Share Their Story

Simphiwe Mhlongo

Founder and principal property practitioner
Simpre Properties
Advanced diploma in financial management NQF7
Regent Business School

Simphiwe Mhlongo founded her real estate agency Simpre Properties in May 2021. From a young age, Mhlongo realised that she wanted to be an entrepreneur, that she would own a business one day and that it would be something she would build from scratch.

In 2018, following her resignation from a company at which she had worked for eight years specialising in customer service in the airline industry, she began working as a real estate agent and soon realised the challenges that people encountered when accessing the housing market.

“It’s not easy to buy a house in South Africa. The aim with Simpre Properties is to assist people, especially the previously disadvantaged, to access the market and own houses against all odds,” she says.

Mhlongo believes that a good leader should possess the qualities of integrity, accountability, empathy, enthusiasm and humility.

“Leadership is about inspiring people to do things they never thought they were capable of doing. It’s about motivating people to become the best version of themselves,” she says.

Mhlongo feels that employers need to provide support to their women employees by implementing policies that protect women, providing channels of support and investing in the empowerment of women employees.

Two of her proudest moments are graduating twice after she got married and had her two daughters, and then opening her real estate firm — learning important lessons and skills from entrepreneurship as well as motherhood.

When asked how she has managed to maintain a work-life balance, she says: “Outside of work, I am a wife, a mother, a sister and a daughter. This simply means I cannot work 24/7. Therefore, it is crucial that I plan my day, plan my week, plan my month, so that I can make time for my family and loved ones. When I feel overwhelmed, I take time off. I am not afraid to unplug when I need to.”

Mhlongo says that the key to running a successful business is having the right people on your team.

“[Firstly], you need people who understand your vision and want to help you achieve the goals of the organisation. Secondly, you need to have a plan. Thirdly, you need to understand that, without your clients, there is no business. You need to treat your clients like they are the last people on Earth. People have a choice to go elsewhere if they do not get what they are looking for.”

She also feels that people in business should never take continuous learning for granted.

“The business world is evolving at a rapid pace, so you need to remain up to date with the latest advancements. This helps you to prepare for the future. With the outbreak of Covid-19, every business was forced to learn new ways to keep their businesses going, and a lot of them had to adjust by embracing technology and communicating with customers online.”

In the future, she hopes to expand her business to all provinces in South Africa, and to inspire women to get into the industry.

“I see Simpre Properties as a global brand with excellent service. One that always puts clients first,” she concludes.

Author - Louise van den Bergh
Ancillar Nombewu

Ancillar Nombewu

Journalist, founder and CEO
Rallinca Media
BA journalism & BA honours in journalism
University of Johannesburg

Ancillar Nombewu wears many hats. As a journalist, she writes for the people. As a businesswoman, she is making waves.

After completing her honours in journalism at the University of Johannesburg, Nombewu dove straight into work for Caxton Community Newspapers. Her writing focused on holding those in power accountable and inspiring action.

Shortly afterwards, her talent and drive caught the eye of a headhunter at Forbes Africa magazine, where she worked for a number of years. During this time, Nombewu’s love of storytelling led her to win several awards. In 2016, she was named the CNN MultiChoice Maggie Eales Young Journalist of the Year, as well as Sanlam’s Young Journalist of the Year in 2015.

Nombewu believes in the value of unbiased storytelling, as well as the importance of shedding light on African stories. Despite her numerous accolades, Nombewu feels that true success is creating positive change for others.

“I know that I’m here to be of service to South Africa and the world,” she says. Her role as a United Nations Refugee Agency Ambassador is one that she does not take lightly:

I’ve been blessed to have my path connect to my purpose and I’m proud that I walk it truthfully and honestly.”

Nombewu’s transition into entrepreneurship is another point of personal pride. In 2017, she founded Rallinca Media, an African-focused media and public relations company. The company handles a range of media, from print and digital to broadcasting, as well as conferences and media events.

Rallinca Media has several notable clients, including Sibanye-Stillwater, Native Child and Haute Afrika.

“We continue to introduce new ways of marketing and disrupting the industry to ensure growth for our clients, while also growing our business and team,” says Nombewu.

Of course, every career has its learning curves. For Nombewu, the biggest lesson came during the early stages of starting the company.

Not wanting to leave anyone behind, she chose to hire friends and family over more qualified applicants, which negatively affected Rallinca Media. These mistakes caused her to lose clients, which was a hard knock on her business and personal life.

Fortunately, these tough times motivated Nombewu to pause, realign and rebuild from scratch. Her renewed approach of positivity and decisiveness revolutionised Rallinca Media and its trajectory as a business.

Nombewu knows now that putting on one’s “big girl pants” is the only way to succeed. Today, the company continues to flourish.

“I’m proud that I’ve been able to create change in the various spaces that I occupy,” says Nombewu. She is committed to fulfilling her purpose of telling truthful, authentic African stories.

Nombewu dreams of a future in which every woman in South Africa believes in and loves herself. “That would be the beginning of real change, as it starts from within,” she says.

Laura du Toit |
Innocentia Mamaila

Innocentia Mamaila

Founder and game-changer
Bachelor of accounting science in internal auditing — University of South Africa (Unisa);Diploma in accounting and business — Association of Chartered Certified Accountants;Diploma in biofuels — DTN Institution (Alternative fuels certified energy professionals)Certificates in international leadership — Wyse Academy (Italy, Lucca)
ACCA (Association of Chartered Accountants) , Biofuel Energy Institution

Innocentia Mamaila’s career has taught her to see change as an opportunity and not as a threat.
With an accounting background and dreams of owning her own business, she completed a bachelor of accounting science in internal auditing at the University of South Africa, followed by a diploma in accounting and business from the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants.

However, like many, Mamaila was driven to reassess her trajectory during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Some of her peers lost their jobs during the lockdown and others, who had to drop out of tertiary education due to poverty, were not employed to begin with.

Left searching for what to do next, she read an article about the merits of recycling cooking oil that sparked her interest. After further research, she discovered an industry built on buying, bleaching and reselling used cooking oil and its conversion into biodiesel. It was this discovery that drove her to take action.

Mamaila went on to complete a diploma in biodiesel at the DTN Institute and in June founded INO-Biodiesel, a company that collects used cooking oil and converts it into biodiesel. The company also supplies biodiesel to the construction, farming and mining industries.

The process to get her first product to market was challenging but taught her a lot.

“I learned to believe in myself and accept failure and rejection as a part of the journey,” she says.

Mamaila has found great success with INO-Biodiesel, amassing several awards in a short space of time, including winning the Female Founders Initiative Young Emerging Entrepreneur of the Year Award. She was also recognised by Standard Bank’s Top Women in South African Companies project.

Passionate about making a change in the country, Mamaila is expanding the company’s activities into social outreach programmes in Limpopo, to be followed by KwaZulu-Natal and Mpumalanga.

The project will partner with women in rural areas to grow agricultural products that can be processed into 100% cooking oil and then sold. They will also collect and recycle used oil to turn it into biodiesel. The project is expected to launch in October.

“The goal is to create a stable, sustainable and economy-friendly environment,” she says.

Mamalia believes entrepreneurship to be a crucial factor in improving the state of the South African economy, and wants to see a change in developmental-phase education to a more grounded and practical learning system.

Based on lessons she learned from her mother, her advice to other entrepreneurs is to collaborate instead of compete, and to stand firm through the challenges.

“My mother has been my greatest inspiration. Especially the way she dealt with my challenges and failures and her approach towards solving problems without ever losing hope,” she says.

Robert Sam-Kputu |
Refilwe Xaba

Refilwe Xaba

BCom economics, BCom Hons (business management), master of commerce
University of the Free State

In 2021, Refilwe Xaba was selected as one of the South African candidates to join the Tony Elumelu Foundation’s entrepreneurship programme, commonly known as TEF Connect.

In partnership with Google, TEF Connect selects promising entrepreneurial individuals from Africa to participate in the valuable programme. This is where Xaba’s haircare line, GloLooks, was shortlisted as a successful entrepreneurship, enabling her to compete in a pitch competition for $5 000 (about R83 500) in prize money, which she won.

“What I am most proud of is that I applied for the programme in 2019, at the beginning of my business journey, and I was unsuccessful. I came back in 2021, not only having implemented the changes that the adjudicators had advised, but also with a renewed mindset,” she says.

This mindset and second chance changed how Xaba viewed herself.

“Competing with entrepreneurs from across Africa made me realise the magnitude of my potential and my achievements. It boosted my confidence and assured me that I can trade beyond the borders of South Africa. I have since acquired my export certificate and enrolled for an export readiness course. I believe that GloLooks is an international brand that can compete on any stage.”

This was not the first time that Xaba rose to the challenge and came to the realisation that on the other side of fear and doubt lies endless possibility and opportunity. Xaba completed a leadership exchange programme through the University of the Free State, hosted at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York.

The training focused on diversity, student leadership, citizenship and innovation. In one of these training sessions, a facilitator noticed that Xaba was holding back and encouraged her to share her views.

“He said that I must speak up because I have valuable insight to share. He went on to stress that I earned my seat and that I worked hard to be there and deserved to take part in every moment of the experience. That completely changed my life forever,” she says.

“Here I was, a girl from a small town in the Free State, being told that my voice, thoughts and opinions matter by an Ivy League university professor. From that day, I vowed to follow my heart, to speak for what I believe in and to remind others like me that their voices, thoughts and opinions matter. We can compete on any stage, regardless of our backgrounds and where we come from.”

Xaba adds: “If you want to empower and equip an adult for the future, you have to start in the early childhood development phase. I have read that the first 1 000 days of a child’s life shape their lifelong potential.

Adequate healthcare, good nutrition, quality child care and a nurturing, clean and safe environment along with early learning and stimulation will have a positive impact on these children by the time they become adults.”

Afrika Bogatsu |
Surika Sookram

Surika Sookram

Executive committee member and board member: Families South Africa (FAMSA); senior consultant: Nippon Telegraph and Telephone Corporation (NTT)
PhD in information systems
UKZN (University of KwaZulu-Natal)

Having worked in the male-dominated IT industry as a young woman, Surika Sookram faced many challenges. Sookram now works at Nippon Telegraph and Telephone Corporation (NTT), a Japanese telecommunications company that operates in more than 200 countries and regions.

Sookram’s role at NTT is senior consultant, data governance, within the data management domain. Her work entails the implementation of data governance strategies, frameworks and roadmaps, enforcing and implementing policies and procedures that ensure data is used and maintained properly, as well as implementing common information models by understanding databases, data structures and data classification, among other data-based responsibilities.

Through her research, she has developed a framework that she hopes will aid two million South African small to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in implementing an IT strategy.

Sookram says: “Through technology and innovation, NTT delivers a secure and connected future that empowers its people, clients and communities. The company delivers on business priorities through technology-led initiatives.”

Sookram believes that a healthy family life is the best foundation for girls to flourish and reach their dreams. With this in mind, she became a Family South Africa (FAMSA) board member. FAMSA is a non-profit organisation that focuses on individual and family intervention services, including parenting skills, fatherhood programmes, crime prevention and assisting victims of gender-based violence.
She has been instrumental in creating and spearheading FAMSA’s first formalised strategy, which aided the national South African office and 28 affiliates to be at the forefront of getting funding for gender-based programmes, as well as several other initiatives, including addressing the crisis of teenage pregnancy, gender-based violence and teaching self-efficiency through entrepreneurial skills.

I am proud that FAMSA offers tools and skills for young girls and women because we need to change the narrative so girls and women can achieve their ambitions,” she says.

Sookram says that she has had to work extra hard, show perseverance and continuously bring her passions to the table. She remembers being the only woman in her graduating class awarded a PhD in information systems at the University of KwaZulu-Natal.

“This journey has led me to believe in making a difference now and for the next generation. I work to be a voice in emerging technology, SMEs and skills development. I have learnt to lend my voice and skills to create more initiatives across South Africa.

“[I want] young girls to see women who are not afraid to speak their minds so that they can aspire to do so as well. I learnt to be an influence to ensure intentional action is taking place and I want to be at the forefront of programmes aiming to address these issues.”

When asked what she would change in South Africa, Sookram says: “I want to focus on elevating and changing the discussions with leaders. Leadership in corporate, communities, on platforms — everyone who is in a role or a position of power.

“[I want] to deliberately make the decision to recognise and give women tangible opportunities to develop. It doesn’t always have to be about putting women in positions of leadership. It’s about changing the mindset about giving women opportunities — it starts with me,” she says.

“In a lot of instances, you may feel that you’re not well-equipped and that’s okay. Put your hand up and take the opportunity because you never know what will come of that. So it starts from the bottom to our leaders saying, ‘it starts with me’. The difference we can all make goes a long way and the more we come together, the broader we can expand.”

Patrick Visser |
Bridget Zuma-Rubambura

Bridget Zuma-Rubambura

Commercial and business development management
Air Liquide
NMDP, MSc, BEng Metallurgical Engineering
Wits (University of the Witwatersrand), UP (University of Pretoria)

Bridget Zuma-Rubambura is a commercial and business development manager at Air Liquide, an organisation that provides industrial gas supply to key industries in South Africa.

After completing a degree in metallurgical engineering, she pursued her master’s degree in physical metallurgy, specialising in welding and corrosion at the University of the Witwatersrand.

Zuma-Rubambura’s industry knowledge and background in stainless steel and aluminium, and the application of multiple production optimisation techniques, opened doors for her to get into business.

After completing her master’s, Zuma-Rubambura was seeking a career pivot from the plant and production facility into business strategy development. She then applied for a role at Air Liquide and was subsequently promoted.

“My proudest achievement of all is raising my kids, but from a career space, it’s running a geographically diverse team with a strong emphasis on transformation and being one of the highest performing teams for business strategy deployment. Academically, it was being recognised as a Golden Key chapter award winner for my master’s.”

Zuma-Rubambura’s knowledge grew from discussions with people about the success strategies they deployed in leadership roles, receiving guidance from women leaders running organisations like Southern African Women in Leadership and Women in Mining South Africa.
With a transformative management style, Zuma-Rubambura prides herself on a collaborative approach, which leads to growth and impact. She believes a good leader “has the ability to listen, diligently analyse and guide with respect”.

If she could change one thing for South Africa today? “Strengthening our economic status, particularly for young women in South Africa. By strengthening our economy, we will have the ability to provide opportunities for talented and trained youth in critical change industries, which is crucial for our country’s growth.”

She says that the biggest challenges in her career have been striking a work-life balance, as well as overcoming sexism, ageism and microaggressions. She overcame these by learning how to be strategic with her time, and by calling out and educating people about microaggressions when observed.

Workplaces should create environments that are conducive for women employees to excel and operate, and should ensure that corporate frameworks and guidelines are transformative,” she says.

Her advice to women entering the business world? “Be yourself, but don’t get comfortable. Always be willing to reinvent yourself on your growth trajectory. Do not be afraid to make mistakes and take bold steps while continuously learning.”

Zuma-Rubambura is working on her PhD in metallurgical engineering and is also collaborating with the Aluminium Federation of Southern Africa as a speaker at their international conference this year.

In the future, she wishes to continue to influence spaces by positively driving transformation and she looks forward to potentially working in other parts of Africa, as she believes there is a lot of value African women can contribute.

Louise van den Bergh |
Nobubele Nzima

Nobubele Nzima

Founder and director
Bellarosa WIP Agricultural Primary Co-operative, Bellarosa WIP Productions, Future Builders Foundation
BCom honours in business management
Nelson Mandela University

Nobubele Nzima is a woman firm in her character, consistently striving to make a difference in communities through the development of women leadership and youth empowerment. Self-described as a woman of pure intentions, she believes her brand as a businesswoman is defined by her passion.

Nzima’s CV is a testament to her drive and ambition, with Covid-19 acting as a catalyst. The pandemic forced her to come to grips with the terms and conditions of her corporate position within one of South Africa’s most popular retail stores.

“The treatment [of women] in the male-dominated environment led me to be depressed for years,” she says, adding that the experience made her realise that working for someone else was not her calling — hers, she believes, is creating employment opportunities for others, especially women and young people.

“There was no way I was going back to jobseeking with that experience and that’s when I left everything and started my business from scratch, with nothing but my little savings,” says Nzima.

I’m all for women in leadership and women empowerment, so any movement that’s created to protect women, children and youth, I’ll always support with everything in me.”

Focusing on the future is at the top of Nzima’s priority list, with youth and women empowerment a prime concern. She hopes to continue expanding her businesses, creating opportunities for the previously disadvantaged and continuing her work as an activist against gender-based violence.

The Mthatha-born go-getter is the director and founder of three business ventures: Bellarosa WIP Agricultural Primary Co-operative, a poultry farm, Bellarosa WIP Productions and Future Builders Foundation (FBF).

Her upbringing in the Maydene Farm township provided her with first-hand experience in learning the needs of rural communities, which has shaped her work with FBF.

“We help five schools in our community with uniforms, shoes and books for learners. We organise workshops for teenagers and young people to help fight drug abuse and rape,” she says. “We also encourage the youth to start businesses working with the National Youth Development Agency Mthatha.”

Nzima’s work in communities has garnered her significant decorations and distinctions. She was named one of Nestlé Bar One’s youth changemakers in its It Starts With One campaign, she was chosen as one of 35 delegates to attend this year’s French Embassy Women Agripreneurs Programme and she is a trainee for the World of Innovators, a 100-day challenge that mobilises South Africans in the fight against gender-based violence and femicide.

A life of purpose was always on the cards for Nzima. Her advice?

“Life is full of opportunities for youth and women. Ask for help, talk to people, pray for direction and always remember to be kind to yourself.”

Cher Petersen |
Nomsa Olivia Nteleko

Nomsa Olivia Nteleko

Founder and CEO
OS Holdings
Advanced diploma project management
Cranefield College

If Nomsa Nteleko could achieve one thing for South Africa, it would be to influence the adoption of a curriculum that embraces critical thinking, design thinking, collaborative teamwork, project management, coding and soft skills. She is convinced that this set of skills can enable and empower young people to succeed in their endeavours within the economy and the emerging fourth industrial revolution in South Africa.

With a background in project and programme management, Nteleko’s passion for technology, accounting and building teams led to her starting OS Holdings, an award-winning business that provides process-driven software solutions to medium and large organisations.

Her motivation was to build a professional team that values Africa as being a creator of technology solutions that successfully solve African problems.

The decision to disrupt the market was pivotal. As founder and CEO, Nteleko has built the company on a growth strategy that is dependent on the empowerment and development of her team. The main drive and measure of success for the team is the success of the businesses they impact.

Starting a tech company 10 years ago, in the thick of male dominance within the industry, is an achievement Nteleko is proud of. When OS Holdings was founded, it was with the goal to create space for black professionals and boost female representation within the tech industry.

The vision was to become a leading technology solutions provider for local government and state-owned entities who were receiving backlash due to lack of systems, internal controls, compliance and reporting,” she says.

Nteleko describes how these are critical problems of national importance that her “super team” of young, black professionals has the opportunity to transform the tech space from within and impact society on the ground. What has been crucial for OS Holdings is that municipalities operate effectively as businesses and that OS Holdings provides the much-desired service delivery for its communities.

A decade later, the vision of a futuristic technology company has expanded into being a tech leader in Africa. Seeing this come to fruition entails developing a private sector wing, cloud solutions and incorporating artificial intelligence to add to the solutions that OS Holdings offers, Nteleko explains.

It hasn’t been an easy journey for the Entrepreneur of the Year and Top Empowered Company: Business Leader finalist of the Top Empowerment Awards 2022, but Nteleko has learnt many insightful lessons from the process of establishing OS Holdings.

“I had to trust my team wholeheartedly,” she says. “We started developing our own software, and it was an expensive and tough journey. We learned a lot in terms of drafting a specification in a precise manner. We had to learn to collaborate with partners of the same mindset and value system.”

Returning to her project management acumen, perhaps the most definitive of these lessons is the art of project management, which is, in her experience, “keeping a business afloat while scaling it”.

Today, OS Holdings has made strides in Gauteng local municipalities and state-owned entities, and has extended to KwaZulu-Natal with the opening of new offices in Durban.

Evolving into a tech leader in Africa is just a matter of time for Nteleko and OS Holdings by promoting innovative technology solutions that South Africa has to offer to the continent and the world.

Nelisiwe Masango |
Kefilwe Lekabe

Kefilwe Lekabe

Business consultant, digital skills trainer and entrepreneurship development educator
Kefilwe Tsela Academy and Digify Africa
Bachelor of arts (sociology & media studies), digital marketing, Entrepreneurship Educator
University of the Witwatersrand, Digify Africa, Gordon Institute of Business Science

Kefilwe Lekabe has entrepreneurship running through her veins. As a qualified business consultant, digital skills trainer and entrepreneurship development educator, Lekabe is a triple threat.

What began as a way to assist others with their goals turned into a lifelong mission and led to the creation of her business, Kefilwe Tsela Academy, that creates more access to resources and empowers young people through education.

At an early age, Lekabe’s grandmother encouraged her to learn, saying: “If I had received an education, I would have been working in a career I want. If you get educated, you can become whatever you want.”

From that moment on, Lekabe knew that there was a great power in creating educational opportunities for others, which, in turn, uplifts communities and improves the lives of even more people.

With research showing that 41% of black women are unemployed, Lekabe’s career has been focused on decreasing this statistic by bringing digital and technological skills to young people in South Africa.
She strongly believes that if we can improve business and entrepreneurship education in schools, it could play a significant part in alleviating the socioeconomic divide and decreasing the levels of unemployment in our country.

The academy’s name is an ode to her vision and a nod to her namesake – Kefilwe Tsela, meaning “given a way”. The school exists to make opportunities accessible to the less privileged and marginalised groups, with the hope of one day establishing colleges.

After becoming a certified entrepreneurship educator at Gordon Institute of Business Science (GIBS) last year, Lekabe was promoted as generalist mentor to entrepreneurs and small business owners through GIBS’ Entrepreneurship Development Academy.

Along with GIBS, she worked to bring entrepreneurial training and digital skills to small business owners through collaboration with HerVenture, a mobile app that helps entrepreneurs access resources and build confidence in skills when running their businesses.

Lekabe was contracted by Glencore Mine as a business coach to assist in advising their suppliers and vendors. In 2021, she became a certified digital marketing professional and digital marketing associate through Digify Africa. She’s since provided digital skills training and social media marketing courses to more than 5 000 small and medium-sized enterprises.

On 21 August, Lekabe hosted a Women in Business Celebration as part of the Kefilwe Tsela Entrepreneurship Academy.

“I envision a world where women receive the respect they deserve for their skills, abilities, contribution, creativity and innovation,” she says. “And especially respect for the impact of their work through recognition, equal pay, opportunities, promotions and growth.”

Her hope is that one day entrepreneurship and business skills will be introduced into schools so that more people are exposed to them from an early age.

The inequality, affordability and accessibility to quality resources, especially digital or technological resources, and a backward education system are not equipping young people with in-demand skills that the current and future labour force need to change.”

Our children are the future of the country, and Lekabe hopes that with this nurtured interest, they become adults with ventures of their own, where they can empower themselves and in turn uplift the South African economy.

Olive Hodge |
Noxolo Fani

Noxolo Fani

Phenomenal Light Construction and Career Guardian (previously Platform Excel)
Certificate: small business management and entrepreneurship; digital communication and media/multimedia; strategic leadership: business
EastCape Midlands TVET College; University of Johannesburg; GIBS Business School (Gordon Institute of Business Science)

Noxolo Fani has long been a pioneer in the construction industry, with a career repertoire spanning nine years. As a graduate of the Gordon Institute of Business Science, Fani’s life experience and business acumen has ensured transformation within her sector. A visionary, Fani’s voice has shed light on the inequality she has witnessed, particularly in her role as a Future Females Johannesburg chapter ambassador for the empowerment of women.

“Growing up in a township, I came to see many inequalities quite early on. It became a great burden watching these inequalities reach the extent that they have, which fuelled my passion for change,” she says.

Following her studies, Fani became an entrepreneur at 25, pivoting into the construction industry and founding and running her company, Phenomenal Light Construction (also known as PL Construction), over the past four years.

“I had to be extremely creative when I entered the construction industry. I had not one ounce of education in the industry, but because of the help of those in the field, I have come this far.”

In 2019, Fani travelled to Berlin, where Phenomenal Light featured in the Built Environment Sector with Investec for its Global Exposure Programme. In collaboration with First National Bank, the company featured in the “She Means Business” podcast last year and as a company video profile for First National Bank XTV this year, showcasing how Fani has managed to push boundaries as a businesswoman in a male-dominated sector.

Earlier this year, Phenomenal Light was selected by Sasol for the 15 Women in Engineering Incubator Programme.

One of her proudest achievements to date was being awarded the Milpark Hospital project by WBHO to complete all concrete repair work and finishes in the first month of starting up her company.

Another of Fani’s many career successes was closing the Discovery head office deal with WBHO and TiBER Construction.

“That was a big one — it was actually a turning point for me in that I really became aware that I can truly do what I set out to do, despite the many obstacles and challenges.”

Fani believes businesses have a social responsibility, beyond profits, to provide work and opportunities that will lead to sustainable growth and combat unemployment and poverty in South Africa.

Phenomenal Light has served as an employment channel for young adults, particularly women from poverty-stricken areas, and as a training space, assisting in securing mentorships for youth who require guidance.

Fani’s passionate leadership and initiative has ensured that youth from townships are employed and trained in an environment that fosters creative problem-solving skills and a sustained cycle of change.

Her company’s development of infrastructure has expanded to develop opportunities for young South Africans and the development of society as a whole.

“Young people are the driving force for development, but only if they are provided with the skills and opportunities to reach their potential,” she says.

Beyond her work in construction, Fani will launch a new initiative, Career Guardian, based on her previous success with Platform Excel, which will serve as an affordable online platform that offers career guidance to South African learners seeking employment after high school.

Fani featured in Forbes in 2021, where Platform Excel was selected as one of the 25 African female tech companies by the Future is Female mentorship programme run by C Moore Media International Public Relations.

Fani believes in “inclusive and equitable quality education that will change communities, South Africa and the whole world eventually”.

Danielle Dowling |
Mmaki Jantjies

Mmaki Jantjies

Group head of innovation and transformation
PhD computer science
University of Warwick

Computer scientist Mmaki Jantjies knows just how powerful technology can be in transforming people’s lives. Her own life is a great example, since technology propelled her to an influential career with Telkom and earned her a string of accolades and opportunities.

Now, as the group executive of innovation and transformation at Telkom, she’s in a position to unlock opportunities for other young people too. That includes investing in digital products and supporting young start-ups as they explore new technologies, as well as funding research projects.

Our investment in technology innovations can be a driving force not only for economic growth, but also to enhance the daily lives of South Africans,” she says.

“The lack of equitable access to resources and opportunities is a challenge leading to many societal issues that we face as a country. I use technology in my life as a lever to contribute towards addressing these challenges.”

One way she does that is through her non-profit organisation, Peo Ya Phetogo, which she established in partnership with UN Women and the Mozilla Foundation.

The organisation runs various programmes focusing on science, technology, engineering and maths to help young people adopt technology careers. Additionally, it runs programmes to help teachers gain digital literacy skills to pass on to their students.

Jantjies also mentors young leaders from various communities. Seeing them excel is extremely fulfilling, she adds, as she acknowledges that her own achievements in her technology career have been the result of constant mentorship and support from others.

Her career so far has blended academia with business, including heading up the Department of Information Systems at North West University and the University of the Western Cape, and being a senior information technology consultant with JB Consulting.

Other roles have included being an adjunct associate professor at the University of the Western Cape and a council member of South African Institute of Computer Scientists.

Jantjies has earned a string of local and international awards for her contribution to the technology sector, including being named one of 50 people who make the internet a better place by the Mozilla Foundation; one of 50 Inspiring Women in Technology by CoCreate and the Netherlands Consulate; and as a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum.

In her spare time, Jantjies runs her own website,, where she publishes opinion pieces about technology and society. In one article, she addresses the lack of readiness in South African schools to produce digitally savvy students.

As an academic whose research focuses on educational technology, she highlighted the lack of infrastructure, lack of teacher training and a dearth of appropriate local content as issues to address before technology can do what it’s supposed to do and enhance teaching and learning.

“Crucially, introducing more educational technology is about more than the addition of a piece of hardware or some software. It also means introducing novel approaches to teaching and learning. Universities that train teachers need to be cognisant of this,” she writes.

“It also requires a review of South Africa’s existing technology in education policies and a sustainable plan to ensure that no child is deprived of a skill that is no longer a luxury.”

Lesley Stones |
Kwena Mmamaro

Kwena Mmamaro

Naum Kwena Cleaning Service
NCV generic management, NATED course in financial management, Short course: Small Business Enrichment Programme
Sekhukhune TVET College and University of Johannesburg

Kwena Mmamaro, who hails from the Sekhukhune district in Limpopo, is the founder and director of Naum Kwena Cleaning Service, a thriving entrepreneurial undertaking. Mmamaro’s company manufactures cleaning detergents and, as an offshoot to the primary business, also runs a grass-cutting service.

With several business-related qualifications under her belt, Mmamaro — much to the initial dismay and confusion of her family and friends — declined her first job offer following her studies. Instead, she was determined to start her own business.

She knew this was a risky choice as there are no guarantees in business, but being entrepreneurial felt like her calling. Mmamaro was business savvy from a young age, even selling snacks to her classmates during break time in primary school.

Going into detergent manufacturing was a no-brainer for her. “I like the cleanest space — if an environment is clean, your mood will always be happy and you can think clearly and creatively.”

Her interest was sparked when she visited some office spaces in her community and was concerned about how dirty and neglected they looked. Mmamaro also realised that there would always be a demand for cleaning products because every household and business needs them.

Since she founded the company in 2019, her community has been very supportive and the business is growing steadily.

Something Mmamaro has always loved about having a business of her own is how it allows her to be independent. It is important to her to be able to stand up for herself and to do things for herself. She also loves that she is able to share what she has with those in need.

I don’t have much, my company is not making millions, but the little that I do have I like to share with people,” she says.

In 2021, the Limpopo co-operative governance, human settlements and traditional affairs department built 100 houses in the Apel community. Keen to get involved, Mmamaro put in the labour and helped a Mpogeng family to build their house.

She spent her 28th birthday at the Maretlagadi Welfare Centre volunteering with children with disabilities. Since then, she has befriended the children and visits, volunteers and donates to the centre whenever the opportunity arises. She also contributes by buying school shoes for young learners.

In the future, Mmamaro hopes to upgrade her manufacturing plant by buying a machine that will aid her in producing the detergents and assist in growing her business, creating more employment opportunities for those around her.

In line with her intent to lead with empathy, Mmamaro also dreams of starting a foundation where she will be able to help children with disabilities and to feed those in her community who are hungry.

Shaazia Ebrahim |
Samantha Moleta

Samantha Moleta

Owner and co-founder
The Refillery
BA marketing communications
University of Johannesburg

For more than a decade, Samantha Moleta and her husband, Dom, worked in the yachting industry and got to explore some of the most beautiful and remote locales in the world. What they also discovered, sadly, was that even the most unspoilt destinations weren’t exempt from human interference.

“We would be out at sea, weeks away from land, and there would be rubbish floating everywhere,” Moleta explains. “We would set up the most beautiful picnics for our guests but would spend an hour beforehand cleaning the beach of rubbish. It always felt so pointless having somewhere so beautiful tarnished by people being careless.”

Once they hung up their boat shoes, they settled in New Zealand with their kids for a few years, and it was here that they were introduced to Plastic Free July – a global initiative that started in Australia in 2017. The idea is to eradicate (or at least reduce) your plastic usage for the month of July and find alternatives where possible, hopefully cultivating a new approach to waste in the process. Moleta and her family completed the month-long challenge and decided to continue their new-found habits, but quickly realised that grocery shopping and single-use plastic were synonymous. Having encountered plastic-free grocery stores on their travels, they decided that they wanted to create something similar and bring the concept to the South African market. They packed up their family, sold everything they had, returned to South Africa and launched The Refillery.

As the name suggests, the concept is to fill (and refill) reusable containers with staples such as grains, pulses, nuts and cereals — products that would usually come packaged in plastic in a regular grocery store. Although the concept is simple, getting it off the ground wasn’t.

“Sourcing suppliers was incredibly difficult. Being new to retail and starting a concept store that no one understood and had difficulty wrapping their minds around was challenging. Every day was a learning curve,” she says.

But perseverance and passion paid off and what started as an online store in January 2019 as a way to get their name and concept known has now grown into five brick-and-mortar locations throughout Johannesburg.

Plus, Moleta says, they now call many of their suppliers friends — about 85% of which are small to medium (often family-run) enterprises — which is not surprising, considering their shared goals and wanting to improve how and what South Africans consume.

“It still is the best part of this start-up adventure for me,” Moleta comments on finding the right suppliers. “Meeting phenomenal people who are as passionate about their product(s) as we are about our brand and what we wanted to create”.

As for the future and what she would still like to achieve in South Africa, she says: “I would love to see environmental sustainability being more of a core focus. From it being taught in schools, to businesses, organisations and the government taking a more proactive approach and focusing on the smaller, more attainable steps that can be achieved daily.”

Moleta adds: “We put everything we had into The Refillery and to see it being received in such a positive manner by so many customers makes me proud of what we’ve created.”

Shereen Goosen |
Mbali Blaai

Mbali Blaai

Founder and managing director
Data Service Agency
Honours degree in public governance, postgraduate diploma in corporate governance and higher certificate in entrepreneurial development
NWU, UJ and Monash South Africa

Mbali Blaai is the founder and managing director of Data Service Agency, which she founded in 2017 while she was a university student. Her enterprise is oriented around providing academic support to postgraduate students as well as assisting aspiring entrepreneurs, with 37 different services currently on offer.

“My entrepreneurial journey has allowed me to grow and extend compassion where I needed to,” she says. Blaai, who has always had a passion for business and philanthropy, has not only completed an honours degree in public governance, but has also received a postgraduate diploma in corporate governance and a higher certificate in entrepreneurial development.

“I would [like to] encourage a more economical state that supports innovation, idea generation and creativity with the intention to compete globally,” she says when asked what she wishes to see South Africa achieve one day.

Data Service Agency’s most recent endeavour was hosting the Merafong Youth Business Expo. The two-day event provided opportunities for local small, medium and micro enterprises (SMMEs) and included a business summit, a series of workshops on how to upscale SMMEs, a gala dinner and a keynote address from executive mayor of the Merafong City Local Municipality, councillor Nozuko Best.

“Some [SMMEs] got instant shelf space to some of the biggest chain stores in South Africa, while others received funding,” Blaai explains. The event also provided an opportunity to promote discourse on how to develop a more sustainable local business system.

Blaai’s entrepreneurial journey has taught her priceless life lessons and has also allowed her to learn a lot about herself and what makes a strong, good leader.

I [have learnt that you] shouldn’t view people as robots but rather as humans and extend some compassion when needed,” Blaai says.

She also describes how her experience as a leader has created a deep sense of self-awareness. One such occasion was her first time dealing with a labour-related issue. As a solution, Blaai hosted a roundtable discussion with employees to search for a collaborative and inclusive solution that would also hold her accountable.

“It was not easy,” she says. “In fact, it was very uncomfortable for me to allow myself to be grilled in that manner because I encouraged everyone to speak their mind.”

Blaai encompasses the African spirit of ubuntu in her work and embraces the importance of giving back to the community.

“I am reminded that as we step forward and follow our dreams, we provide others the same opportunity to step forward and follow their dreams.”

She continues to encourage people, young and old, to break free from a dependency mentality and to “step forward” into your greatest self.

One part of you that you have full control over is your thoughts. Your thoughts drive the direction of your life,” Blaai says.

Sarah Irwin |