwe is championing access to sanitation, menstrual health and gender equality.

By 2030, Nokuzola Ndwandwe imagines a world that has ended gender inequality and eradicated period poverty. Her part in making this vision a reality is through her activism. Ndwandwe runs a grassroots organisation called Team Free Sanitary Pads. With her non-profit organisation, she campaigns for sanitary pads to be made available to all women in South Africa, while collaborating with other activists to fight gender inequality.

Raised in a single-parent household in Durban, KwaZulu-Natal, the 26-year old’s passion was sparked when she visited her grandparents’ rural home in KwaHlabisa. Here she was exposed to their lack of access to water, sanitation and hygiene. Her own period menstrual health stigma played a role in her wanting to create an environment where young girls do not go through period shaming.

Ndwandwe created an online petition calling for a Menstrual Health and Hygiene Management Bill and for the government to prioritise policy and legislation transformation that will be deliberate in improving the socioeconomic conditions of women and young girls. The petition has gained thousands of signatures. She calls on the government to introduce quality menstrual health and hygiene education in schools, community libraries and higher learning institutions. She also proposes menstrual health leave days to be absorbed into labour policies. She hopes that the government and the private sector will close the unfair salary pay gap for women so that they can meet their living needs and expand their career prospects.

She has collaborated with international organisations and the private sector to put pressure on the government to scrap VAT on sanitary products and the call was heard by Cabinet, as Minister of Finance Tito Mboweni dropped the VAT on sanitary products in April 2019.

Her activism has also contributed to the government setting aside R157-million towards menstrual health with water, sanitation and hygiene facilities being built nationally, and followed by the passing of the Reusable Washable Sanitary Pads Standard by the South African Bureau of Standards as announced by the department of women youth and persons with disabilities in May 2020.

But her passion for holding those in power accountable doesn’t end there. Ndwandwe is a final year accounting science student at the University of South Africa. She intends to pursue her postgraduate studies next year as an aspiring Chartered Accountant. She hopes to specialise in auditing to hold those in power accountable for funds to improve the lives of the most vulnerable.

Ndwandwe’s work has gained her international recognition; she recently wrote a piece for Unicef’s’ Voices Of Youth called “Menstrual Rights: the WASH dream under COVID-19”. She made connections with students from Harvard University and has been praised by Members of Parliament from Scotland and Canada for her commitments to social justice for women and girls. She was also featured in Afropunk as one of the most memorable activists of “The year in black activism: 2018” list.

As the 2030 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals take shape, Ndwandwe hopes that she has played her part in these targets being met.

Nelisiwe Msomi | mg.co.za
Malaika Mahlatsi, 28

Malaika Mahlatsi, 28

Senior speechwriter to the executive mayor in the City of Ekurhuleni
City of Ekurhuleni
Johannesburg

Being a woman in a patriarchal society has its pitfalls, but Malaika Mahlasti says this should not stop women from assuming their rightful place in the world.

Malaika Mahlatsi’s best-selling book, Memories of a Born-Free (2014), begins with a powerful letter to the ANC, in which the author details the contradictions of growing up in a democratic South Africa still reeling from its apartheid past.

Mahlatsi insists that it is necessary to recognise that, although those born after 1994 may be politically free, they are never truly free until they can realise economic freedom.

Despite her strong sociopolitical convictions, Mahlatsi prides herself on being “teachable”, something that keeps her in a permanent state of intellectual evolution.

“The ability to be teachable is immensely powerful in a world where dogma is viewed as progressive, despite the immeasurable damage that it is doing to the ideational space.”

Mahlatsi’s work in academia, she says, is rooted in pan-Africanist-feminist geography, which recognises the interconnectedness of black lives and spatiality. Against this backdrop, she hopes to use her role as a government official to “ensure that human settlements for black people are deliberately developed to seek and realise spatial justice”.

She also aims to use her education to improve the lives of her family and community. Education, she says, is a tool that should be used to render a service not only to improve the living standards of people but also to help “us to become more humane”.

It was President Cyril Ramaphosa who convinced Soweto-born Mahlatsi to remain in public service, despite the years of frustrations she experienced in the sector.

“I found the culture uninspiring. Instead of leaving for something better when the opportunity presented itself, I stayed on, but became despondent to a point of unproductivity,” she explains about her previous role in national government.

As a senior speechwriter for the executive mayor in the City of Ekurhuleni, Mahlatsi says she now feels fulfilled in her role, because she can communicate the aspirations of the people of the city. Mahlatsi is a qualified geographer and researcher and she says she can pour these passions into her current role “since so much of the work at the local government level is focused on spatial development”.

She is the former African Union African Youth Charter ambassador for the SADC region and a former youth representative in the SADC Food and Nutrition Security Committee. She also served as the secretary-general of the African Youth Coalition, established in 2013 by the Thabo Mbeki Foundation in South Africa.

Thando Maeko | mg.co.za
Nardos Bekele-Thomas, 61

Nardos Bekele-Thomas, 61

Resident Coordinator and Resident Representative
United Nations
South Africa

From Ethiopia to the US, she has influenced social justice wherever she has been.

Nardos Bekele-Thomas is currently the resident coordinator of the United Nations (UN) and resident representative of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in South Africa.

At 61, Bekele-Thomas’ journey with the UN began more than four decades ago in 1979, during the devastating period of the Red Terror under the military dictatorship in Ethiopia. It was a harrowing time for her as her parents lost their livelihoods and her two brothers were executed.

But Bekele-Thomas had the gift of youth on her side. She drew inspiration from her parents and she used their teachings about self-reliance to support them and to make it out of that tough situation.

“I had to find work immediately to help support my family. The Representative of the UNDP office in Ethiopia was empathetic towards my family’s situation and gave me a job as an office clerk,” Bekele-Thomas says.

“In my case, I think the trauma and pain of losing loved ones and watching human rights abuses against my fellow countrymen lit a fire within me,” she adds.

Her motivation continued to grow and Bekele-Thomas would eventually serve in more than nine countries, including Kenya, Benin, the US and the Comoros Islands.

This has helped her to mould her career despite experiences that took a toll on her emotions, but kept her motivated and humbled.

“Over the years, I have interacted with many presidents, change-makers and captains of industry. I have learnt a lot! Throughout this time, I have always stood for what’s right and important. For me, being an international civil servant means standing with and for people without voices, as I lived this first-hand in Ethiopia as a young girl,” Bekele-Thomas says.

But moving around so frequently also has its cons. Bekele-Thomas’ family was constantly uprooted and moved from country to country. As a mother and a wife, it worried her when her family was put in danger in war-stricken countries.

“Going to the Central African Republic and witnessing bullets shatter the windows of my hotel and hearing rockets fall in the compound of my friends’ homes were traumatising and scary times. You wonder about the life of your children. Who will raise them in my absence? You wonder about humanity and how innocent people’s lives could perish as a result of conflict. These moments often triggered the experiences of my own past and its haunting memories.”

As an African woman, she has faced challenges throughout her life. But she says she was lucky enough to be in the UN, an organisation that she says encourages women empowerment and stands strongly against sexual harassment.
She acknowledges that the fight is far from over.

“I often look at where my mother was in comparison to where I am and further compare this to my own daughters’ destinies. Equality is an ongoing struggle that requires the same level of commitment and sacrifice as those who have fought before us. We are the mothers, the sisters, the wives, the colleagues and friends of men! Today, we are also the CEOs, ministers, professors, scientists and economists with the power to bring equality in our lifetime.”

Bekele-Thomas now resides in South Africa and her desire to bring social justice to wherever she still burns strongly. Now, along with her employer, she is working on the socioeconomic impact of Covid-19 on an already unequal society.

Eyaaz Matwadia | mg.co.za
Muditambi Ravele, 58

Muditambi Ravele, 58

Founder
South African Women and Sports Foundation
Johannesburg

Ravele is a leading woman, creating space for women in sports.

If sport and women empowerment had an equation, Muditambi Ravele would be the answer to it.

The 58-year-old hails from the royal lineage of the Ravele clan chieftaincy and is related to the king of the VhaVenda in the far north of Limpopo province. From a young age, her parents — a postmaster and a teacher — taught her the value of education. Growing up, she learnt that chieftaincies are patriarchal and a difficult place for women to prosper in. As she grew older, she began to see and feel the difficulties women had to overcome to have the same careers as men. She found her place in sport.

After completing her high school education, Ravele pursued a senior teacher’s diploma and specialised in physical education. As a trained teacher, she gravitated towards leadership positions in sport and the community and was faced with gender inequality, lack of equity and injustice whenever she stood for a position on committees and in other sports structures.

She believes that her royal heritage may have instilled the leadership characteristics that led her to aspire to become a woman of influence in society.

Ravele holds a diploma in sport management and a BTech in business administration. She has qualifications in athlete management, and has participated in the Executive Sports Management Programme and the Strategic Executive Marketing Programme. She is currently completing a master’s in entrepreneurship.

She has served in sport at all levels and participated in many sporting codes. As a young woman, she was forced to move from playing netball into administration when she realised that netball is a women’s sport but administered, officiated and coached by men.

Ravele was appointed as the president of Netball South Africa after a commission into netball in 1999. She was tasked with turning around the organisation, securing sponsors, transforming the sport, ensuring that netball is televised, and many other targets. She achieved these goals within two years and, in her second and third terms, she concentrated on maintaining standards and on reaching out to Africa and the international stage.

In 2013, she was selected by sports minister Fikile Mbalula to chair the board of professional boxing at Boxing South Africa. She joined an organisation that was characterised by poor governance, and financial and operational mismanagement. In a traditionally male-dominated sport, the board was also predominantly male. But in two years she changed the organisation’s management, put new systems in place and started a programme for women in boxing, which has been a resounding success.

She has been the woman who put boxing back on our TV screens on SABC. By the time she left a better-managed Boxing South Africa, it was financially sound and pulling in R11-million in government grants, up from the R2-million it received before. She was also the first woman to head marketing and corporate communication at the Premier Soccer League.

But being a woman in a male-dominated field meant that Ravele had many battles to fight because of her gender. Her biggest challenge has been contesting leadership positions against men who saw her as a threat because of her credentials and experience. But, like any other obstacle in her life, she is prepared and takes on the challenge by equipping herself with the organisational knowledge and confidence.

To see more women entering the sporting space motivates Ravele. In 2008, she registered a non-governmental organisation called the South African Women and Sports Foundation. Part of its programme is to empower women in sport and provide them with mentorship and leadership training. She hopes that, in five years, the foundation will provide young women and girls with full-time work, place more women and girls in leadership positions, and develop girls to play sport and create sporting careers.

Nelisiwe Msomi | mg.co.za
Lungi Mamabolo, 37

Lungi Mamabolo, 37

Key Accounts Manager
Progress Administrators
Klipfontein View, Midrand

Communities are built by women who have open hearts and open doors to help those in need and take charge when the state fails people all the time.

“My proudest moments are when I walk away from any scene having offered some assistance,” says Lungi Mamabolo. The 37-year-old works for a financial services provider, but what makes her the happiest is helping others in her community.

Mamabolo says she may not have much to offer, but she is using her God-given gifts of wisdom and strength to help build communities, families and young people.

Working in her community, she has taken on the role of a ward councillor by helping where help is needed. Mamabolo says that, once she embarked on this journey, looking back has never been an option for her.

In the absence of leadership from the appointed councillor in her area, Mamabolo voluntarily took on many of the councillor’s responsibilities. The community has many issues with service delivery, bad roads and even water disconnections, so she took it upon herself to get in touch with the relevant stakeholders to sort out problems. She also organised services such as water tanks, and would personally drive around to deliver this resource to the community.

She says: “It pleases me to be there for people, be it through assisting with community service delivery or attending to crucial domestic matters.”

Along with a group of other concerned individuals, she has created several teams who tackle issues in the community.

Mamabolo says people have also called her many times to intervene in domestic issues.
It was the experiences she went through during her childhood that taught her to always push to be better than she was yesterday.

“When you do things from the heart, it shows,” she says, and sometimes she puts too much heart into what she does. She sometimes even compromises her family time to help those in need.

Even during the lockdown, Mamabolo has continued her good work. She sent a message to a regional director of the City of Johannesburg asking for assistance for the community. She says it was a big surprise when the director came through and helped her to organise food parcels for the community. This helped to ensure that the community was fed every Saturday. And it was all because of the fortitude and determination Mamabolo has shown.

It’s also her motto in life. She tells young people that you lose nothing by helping other people, be it by making a call to the City of Joburg, or taking food out of your cupboard to share with others. She says she was raised by her late maternal grandmother, who taught her that the best way to self-heal is to do something for other people and see the joy in their eyes.

Another important value Mamabolo uses in her daily life is staying humble. She tries not to “blow my own horn”. Instead, she believes being humble has the greatest returns. Working every Saturday since lockdown, she says she is constantly motivated to do more.

Known affectionately in her community as Sis Lungi, Mamabolo does not differentiate between who needs help. And hearing the words of gratitude from the community makes her tear up. From the old to the young in the community, she helps everyone.

Mamabolo wears many hats and has managed to do fantastic things in all she sets out to do. The support of her husband and her community and church are what give her the necessary strength to continue doing her important work. “It’s these life experiences that I have taught my own children to be grateful for, for they give me a peaceful night’s sleep,” she says.

Fatima Moosa | mg.co.za
Karen Dudley, 56

Karen Dudley, 56

Director of Education from ECD to grade nine
Western Cape Education Department
Bellville, City Cape Town, South Africa

Passion is not the only thing that drives Karen Dudley to excel but it is her purpose, which is the strongest connection to the soul. “When someone says to me ‘you can’t’, I make sure I upskill myself and those around me and I say ‘go for it’.”

“Take time to listen and engage people and staff. Emotional intelligence is one of the key aspects, as you will embrace people’s minds, hearts and intellect,” says Karen Dudley.

Dudley is currently working with the Western Cape education department as the director of education for early childhood development until grade nine. It’s easy to see why she values the idea of emotional intelligence when you take into consideration the work she does.

In her role as director, Dudley manages the curriculum portfolio for the department. She is in charge of a strong team that works to improve education for students from the early childhood development stage to grade nine. With Dudley at the helm, the department has managed to achieve many significant milestones. She says she is passionate about improving education in the Western Cape as well as in the country.

A central ethos Dudley lives by is to be humble in spite of academic or other achievements. She says: “Always treat people with respect. Be empathetic, but lead by example.” This quality of humility is clearly seen in her work.

Although no person is perfect, what makes Dudley stand out is her ability to acknowledge her mistakes and work to improve herself. She is also a team player.

“It’s not only passion that drives me to excel but, more importantly, it is my purpose that drives me the most. Purpose for me is the strongest connection to the soul. When someone says to me ‘you can’t’, I make sure I upskill myself and those around me and I say ‘go for it’.”

It is this idea of always striving to better herself that makes Dudley respected by so many of her peers.

Not only is she respected, Dudley has also been awarded many times for the hard work she does for the department. She says it was one of the biggest surprises of her life when she was selected as the head of curriculum in District Central and for two years they were awarded as Second Best Large District out of 80 districts nationwide. This was because of the excellent results achieved in grade 12.

The district under her leadership was also awarded nationally as best district for the most bachelor passes in the country. Dudley says this was a surprise, but taking into consideration her hard work and dedication, it probably didn’t come as a surprise to those around her.

She was also a volleyball coach for over 10 years. She coached young people between the ages of 12 to 19, and each team retained the provincial championship for 10 years. She counts this as one of her proudest achievements.

Fatima Moosa | mg.co.za