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Sis’ Mantoa Selepe

Director, gender equality activist
Bachelor of commerce honours in business management (BCom)
Unisa (University of South Africa)

Gender-based violence and femicide (GBVF) is a hyperendemic scourge that pervades every part of South African culture. One woman who has committed herself to fighting the injustices experienced by women in this country, is Sis’ Mantoa Selepe.
Selepe is a long-time activist against GBVF and the founder and director of AbafaziPhambili, a non-profit organisation that works to empower women who are dominated within a patriarchal system. She is particularly focused on “the emancipation of the most abandoned, neglected and underprivileged women of our society”.
AbafaziPhambili’s aim is to educate and equip women, predominately at grassroots level, with the necessary skills that will enable them to leave toxic and violent environments. By educating women about their lawful rights and employment opportunities, the organisation encourages them to find success and financial independence.
Selepe says that she was influenced by fellow activist Mariama Bâ, the late Senegalese author and feminist. In her novels, Bâ eloquently articulated “women’s ability to transcend the negative consequences of the irresponsible use of power in a traditional, patriarchal society”.
Patriarchy is a system of oppression that South Africa is still grappling with, a system Selepe believes is perpetuated by cultural and religious beliefs. Religion and culture should be a source of strength, hope and courage, but instead these beliefs breed misogyny, sexism, androcentrism (the belief that men are superior), hegemonic masculinity (the dominance of male-centred values) and, consequently, the continued pervasion of patriarchy.
According to Selepe, government’s attempts to address gender inequality have failed woefully due to corruption and maladministration. Its “eloquently written” laws and policy frameworks have left women at grassroots level at the bottom of the “socioeconomic heap”.
She says attempts by the South African government to address the injustices and violence suffered by women have all proved ineffective due to lack of expertise at ground level, and by being out of touch with the vulnerable women who need it most.
Selepe is working to create equal, inclusive and diverse opportunities within society by enabling a conducive environment for women to master their financial freedom. Her vision is to achieve gender equality across all communities and the safe and healthy well-being of all human beings, where the country’s resources are shared equally to the benefit of all.
She believes that South Africa’s social, economic and political systems, as well as our cultural and religious beliefs, have blinded women to their subordination, submissiveness and domesticity. It is time, she says, for women to “stand up and move forward in order to achieve societal equality”.
Selepe dreams of a society where a child is born and raised with no gender roles.

“Just throw every toy in their cot without telling them their biological gender until they find it themselves,” she says. “In that way, they will perceive one another as equal human beings.” If this were to be achieved, she says, “then gender inequality has been conquered and AbafaziPhambili will close”.

Author - Carol Chamberlain
Mamokgethi Phakeng

Mamokgethi Phakeng

University of Cape Town
BA(Ed); BEd; MEd; PhD (mathematics education); Hon DSc; Hon DEd
North West University; University of the Witwatersrand; University of Bristol; University of Ottawa

Mamokgethi Phakeng, professor and vice-chancellor at the University of Cape Town (UCT), is an internationally acclaimed researcher who is resolute in helping young people obtain higher education. If she could achieve one thing for South Africa, she says that it would be to create “a sense of urgency in our young people about succeeding in higher education”.

Phakeng was born in Eastwood in Pretoria in 1966, but since her family was forcibly moved as a result of the Group Areas Act during apartheid, her birthplace no longer exists. However, this did not stop her from graduating from four different universities — North-West University, the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits), the University of Bristol (UK) and the University of Ottawa (Canada).

She obtained her PhD in mathematics education from Wits, and her tireless dedication earned her the National Science and Technology Forum award in 2011 for being the most outstanding senior black woman researcher for the previous five to 10 years in recognition of her innovative, quality research on teaching and learning mathematics in multilingual classrooms.

Balancing academics with leadership, Phakeng has also won several awards for her research and community work. Her devotion to higher education is evidenced in her Adopt-a-learner foundation.

The non-profit organisation, which she founded in 2004, provides financial and educational support to students from townships and rural areas to acquire higher education qualifications. This year, the foundation is supporting two students at higher education institutions.

Additionally, she donates 20% of her salary to UCT to fund postgraduate women students. Each year, at least five students receive 100% wrap-around funding from the Mamokgethi Phakeng Scholarship Fund.

Apart from her awards and qualifications, Phakeng’s proudest achievement is seeing her three sons grow up to become good men.

Being an academic and the vice-chancellor of an internationally recognised university, one has to ask: What is it that keeps her motivated and strong in her everyday responsibilities?

Phakeng says that the thing that she does not neglect, despite a packed schedule, is meditation and prayer “every morning before I get on with my day. It keeps me grounded in the knowledge that I am nothing without God, He is within me and greater than anything that is in the world.”

On her recognition as a Powerful Women 2022, Phakeng reflects on what she feels makes a woman powerful.

“A powerful woman is a highly accomplished woman who is unapologetically herself; comfortable in her perfect imperfection; recognises her agency; and boldly owns her voice.”

Eunice Stoltz |
Tarisai Mchuchu-MacMillan

Tarisai Mchuchu-MacMillan

Executive director
MOSAIC Training Services and Healing Centre for Women
Advocate of the High Court of South Africa, bachelor of arts and bachelor of laws (LLB)
University of Cape Town

Maya Angelou famously declared: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but they will never forget how you made them feel.” These are words that never cease to inspire Tarisai Mchuchu-MacMillan and they have formed the foundation of her life’s mission.

Mchuchu-MacMillan is the executive director of MOSAIC, a training, service and healing centre that aims to combat abuse and gender-based violence. As one of the largest service delivery organisations in South Africa, MOSAIC responds to survivors of domestic violence regardless of any obstacles.

During the lockdown, they aided more than 20 000 domestic violence survivors and assisted 8 000 people with safeguarding through access to protection orders.
“The future hope for MOSAIC is that it will not need to exist because we will have achieved our purpose,” says Mchuchu-MacMillan.

Growing up in Khayelitsha, Mchuchu-MacMillan was surrounded by gender-based violence. Although she was never a victim herself, she wondered why violence and abuse was accepted as the norm. “But I never had the voice to challenge it,” she says. “Inequalities were contributing to the nature of violence in [Khayelitsha] and I wanted to change that.”

Mchuchu-MacMillan believes that her law studies at the University of Cape Town and her participation in the student council and its societies, including the Student Health and Welfare Organisation (SHAWCO), helped her to find her voice.

She says that her proudest achievement to date is her contribution to the development of violence prevention and reduction programmes.

Mchuchu-MacMillan designed Siyakhana (Building Each Other), which formed the foundation of Young in Prison’s COPOSO (Contributing Positively to Society) model, a holistic rehabilitation and reintegration programme for young people in conflict with the law. The programme aims to create an environment that encourages participants to want to better themselves so that they do not become repeat offenders.

Mchuchu-MacMillan also developed the SAFE programme. The SAFE proposal formed the basis for the baseline research report, Protection Orders Must Protect: Exploring the Implementation of the Domestic Violence Act (116 of 1998) at Magistrates’ Courts and Police Stations in Cape Town and the Cape Winelands 2021.

This baseline research report provides evidence that MOSAIC has uncovered over more than 28 years of practice. In order for domestic and intimate partner violence to end, the effectiveness of protection orders needs to be strengthened for victims to feel safe, and is the aim of the SAFE project — currently being piloted in Mitchells Plain, Philippi and Paarl in the Western Cape.

Over the years, Mchuchu-MacMillan’s work has highlighted the misconception that people often blame single mothers for their son’s crimes against women, which is another narrative she is fighting to change. “That is just blaming women for men’s behaviour, and it needs to stop.”

The best word to describe Tarisai Mchuchu-MacMillan would have to be “resilient”. As a mother of three, she works tirelessly to see her children — and all children — grow up in a South Africa where equality and respect for all is the norm; a place where there is peace, safety and love for everyone in all communities.

“Umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu. I live by that. ‘You are because of others, and others are because of you.’ I hope we can get back to that — it’s what we’re fighting for.”

Jessica Gardiner |
Naledi Kgalalelo Moeti

Naledi Kgalalelo Moeti

Finance director and chairperson
Dennilton Educational Movement
Final year BAHons (environmental management)
Unisa (University of South Africa)

21-year-old Naledi Moeti is in her final year of Environmental Management studies at the University of South Africa. During her matric year, Moeti received incredible support from the Dennilton Education Movement, which prompted her to join the organisation in 2019.

“I joined because of the selflessness and support the members of the organisation gave me when I was in matric. I really wanted to be there for others as they were there for me,” she says.

Moeti serves as the finance director and chairperson of the organisation. Having realised the positive impact that Dennilton had on her studies, she wanted to be part of it in order to impart the skills and knowledge she received from her mentors.

“There is always a struggling learner, or a learner who has given up; a future leader who has lost hope in themselves — my job is to remind them of their power and that it can be done,” affirms Moeti.

The Dennilton Education Movement has a clear vision and mission, which is to encourage excellence, hard work and diligence while discouraging things that might hinder the progress of learners.

“We want to guide young people through the right channels of success and make education fashionable,” adds Moeti. The mission of the organisation is to equip the youth through education and to build safe, educated and productive communities.

Striving for gender equality and education is what drives Moeti. One of her dreams for South Africa is the actualisation and implementation of gender equality, especially in poor and rural communities.

For her, teaching a girl how powerful and brilliant she is, is a stepping stone to achieving that. “I want the girl child to love and accept herself for who she is. To know that she does not have to live up to society’s beauty standards and that education is indeed the key to success,” says Moeti.

As part of her commitment to girls, Moeti was part of the 2022 Menstrual Hygiene Campaign, where she had the opportunity to engage with learners from a local high school on the issues they face around period poverty and period stigmatisation.

“Learners in underprivileged rural communities face challenges regarding access to menstrual products, education about menstruation and period-friendly sanitation facilities. This campaign aimed to raise awareness of these issues and more,” Moeti says.

One of her proudest achievements is appearing on the popular South African television drama series, Gomora.

When asked if she would pursue acting or continue to explore environmental management once she completes her studies, Moeti says: “Acting can be a very rewarding career, but it is also extremely competitive and demanding. Don’t get me wrong, I really love acting, but I think it’s always good to have a backup plan.”

Ncumisa Lerato Kunana |
Hephzibah Rajah

Hephzibah Rajah

Thulamela Chambers
LLB degree
National University of Lesotho

Accompanying her title of advocate at Thulamela Chambers, Hephzibah Rajah also holds the designations entrepreneur, public speaker, pastor, wellness coach, author and mother.

Rajah, who received her bachelor of laws (LLB) degree from the National University of Lesotho and was admitted to the Johannesburg Society of Advocates in 2010, practices administrative and constitutional, corporate and commercial, labour, competition and tax law. She has appeared in high courts, the Supreme Court of Appeal, the Land Claims Court, the Labour Court and the Competition Tribunal.

In this predominantly male-dominated industry, Rajah has carved out her career path as an advocate with great integrity and resilience. She explains that the stereotypes of the legal profession being better suited to men are created and upheld by attorneys, clients and advocates alike, and that she has lost work at times for simply finding her voice and standing her ground.

Despite the continual challenges that women face in her position, Rajah advises that it is important to find allies in both men and women who will respect and support you.

“Work hard,” she says, “and your product will speak for you. They may deny your gender or race, but they cannot deny your product.”

Advocacy has also given Rajah a voice to speak out about other passions without any restrictions. She advocates her religious beliefs as a pastor, and serves as a wellness and success coach for women through both verbal formats and the books she has written.

Rajah has had the opportunity to speak when invited to women’s conferences, as well as at her own conferences and coaching platforms.

In October, she will be hosting her annual women’s conference and launching her book Visionary Woman, with the theme #SeeHerBeHer. She will also be offering a Vision Billboard Experience, where she will coach women to create or reignite their visions through creating vision boards.

Rajah’s role as a mother has forced her to grow up quickly and given her a unique sense of purpose, knowing that so many lives are hers to shape in a positive or negative way.

“I am determined to grow future leaders in our society who believe in themselves and the power of both men and women working in harmony and synergy,” she says. “Most women in the profession do not have children or only join the bar when their children are older because of the gender bias and stereotypes connected to women who have children early in this profession.”

When asked what she’d like to achieve in South Africa if she could, Rajah responds: “I want to help women overcome adversity and to see themselves as overcomers rather than as victims.”

She goes on to say: “My advice is ‘clearly much has changed and much has not’, don’t give anyone an excuse to treat you differently. Work hard, perfect your craft, form beneficial networks, don’t have a victim mentality, be willing to be bold enough to speak and wise enough to know when to keep quiet.

“Time and experience are great teachers. No matter how tough it gets, you are a tough cookie and you can make it.”

Georgia Satchwell |
Cindy Ross

Cindy Ross

Imani Consult and Jala Peo Foundation
Bachelor of laws (LLB) degree
University of the Western Cape

“As a woman, it’s almost as if you need to pick a box and stay there. I’m trying to challenge that. I’m not picking a box,” says Cindy Ross, an attorney and founder of Imani Consult.
Ross, who sits on various boards and is doing her MBA, says she has had to work twice as hard to earn respect in the legal field. “I think especially as a coloured woman, you’re not just given respect,” she reflects.
She has spent years in the field, working her way up to founding her own consulting firm and says that she has learnt to “show up differently” by being more assertive in the male-dominated industry.
Ross is passionate about social justice and in 2012, she, her brother and some friends started the Jala Peo Foundation, a sports for development organisation that uses mountain biking to uplift and up-skill children in Diepsloot. Although she had no intention of starting an NGO, the organisation grew to be highly successful.
Her brother and friends started cycling and children in the area would come and watch them. Ross read to the children who came to watch, but after asking friends to donate bicycles, water bottles and their time, the foundation evolved to become a space where children felt safe.
“We were corporates. We weren’t skilled at what we were doing, but we just gave our time and that is what grew the organisation,” remembers Ross.
The initial pushback they received from the mountain biking community — including a meeting that was held to try to exclude the Diepsloot children from the sport — inspired the foundation to persevere.
“It got to the point where we told them, ‘we will sue you for racism if you kick us out’,” says Ross.
The foundation also teaches the children comprehension, arithmetic and culinary skills. The safe space that Jala Peo has created allows children to excel.
Ross has had the privilege of watching children who participated in the programme graduate and win mountain biking rider’s titles, with one even opening up a restaurant.
The foundation has been publicly acknowledged and supported by various corporate funders, as well as through the Absa Cape Epic, where they were an official NGO.
Surprisingly, Ross describes the biggest success of the organisation to be that it’s splitting up, as many of the children who started with the foundation have grown up and are mentoring on their own.
“They need to be independent; we can’t perpetuate the cycle of them consistently getting funding through us,” she adds. The foundation has also inspired the start-up of other mountain biking NGOs in the community.
Ross feels that the earlier you are able to make a positive impact on children’s lives, the better. “[You can] change the trajectory of where they’re going.”
She believes that making a difference in society starts with helping those around you and she has demonstrated that social impact starts with something as simple as donating your time.

“Through the years, I’ve realised that I can’t fix things for everybody, but what I can do is inform a space that becomes fair, where everyone has the same starting point. That’s effectively the basis for everything that I do — creating spaces that are fair.”

Khadeeja Allie |
Karabo Mokgonyana

Karabo Mokgonyana

Lawyer and development practitioner
Sesi Fellowship and Skill Hub
Bachelor of commerce with law (BCom) and bachelor of laws (LLB)
University of the Witwatersrand

Karabo Mokgonyana is a lawyer and development practitioner at Sesi Fellowship and Skill Hub, a womxn- and youth-led organisation that provides young women with mentorship and skills development. She prides herself on defying the systematic exclusion of young black women in spaces that continue to say, “we are doing you a favour by having you here”.

After completing her BCom and LLB at the University of the Witwatersrand, Mokgonyana gained extensive experience coordinating human rights programmes with institutions and organisations that include the UN, AU, Webber Wentzel, and CIVICUS, among others. Mokgonyana was an AU African Youth Ambassador for Peace and a Youth Advisory Panellist for the UN Population Fund.

In most of the spaces Mokgonyana works in, she is either the youngest person, the only black person or the only woman.

“The industries I am in are not very transformed. There are still many narratives around young people being subjected to tokenism and black women being undermined by virtue of identity,” she says.

Through this experience, she has come to understand the reality of the sentiment, “you have to be twice as good as them to get half of what they have”.

Despite age, gender and race being markers of unfair discrimination and barriers to access and opportunity, Mokgonyana has been able to cement her worth in international and domestic development and legal institutions by bringing substance, untapped narratives and resilience.

For her, excellence has become the best deterrent to racism and sexism in her life, and she says she will continue to fight to dismantle such an unfair reality for those who come after her.

“Some of the successes I have experienced have been about the amount of impact that the work that I do has had on the lives of those I serve,” she says. “I have been recognised through several awards and by also mentoring the next generation of black female activists.”

Mokgonyana would like to see more young people taking a stand against unethical and poor leadership, and actively participating in governance and accountability.

“The fact that our voices are not effectively represented in the creation of solutions intended to help us to progress is highly problematic — pushing for representation is important to me. We need to understand our power as young people and how we can shape the governance in this country.”

Driven by the existence of social injustice and the lack of socioeconomic freedom, Mokgonyana says: “Being a young black woman means that I walk through communities that experience poverty, sexual and gender-based violence, racism, huge levels of economic disempowerment, the harsh effects of corruption and other social issues. This is a huge reason to wake up every day and push the work that I do.”

She adds:

“I hope to give marginalised identities the hope and courage to push beyond boundaries and seek justice, accountability and transformation using their own voices and power.”

Her advice to young women in South Africa is to “invest in your growth, believe in your dreams and allow excellence to be reflected in your work despite systematic exclusions”.

Afrika Bogatsu |
Hangwelani Hope Magidimisha-Chipungu

Hangwelani Hope Magidimisha-Chipungu

Professor in town and regional planning
University of KwaZulu-Natal
PhD in town and regional planning
University of KwaZulu-Natal

Hangwelani Magidimisha-Chipungu is a professor in town and regional planning at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, where she made history by being the first black South African woman to graduate with a PhD in the subject.

Magidimisha-Chipungu has a long list of titles and accolades to her name, including being an National Research Foundation-rated researcher and South African Research Chairs Initiative chairperson for inclusive cities, serving as a city planning commissioner for eThekwini municipality with the responsibility of strategically advising the executive committee and councillors.

She has also served on the advisory committee of cooperative governance and traditional affairs, where she advised the office of the premier in KwaZulu-Natal on spatial equity. Furthermore, Magidimisha-Chipungu is a chair for transformation committee member, The South African Council for Planners, a national professional body that governs the country’s teaching, and practice of, town planning.

At a global level, Magidimisha-Chipungu served the International Society of City and Regional Planning (ISOCARP) in co-directing the first workshop for Young Professional Planners (YPP) in South Africa in 2016, and was recognised as the most influential woman by the UK’s The Planner magazine.

Magidimisha-Chipungu says that throughout her career, she has learnt that you don’t have to be great to start, but you have to start to be great.

“I have fallen several times in my life but I refused to remain on the ground. It’s not how many times I have fallen, but how many times I got up after falling. That is how I measure my success,”

she says.

And speaking of her numerous successes, Magidimisha-Chipungu is an award winner by nature. She was honoured by ISOCARP for the outstanding role she played during the YPP workshop and for her participation in organising the congress in September 2016.

Commenting on introducing the concept of group supervision, she says: “In my field, innovation is often seen as the ability to create value for use by others, and this has been my strategy when reaching out to others.

“One of my innovative interventions focuses on ways to enable a greater number of students to complete their master’s degree programmes in a relatively short period of time, while still in keeping with university regulations. The approach of group supervision removed the element of solitude among students, and helped to boost their morale.

“The graduation of many students in a relatively short space of time was enough testimony to the success of this intervention measure.”

Magidimisha-Chipungu, who is also the founder and chief editor of the Journal of Inclusive Cities and Built Environments, says that if she could achieve one thing for South Africa, it would be to “make cities more inclusive, smart and resilient”.

Patrick Visser |