Facebook Africa's Inspiring #ChangeMakers: Lessons from Life and Business

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Foreword by Nunu Ntshingila Regional Director, Facebook Africa


8 – 13

Siba Mtongana

14 – 19

Bonang Matheba

20 – 25

Glenda Ramathavha

26 – 31

Catherine Constantinides

32 – 37

Keitumetse Qhali

38 – 43

Reabetswe Ngwane

44 – 49

Nomzamo Mbatha

50 – 55

Precious Thamaga-Mazibuko

56 – 61

Mogau Seshoene

62 – 67

Rabia Ghoor

68 – 73

Dr Precious Moloi Motsepe

74 – 79

Palesa Mokubung

80 – 85

Professor Thuli Madonsela

Chef and entrepreneur

Media personality, entrepreneur and philanthropist

Founder and CEO

Environmentalist, humanitarian and social entrepreneur



Actress and philanthropist

Entrepreneur and CEO

Chef and author


Doctor, entrepreneur and philanthropist

Fashion designer

Advocate and academic

#SheMeansBusiness #SheMeansBusiness


FOREWORD From an early age, I have taken inspiration from strong female role models, like my grandmother who owned a small business in Soweto her whole life as well as my mother, who owned a fashion store in Swaziland. Their enthusiasm and commitment helped to spark my passion for contributing to the development of female leaders and entrepreneurs across the African continent. Today, I am privileged to work for a company whose mission directly relates to this - to give people the power to build community and bring the world close together.

As my own journey shows, role models are key to inspiring more women to take their place in society as leaders, business people and agents of change. But a history of structural discrimination means that we are short of highprofile female role models in business and public life in South Africa. It is with this in mind that Facebook has compiled the Inspiring #Changemakers: Lessons from Life and Business book to showcase the careers and lives of some extraordinary South African women from diverse backgrounds, and importantly, to impart their knowledge to future female leaders. This book is a celebration of the achievements of women who are doing inspirational work to build a better South Africa. These women range from business owners to advocates, philanthropists, public servants and celebrities, what they all have in common is that they are real Changemakers and innovators, women who have used their passions and skills to have a positive effect on society. Some of them have built amazing businesses, creating jobs and livelihoods for many others in the process and delivering enormous value to their customers and communities. Others have created movements for social change or undertaken astonishing work to help those in need. 9


FOREWORD Many of them have made an impact, not only in South Africa but across the world, in sectors ranging from fashion, entertainment, food, politics, law and retail. Each of the women profiled are making their voices heard and helping to drive progress. Within these pages, you’ll find stories that highlight the highs and lows in the lives of some of South Africa’s most inspiring women, their practical advice to other young women and the lessons they have learnt over the years. We are delighted to share their wisdom with the world. The success stories in this book show that women are perhaps the greatest untapped resource we have in South Africa and the rest of the continent. One of the best ways we can unleash the potential of this resource is by empowering more women to become entrepreneurs and leaders. We know when women do better, our economy will do better, too. This book is for everyone, whether you’re a young male or female driving to make change or whether you’re established in your field. It shows that there is more than one pathway to success and that each of us has a role to play in changing our country and world for the better. And finally, a big thank you to our three incredibly talented artists for the amazing artwork and portraits created for Changemakers: Karabo Poppy Moletsane, Nontokozo Tshabalala and Zinhle Sithebe – as well as to the many other women who worked hard behind the scenes to bring it to life.

Nunu Ntshingila Regional Director, Facebook Africa 10



Siba Mtongana Chef and entrepreneur

Lesson: “You are what you have been waiting for, and you are enough to bring about the change the world needs.� 12



Siba Mtongana is known to millions around the world as the host of Siba’s Table on Food Network. When she was appointed, she was the first woman of colour in Africa to host her own cooking show on the network, which airs in more than 60 million homes in the USA alone, and in over 135 countries across the globe. She has also authored a book, My Table, and was a judge on Chopped South Africa. Among her plethora of awards, Siba has won five South African awards for her body of work, including the Ubuntu Award, which was recognition from the South African government for putting the country on the map through excellence in her field. Her cookbook, My Table, scooped the Gourmand Award in China, and was the only cookbook in Africa to win a Prestigious: Special Award of the Jury. Michelle Obama’s cookbook won in that category for the US, and this is along with five US awards. As an entrepreneur, Siba runs her own food innovations and solutions business, The Siba Co. One of her biggest accolades was being appointed as a culinary director to lead the VIP menu for the inauguration of President Cyril Ramaphosa in 2019, serving 450 guests, including 70 heads of states, former presidents, royalty and global business leaders. 14

I’ve had lots of moments of doubt in business, right back to the moment that I chose what I wanted to do. I’m from e-Mdantsane, a township near East London, and my parents, like many others, only wanted the best for me. For them, that meant a good education and a strong career that would help me be financially independent. They wanted a better life for me and my five siblings. When I said I wanted a career in food, they were worried. For them, a career in food meant working as a cook in a white woman’s house, because there were no other examples of prominent and highly successful women of colour working in the food industry. But I stuck to my guns and studied a Bachelor’s degree in Food and Consumer Sciences, with majors in Food Science and Nutrition, at Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT). I won a bursary from the Department of Agriculture as I was among the top in my class. But when I graduated four years later, I was unemployed for nine months. I was consumed with the feeling that my parents had been right.


Fortunately, I was offered the position of food editor at DRUM magazine, and as part of my role, I started a little cooking TV show, which then caught the attention of Food Network. They loved it and wanted me to be the face of an African cooking programme that they would syndicate around the world. That first day on set at Food Network was terrifying. I thought, “I’m not trained for TV, I’m not up to this task.” It was hard learning how to explain to camera what I was doing as I was cooking. But I learned fast. As soon as I had done it, I thought, “I can do this”. Sometimes when we think the task is impossible, it’s not the task itself, but the way we view ourselves. From the start of my career it has been important for me to celebrate South African food. I saw that there was a gap in the market; we had lots of cookbooks and shows that were imported from the US or UK, but there was a need for us to see our heritage on our own screens and I saw this as a chance to project that image outwards. When I travelled abroad, I received so much interest as a South African, because people really didn’t know much about us, our culture or our food.


Now millions of people watch the show around the world. Apart from the show, I run my own business with a team of five people, with access to external suppliers and consultants who come in for specific projects. One of the most amazing things about being an entrepreneur is that you don’t have to report to anyone or seek permission. If you see an opportunity you can go for it. That ability to be agile and being able to innovate really drives me. But owning your own business has its challenges too, for example, even if projects are pushed back or cancelled you still have staff to pay, so you have to find solutions to stay afloat. I’m the first entrepreneur in my family, so I couldn’t ask them for help. I have had to figure things out myself most times, and often depend on relationships within my business network for guidance when I need advice and direction. Also, as a Christian I pray for wisdom and guidance and have found so many solutions through those precious and special moments.

Challenges force you to be more creative and agile, and social media was an absolute lifeline for us in lockdown.


We started producing little films called Quarantine with Siba, because of the overwhelming requests I received from my fans to help them with daily, healthy, nutritious recipes that we had posted on Facebook and Instagram. We did no PR around it, but we were featured in so much press that it has even spawned the idea of including some of those recipes in the new cookbook I am working on. One of the most amazing moments of my career was cooking at the inauguration dinner of President Cyril Ramaphosa in 2019. The call came at one of the hardest times for me personally, as my mother had just passed away. I had been drafted in at the last minute to bring something extra and lead a team that was in place. It was a totally crazy experience – I have never shouted or prayed so much! But it was a huge success and I felt that I was a part of history.

Q&A Describe yourself in two words? Sweet and fiery – I’m the perfect combination! One thing you love about yourself? That I stay true to who I am. What’s your hidden talent? I can sing very well – in the shower! Favourite breakfast or dinner Both. Favourite uniquely South African dish? Chakalaka – it’s a relish that’s nice and spicy – just like me! Three dream dinner party guests? I would invoke the spirit of the late, great Nelson Mandela, Jamie Oliver and Oprah Winfrey – and I would want my husband to join us, so there would have to be four. What SA language do you speak? isiXhosa. Our Legendary Nelson Mandela was Xhosa speaking and so many other leaders too. Best advice you’ve been given? Do your best and God will do the rest by opening doors and opportunities that no man can shut, which have been beyond my wildest expectations and dreams! I received that from my parents, and it has become the number one motto I live by.



Bonang Matheba Media personality, entrepreneur and philanthropist

Lesson: “To build resilience, try as many things as you can until you find what you’re great at.” 18



A prominent television career has seen Bonang Matheba, (Queen B to her more than eight million social media fans) star in her own reality television show, Being Bonang. She has also hosted numerous award shows, such as MTV Africa Music Awards, pre-shows for the BET Awards and MTV Europe Music Awards, becoming the first South African to do so. Several entrepreneurial ventures stand to her credit, from her production company, Bonang Matheba Entertainment, to clothing lines, and since 2018 her own sparkling wine company, House of Bonang (BNG). Her move into the world of fine wine has made her the first black woman to be added to the prestigious Cap Classique Producers Association, and she has featured on the cover of Forbes Woman Africa in an edition called Top 50 Most Powerful Women in Africa. A keen philanthropist, Bonang aims to provide 300 girls with university bursaries by 2025 through her Bonang Matheba Bursary Fund. She is also a prominent ambassador for Global Citizen, a movement dedicated to ending global poverty.


I was privileged to grow up around people who did well academically and were very successful. My father is a university academic, my stepfather in the legal sector, while my mother, who had come from very humble beginnings, is a business executive. She had an enormous impact on my life because she was so inspirational. She instilled the principles of working hard for something you want and staying focused, but still having fun and trying out as many things as you can. That has been a real guiding principle in my life. Growing up in Mafikeng, in the North West province, I was involved in many hobbies as a child, from swimming to netball, gym and debating, as well as being very academic. I tried out acting, which I loved as I was a natural performer, and went on to take a TV presenting course when I was 14. My first job was when I was 16 and since then I’ve worked in many positions for almost 15 years. That’s not to say it’s been an easy ride. I was turned down at least 25 times before I got my first big break as a presenter of LIVE on SABC, and each rejection was


heart-breaking. Especially when you’re young, you don’t understand why they haven’t picked you for a part, it’s very painful. But it has been a great lesson for me that you must try many things, find what you love, and even then you probably won’t get it on your first or even your sixth attempt. You have to be tenacious. I still get knockbacks, even now, but I’ve built up a resilience over the years which has been just as important in the entertainment world as it has in my life as an entrepreneur. Entrepreneurship is very difficult and full of risk – I’ve had lots of failures along the way – a handbag range that didn’t go well, business partners that weren’t great, important meetings that have gone wrong. But these are things that any entrepreneur goes through, I’ve relied on resilience to keep me fighting. What I love about business is that it’s so exciting, and I’ve been able to try out lots of new ideas, such as launching my own sparkling wine. Méthode Cap Classique (MCC) is the South African term for the traditional way sparkling wine is made, in


the same way as Champagne is produced in France. I spent four years researching

Being on this earth is about being part of a community, you can learn something

everything, from the taste, production methods to packaging and marketing, and it’s been such a wonderful experience. Now we’re the number one-selling MCC brand in Woolworths, one of the most followed alcohol brands on social media, and I became the first black woman to be added to the Cap Classique Producers Association. I’ve had a lot of firsts in my career, and there is a pressure that comes with being the first of anything, because you become the example for everyone else following. I think that you need resilience and tenacity to break the mould and push the door wide open.

from every interaction that you have. Social media for me has been fundamental to lots of my business relationships and opportunities; it’s how people naturally communicate and absorb content. It has been key for getting the message out about my luxury beverage brand, and people have really connected with it because the brand is so authentically me. I always say that your own story is always going to be unique, so that’s YOUR selling point.

The wine industry has taught me the value of time. Making wine is a long process, from growing the grapes, harvesting them and fermenting them. But anything that’s worth having requires a lot of time, and that’s how I approach everything in my life. You can’t get anywhere overnight, you need time to nurture the project first, which I’m not sure enough people appreciate.

Relationships also take time to nurture, and they are so important both in business and in life.


Q&A What do you think makes a good leader? It is someone who is emotionally intelligent, who has a genuine intention and has a strength in their personality – be it emotional or mental. They also must be someone you can trust. Which three people have been the biggest support for you during your career? My mother, my brand managers, and my first agent, who has sadly passed away, but who helped me break into the industry. Best advice you’ve ever been given? Learn about and respect money, and wherever possible save it. What’s your hidden talent? I like to sing! I’m a lover of music. My next business venture is going to be in the music industry. Night in or night out? Night in. Favourite South African destination? Kruger National Park. Favourite South African musician? I don’t have one single one to highlight, as I can never get everything I need in one artist. Best gift The gift of life. Recently I’ve come to appreciate every second I’m healthy and spending time with people that I love.



Glenda Ramathavha Founder and CEO

Lesson: “Use the thing that drives you to do something for others.�




Glenda Ramathavha was on maternity leave from her accountancy job when she decided to take up baking. That hobby quickly turned into something more. She started selling her bakes locally, and then teaching others through her company, Glenz Cakes, based in Thohoyandou, Limpopo.

While visiting an underprivileged village in the Limpopo province, she realised that she could help local women to bake, to feed their families, set up their own businesses or find employment in commercial bakeries. She has since trained more than 200 women. Glenda is now in the process of building two bakeries in rural areas and writing her first cookbook.


I was creative as a teenager and I thought I wanted to be a graphic designer. But when I graduated from high school, my dad opened the job section of our national newspapers, saying, “Show me a job that you could get as a graphic designer.” I couldn’t find anything. He didn’t want to pay for studies that wouldn’t lead to a job. As I was good at maths, I went to the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg to study accountancy and loved it! After I graduated, I found a job

African Breweries. My career advanced really quickly; I was made a finance governance specialist within two years of being a depot Financial Planner. I loved my job. Then I had my son in 2012, and I needed a creative outlet. I saw a baking book in the bookshop, liked the cover, so bought it and started trying things out in my kitchen. I was terrible at first. But as I got better, people started to request my products. I realised there was a market for my baking,

quickly at an international accountancy firm, but I was the only black person in the team at the first company and I was always being asked to make the tea, even for my fellow graduates. I felt that I wouldn’t grow there, so I resigned. The second position wasn’t the right fit either, so I left again. My mom had always taught me to speak up if something doesn’t feel right, and it saved me a lot of wasted time in the wrong environments.

and started making so many orders that I asked my son’s nanny to help.

My next job was perfect. I did accountancy articles at Transnet and upon completing my three years, in 2009 I started as a finance management trainee at South

Other women in her village wanted to learn how to do it, so together we taught them. Then we started teaching women in other villages. I realised that cake making


When one day she had to return to her village in Limpopo I took her home, and when I got there, I was shocked to see the level of poverty in which she lived. I said to her, “Since you know how to bake, why don’t you try to make money from it?” I bought her some ingredients and a mini oven, and she set up her own business.


was my passion, but teaching others was my purpose. Finding the thing that drives

We have two bakeries that will open soon, which will hugely increase employment

me led me to pass it on to other women.

rates in the area and empower the women in these communities (Malamangwa and Dovheni Villages). I firmly believe that if you teach one woman the skills to be selfsufficient and run her own business, she will then pass that on to her family. That is how you teach a nation.

But it wasn’t sustainable as a business model. So I had an idea to set up classes in Johannesburg, where I lived, for more privileged women who wanted to bake a cake for a special occasion or learn how to decorate. I advertised the classes on my Facebook page as “Buy One Get One Free”: the free lesson was for underprivileged women. My finance training wasn’t wasted; because of my studies and previous jobs I knew how to build a successful business model for myself and teach others how to run their businesses. To date we have trained more than 200 women, which is something I’m so proud of.

My next thought was, “Why not build a bakery in a remote village” to empower local women to run it, sell the bread and employ others.


Q&A Biggest pet peeve? People who feel they are entitled to things without earning it first. Favourite book growing up? Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. What makes you laugh? Spending time with my kids – Lennon & Isabella. They bring me joy. How do you relax? I bake. When I’m in the kitchen, I forget about everything else. What business network or community has been the biggest support to you during your career? I’ve benefited from a local business forum in Limpopo, a Red Bull accelerator programme - Amaphiko, South African Breweries programme – Fetola and the Spark Foundation. What Facebook accounts do you follow? Mainly baking (Peggy Porschen is my favourite) and accountancy related (SAICA being my favourite). Early bird or night owl? Night owl; it works for baking as you want fresh bakes in the morning. Sometimes I go to sleep at 5am. Local TV series you can’t get enough of? Cooking with Siba. Who is your hero? Mogau Seshoene, who is known as @lazymakoti, because she has taken the same path as me and shown me that it can be done. She’s written an award-winning cookbook, which is something I am working on now, too. What South African languages do you speak? Venda is my home language and I can speak English, Afrikaans, Tsonga, Tswana, Pedi, Zulu and a bit of Xhosa. 29


Catherine Constantinides Environmentalist, humanitarian and social entrepreneur

Lesson: “Never give up making the impossible your reality.� 30



Fired up from a young age, in her teens Catherine Constantinides started a social enterprise and a youth-led environmental organisation. This led to a career combining humanitarian and environmental work; her current work as a human rights defender often includes working in Geneva at the UN Human Rights Council.

Catherine has been highly celebrated for her work, including being chosen as an Archbishop Tutu African Oxford Fellow, a Mandela Washington Fellow, and as part of the inaugural Apolitical Fellowship. She has been named as one of the 80 most influential South Africans by Generational Wealth Education and one of the 100 Most Influential African Leaders by the Pan-African Youth Leadership Foundation.


The thing I’ve seen so many times is that life is very fragile, but we often take it for granted. We live in a fast-paced world and we get stuck in the monotony of what is normal and comfortable, so we forget to strive for the things we dream about. As often as possible we need to take stock of where we are, where we want to go, and make sure that we strive for what seems like the impossible. That’s been the guiding principal I’ve tried to live by. I really don’t want to look back on my life and say, “I wish I had done that”. I set very big goals, ones that won’t necessarily happen overnight. For example, I’m currently fighting on behalf of the displaced people of Western Sahara for their right to self-determination; it might take my whole lifetime, but it is worth fighting for. I grew up in the south of Johannesburg. My family had very little, but what we had, our parents taught us to share. On the weekends my sister and I would volunteer, for instance serving food to those who needed it in the depths of winter. We also had a small garden which we loved.


My father made us feel that we were the guardians of this environment and that we had to fight for its protection. This dual upbringing with a respect for humanity and the environment was just part of our DNA. I didn’t imagine I would make a career out of it – but my life has organically moved in that direction. I started my first social enterprise, SA Fusion, when I was 15. Our big goal was to end global warming – that was something that no one in the mainstream was really seriously talking about back then. We would start with targets like “we need to plant 1,000 trees”. We were literally planting one seed – or tree – at a time and it grew. We had lots of successes but in the first four or five years I probably failed more than I succeeded. Because I was young, I never stopped or worried about failing, I just tried to find a new way through. It was all about trying to complete the end goal, however impossible it seemed. One of my big learnings was that you’ll never succeed if the people you go into


business with don’t share your vision. I found, for example, that people who were

I’ve used my platforms to share the work I do, when no other media organisation will

financing us – some big corporates – wanted to use us as a box ticking exercise, they didn’t really care about our goals. I had to learn to recognise when that was happening and say “no”. I had lots of sleepless nights where I had to work out alternative sources of funding, but I always managed to work my way around it.

cover a tree planting, water programme or a community food garden. They’re not the stories that make headlines. It’s up to us what we curate on social media: what we put out, how we share, what we take in and how we engage.

Doubt and insecurity, which is defined by imposter syndrome, is so much a part of human nature. Instead of allowing it to control us, we need to learn to allow the positive in us to flourish. We must own our success and competence, but always honour the journey, struggle and challenges.

Getting the message out about my work has been made so much easier with social media.


Sometimes the world can seem too hard to change. When you need to remind yourself about striving to make the impossible a reality, you have to look for pockets of hope. I’ve worked with some of the most marginalised communities in the world who live in horrifying conditions, but there’s always hope. Which is why we must continually strive to make the impossible happen.

Q&A Favourite uniquely South African dish? Braai and pap. Three dream dinner party guests? Walt Disney, my father Graham Constantinides and Nelson Mandela. Shark cage diving or bungee jumping? Shark cage is a definite no; I think it wreaks havoc on the ocean’s ecosystem, and if I were meant to fly, God would have given me wings! One thing you’d do if you were president for a day? I would shift the education policy. Education is a fundamental cornerstone and we haven’t got it right yet. Favourite book growing up? I had lots of books, but my favourite stories were the ones told by my dad; he was a brilliant storyteller. What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given? A dear friend often used to say the hardest thing to do is change a closed mind. Guilty pleasure? Swiss chocolate and perfume. Soccer, cricket or rugby? Rugby. South African languages I speak Afrikaans and Zulu and I’m learning Tswana.



Keitumetse Qhali Director

Lesson: “The biggest constant you will ever face is change.� 36



Keitumetse Qhali is a multi-awardwinning director, writer, producer and founder of Director Kit. Her work has won a slew of awards, including a nomination for the most gifted music video (Channel O), the most gifted video at the Nigerian Entertainment Awards, and a SAFTA award for Best Factual and Educational Programme.

Keitumetse, who has appeared on the FORBES AFRICA 30 Under 30 list, is currently working on a feature film.


I was brought up in a family of storytellers, but studying film history in Grade 10 was my first real introduction to the world of movies. I grew up in East London, where there wasn’t a lot of information about how to become a movie director. But by huge luck, I had a friend whose family farm in the Eastern Cape was being used as a location for a film starring Hilary Swank and Richard Gere. My friend and I got jobs on set – my job was to carry Hillary Swank’s towel!

dream, I would have to find another way to do it. My next step was to train to be an actor, just so I could get on set. It was great experience, I learned about the writing and pre-production processes and watched the director on set. I realised that I lacked many skills, so I applied for grants for residencies to study script writing, editing and photography. I also got a job as a researcher in a production company, and within six months started directing very small videos. I pitched a script that I’d written, and I was accepted. There was a

Amazingly, the director in charge of these Hollywood stars and the 2,000+ cast and crew was a woman of colour, Mira Nair. When I saw her, I realised that it could be possible for me, too. I decided there and then that I wanted to be a filmmaker. There is huge power in seeing people like you doing work that you want to do.

lot of hustle and a lot of unpaid working.

After graduating from high school, I started a BA degree in motion picture at AFDA: The School for the Creative Economy in Johannesburg. In the first year, I failed at directing (although ultimately graduated with a BA in producing). I realised that if I wanted to stick to my

I was achieving success and working my way up the ladder, but I still felt very out of place for years. There were only a few examples of people who looked like me in my industry and at the level I wanted to be, and I felt quite isolated. Even when I became a producer and was gaining


It taught me an important lesson, that the only constant thing is change. It’s been great training – in life the goalposts often move, so you have to accept that things always change and that you need to be malleable.


industry recognition, often people would treat me as this little girl on set, or I’d be

I think that was a good thing when I was starting out, but I didn’t want to be driven

mistaken for the make-up artist. A friend told me it was partly due to the way I presented myself. All the guys on set wore scruffy clothes, so I did, too. But my mother told me I should smarten up. I felt it wasn’t fair – why should I do it if the guys didn’t? But do you know what? It worked, because I learned to set my own level of accountability and standards, rather than looking to those of my peers.

just by a fear of failure, so I changed my mindset again. I thought, “I’ve failed once, and I moved past it to get my dream career; I don’t need to be scared of failure again.” That kind of thinking gives you substantial resilience, which is incredibly powerful.

Lots of my opportunities have come about through other women in the industry taking a chance on me, and I’m keen to pay that forward. I do talks and training programmes for young girls to show them the pathway to production. Directing is a profession where there still aren’t many black people or females, and I want to help change that.

That first failure changed my personality. It made me very hungry and determined to never fail again.


Q&A TV series you can’t get enough of? The OA on Netflix; my dream is to be able to write something as intricate and detailed as that. Or an African version of Game of Thrones. What’s your earliest memory? I remember sitting in the back of my parents’ hatchback, facing backwards at the cars behind us. I was having a daydream, then I saw the driver behind me and realised that he was thinking his own thoughts, that everyone in the world was thinking their own thoughts. It was my first step on an early journey into spiritual thinking. I was only about six years old. Favourite place in the world? I love the spirit of Nigeria because of its energy. What’s the one thing you wish you’d known when you were 18? To be nicer to myself. Do you have business support networks that you rely on? The organisation Free the Work, whose goal is to increase the number of female filmmakers. I’m also part of a collective of black commercial directors in South Africa; it’s a space to come together and discuss challenges and opportunities. Favourite uniquely South African dish? Biltong. What is your home language? Xhosa. Can you speak any other South African languages? Sotho and Zulu.



Reabetswe Ngwane Entrepreneur

Lesson: “It’s never quite the end.”




While she was still at university in 2013, Reabetswe Ngwane started her first business, a social enterprise making and selling schoolbags from recycled plastic for children in underprivileged communities.

Her experience from that venture was invaluable when she launched her current business, Atyre, in 2016, making fashionable bags from recycled inner tyre tubes. Her success as an entrepreneur has led to her being listed in FORBES AFRICA 30 Under 30.


When I had to walk away from my first business, I felt extremely lost. I had started it with a friend, and saw our company as a life-long venture. When it ended, because we wanted different things, I thought everything was lost. I thought, “That is all I know how to do – I can’t do anything else”.

bread. My gran helped those people wherever she could, and this was an early example to me of using your business to do good.

But now, looking back from the point where I own and run an even more successful business, I learned that when you think something has ended, it often hasn’t really. You just need to create your

My first business was based around the idea of recycling plastic and turning it into bags. Previously, like most people, I just saw rubbish as exactly that – rubbish. But I learned that there really is great opportunity in the waste industry. You can take something that’s worthless and give it value. There’s something very beautiful

next chapter.

in that.

I had always wanted to be an entrepreneur – or rather, that was what I thought I knew. I grew up in Mogwase, in the Bojanala District Municipality. My mother was away working in the SA Defence Force when I was very young, so my grandmother raised me. I grew up with her working in a shop she owned, and I often helped out at the shop.

Nationally, a few years ago, there was a huge problem with abandoned old tyres. The Department of Environmental Affairs needed people to run recycling plants, and given my background in the recycling of plastics, I was allocated a plant in my province, the North West Province. I saw that there was a significant number of inner tubes that no one was utilising, and thought that this could be a viable material to turn into bags. So Atyre was born in 2016.

Our village was surrounded by a squatter camp, and as well as our regular customers we often had people coming in who couldn’t afford to buy things like



Even though I knew more the second time around, it was still hard. The tyre industry

Instagram has been so useful for us, because you get instant reactions to new

is an extremely male dominated one. My mother was a huge help here. She had worked in the mining industry, another male dominated area, and she taught me that there’s an art to listening. She said that even if you bump up against difficult characters – perhaps older men who don’t think that you as a young woman can add to the discussion – you have to dig deep to find a human connection with that person, then let your work do the talking. It’s been extremely helpful advice.

products or questions that you can post on Stories. I’m also so grateful for my team: I employ 17 members of staff and they are a huge support.

The life of an entrepreneur is quite lonely, but I’m lucky to have fellow entrepreneur friends whom I can talk to, as well as my regular friends and my sister, who is part of the company. I’ve also been involved in a McKinsey programme that brings together other entrepreneurs and gives us a space to talk about the challenges we face.

I don’t only listen to other business owners, but to my customers as well.


Even though endings and failures feel awful at the time, they really are important, because they increase your resilience. With every failure you come back and ask, “What did I do wrong there?” I think we can often point the blame at others, but in order to grow, it’s useful to look at how you have acted and think about how you can improve next time. Because that is all you can control. I have had lots of success, but in actual fact it’s the failures that have taught me the most. Above all they’ve taught me that one ending can be the start of a new beginning.

Q&A Early bird or night owl? Night owl. TV series you can’t get enough of? I think Blood and Water on Netflix is shot beautifully and there’s a horror movie called 8 in which the characters speak Zulu! Who is your hero? My mother. What did you want to be when you were little? An entrepreneur. Favourite South African dish? Pap and morogo, chakalaka and meat of all kinds! Three dream dinner party guests? Angela Merkel and Barack and Michelle Obama. That would be amazing. What is your home language? Setswana. Can you speak any other South African languages? I learnt Afrikaans in school and I know basic Zulu. I would love to speak Xhosa as I’m half Xhosa. Seaside, mountains or bushveld? I love them all, but the seaside calms me.



Nomzamo Mbatha Actress and philanthropist

Lesson: “Aim to leave your generation in a better place than you found it.� 48



Growing up, the actress Nomzamo Mbatha was involved in youth parliament and global human rights initiatives, and knew that she wanted to change the world. She studied accountancy at university before getting her break in the entertainment industry. A role in the soap Isibaya made her a national star overnight and she has since starred in big screen roles including Tell Me Sweet Something and All about Love. Along with her acting career, Nomzamo has worked on humanitarian and philanthropy projects as a Goodwill Ambassador of UNHCR, for the United Nations Refugee Agency, as well as establishing her own foundation, Lighthouse. Among its initiatives, Lighthouse aims to sponsor 300 young people through education by the end of 2021. She has been honoured for her philanthropic work by the New York State Senator, Kevin Parker, as well as receiving an accolade from Face Africa, with a Rising Star award for Youth development in KwaZulu-Natal. Nomzamo has more than five million followers on social media, and her latest film, Coming to America 2, will be released later this year. 50

People might look at me now, see the humanitarian work I do and assume that it’s just a celebrity’s tick box exercise, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Growing up, I was always very much into issues of social justice, because of the inequality and poverty I saw around me. Raised by my grandmother, I grew up in very humble circumstances in KwaMashu Township. We would get up at 4.30am to heat water to wash with, although sometimes there wouldn’t even be running water because it had been cut off. At night,

Speaker. I was also very involved in community outreach programmes. When I was 16, I was invited by Save the Children to an international conference with many other kids from every country around the world, where we discussed the challenges in our home countries. It was the first time I heard first-hand about issues such as FGM, and from that moment I knew I wanted to be a Goodwill Ambassador for the UN. I wanted to shape the world and have an impact in any way I could.

as soon as gunshots started, we turned off the lights and television and got into bed. It always felt dangerous. My grandmother had lost her mother at a young age, then was forced into an arranged marriage and had escaped with her baby to start a new life. She wanted the best for me and made it her personal mission in life to protect me. We had this incredible bond; it was like a love affair.

I thought a career in accountancy would give me a good job that would help me support my family. I managed to get a full scholarship that paid for everything – as long as I finished my degree in a set time. Unfortunately, I didn’t; I lost my grandmother in my first year and it was a loss that I was not prepared for.

Because of her desire to give me a better life, I was a real overachiever. I was top of my grade, head prefect, and when the government in Durban started a youth parliament, I was appointed Junior Madam


That worry about money for my fees later inspired my foundation, which I called Lighthouse, because when you’re in the midst of a storm you look for a lighthouse as a form of refuge. We sponsor young people through education, and my hope is that by the end of 2021, we will have paid


for 300 people to go through university.

I wasn’t an actress – I was still studying accountancy! But amazingly, after several

Running the foundation is very entrepreneurial. I have to raise money from corporate structures and manage relationships. It’s hard work, but I do it because I recognise that my story is not unique; there are so many other girls and boys who grow up in the environment that I did. I was lucky that I got a foot in the door, and I want to keep it there and help others get through.

rounds of auditions in between my university exams, I got a part. Even before this opportunity came up I had decided to drop out of university and I was so relieved that I was able to tell my mother that I had a job lined up before I told her I was leaving uni. When I appeared on the show, suddenly my face was on billboards and front pages around the country. I was working 15 hours a day, being invited onto panel shows, being asked to be a brand ambassador for all these different brands, presenting an award show in Los Angeles … It was crazy.

I do this because I know what it feels like to have dreams that are bigger, wider and deeper than the environment you grow up in. There was definitely a time when I didn’t think my sun would rise, but then I had a lucky break when I got to the final three of the MTV Base VJ Search auditions in 2012, when I was 22. The night I didn’t win, I remember thanking God for this “no”, because I knew he was preparing me for a greater “yes” to come.

It happened quickly: the casting director of Isibaya had been watching the MTV show and asked me to audition.


Work was going really well, but suddenly in 2017, I felt that I needed to finish my studies. I didn’t want young girls to look at me and say, “Look at Nomzamo; she dropped out of her studies and she’s doing fine.” I don’t consider myself a role model, but other people use you as a reference and I’m conscious of that. I also didn’t want a thread of failure or incompletion to run through my life. So I went back to the lecture hall and nine years after I had started, I graduated. I cried when I walked up onto stage, because I was so proud of finally finishing my studies. It was a powerful reminder that you’re in control of the narrative of your own life, that you can change it if you don’t like what it says, and hopefully you can help others as you do.

Q&A What is your home language? Zulu. Seaside, mountains or bushveld? Seaside. Describe yourself in three words Ambitious, goofy, intentional. Favourite book growing up? We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo. What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given? Keep your feet on the ground. Favourite uniquely South African dish? Uphuthu nekabishi. Early bird or night owl? Both – transatlantic flights and strange schedules mean I’m all over the place.



Precious ThamagaMazibuko Entrepreneur and CEO

Lesson: “Your passion will see you through adversity.”




Starting her career in the hospitality industry, Precious ThamagaMazibuko developed a love of hosting luxury events and experiences. She launched her own business, Precious Celebrations, in 2011, which has gone on to become one of South Africa’s most sought-after event and experience boutique agencies.

Precious has planned weddings and parties for many high-profile guests, including celebrities such as the television presenter and businesswoman Bonang Matheba.


There is a moment, just before a wedding, where I show the couple what we have managed to do for them. It’s like an unveiling and it is always very emotional. It’s one of the best things about my job, that I make people’s dreams come true. It’s that feeling of pride and magic that I have to tap into when things get tough. Because any business, no matter how glamorous it looks from the outside, is filled with challenges and difficult moments. That is when your passion has to kick in and carry you through. You have to remember the reason why you do your work. The world that I live in now and the events that I create are a world away from how I grew up. I come from a very small village in the province of Limpopo, and our life was very simple; we never had electricity and we cooked food outside on a fire. My parents were teachers and sacrificed everything that they had so that my five siblings and I received a good education and a chance at a better life. But my father was also an entrepreneur.


I don’t know how many businesses he started while we were growing up, he developed many initiatives to improve our community. It was thanks to him that the village was eventually connected to water and electricity. He did it all through connections; he was a master at making and keeping them, and it was an important lesson to see this in action as I grew up. I’ve always done that in my career, too. I didn’t dream of planning weddings, but I did enjoy pageants and school concerts, which must be where the seeds were sown for my future business. At university I studied travel and tourism and my first proper job at 21 was working in hospitality for an international hotel company. I moved into the world of events and was able to study events management while I worked, gaining more qualifications. I was assigned a business development mentor through work, and it was through those sessions that I realised that I really wanted to run my own events business. I started – with my boss’s approval – my company as a side hustle, working weekends to test the waters.


In 2011, at every wedding I went to I noticed that there were very few black women

It is a lot of hard work staging events; mostly it’s in the planning, but on the day

running the weddings. I saw a gap in the market and built a boutique celebrations agency that prided itself on listening to the customer and making it as personal as possible.

itself you will be on your feet from 6am until the last guest leaves. It’s not for the fainthearted, or those who think it is pure glamour. But each event gives me such a rush when it all comes together. I love that I can pluck someone’s thoughts and dreams out of their mind and turn them into something that they can see, feel and smell. My job is to build memories that they will treasure for a lifetime.

Facebook was impactful for me from the start: I could advertise for free and post photos of my events, while comments from clients acted as testimonials. My business grew from there.


Q&A Who would play you in the film of your life? Oprah Winfrey. Guilty pleasure? I have two: champagne and marshmallows. What is the best gift you’ve ever received? My engagement ring. Introvert or extrovert? Both. In my personal life I’m an introvert, but in business I have to be an extrovert. Braai or fine dining? Fine dining! I choose a meal based on how it’s going to look on my social media feed. What’s the one thing you wish you had more time for? Myself. I do so much for others through my work that sometimes I forget to put myself first. Favourite South African musician? Langa Mavuso. Did you plan your own wedding? I did! I’m a control freak! What advice do you give young entrepreneurs? You’re only as good as your last job, and never burn your bridges. Networks and connections are so important.



Mogau Seshoene Chef and author

Lesson: “Don’t allow fear to paralyse you, do it anyway.”




After starting a career in finance, Mogau Seshoene realised that her passion lay in cooking, so she retrained at a culinary school before launching her business, The Lazy Makoti. The brand celebrates traditional South African cuisine through cooking lessons, a best-selling cookbook now in its seventh reprint, and traditionally made cookware products. Such is Mogau’s popularity that she has nearly 400,000 followers across Instagram and Facebook.

Amongst her many achievements Mogau was selected as one of the Mail & Guardian’s Top 200 Young South Africans in 2015. The following year she was chosen by President Obama to be one of the Mandela Washington Fellows, as well as being a FORBES AFRICA 30 Under 30.


There are a lot of things that can feel really scary, especially as a young woman moving into new territory, situations can feel so much bigger than you. But you have to push through it, and not let fear stop you from achieving what you want to accomplish. Unfortunately, I’ve learned that this feeling will never go away; you feel it at every juncture of your life. I have felt this fear many times. One of the biggest moments was when I was trying to pitch my cookbook to publishers. I kept getting told that there was no appetite for a book of South African recipes; that South Africans did not really buy cookbooks. But I felt that the reason South Africans weren’t buying cookbooks was because they didn’t see themselves reflected on the pages, that their own heritage wasn’t being celebrated. The dishes they cooked at home and the ingredients they knew were not mirrored in books available in the shops. I had to dig deep and push through the fear to insist there was a market for my book. I was right; the fact that my book is the bestselling cookbook in South Africa is testament to that.


Food was a huge part of my life while I was growing up in a township in Limpopo. My dad is a pastor, so my mother, grandmother and I would cook for the many visitors we would receive. But I never thought of it as a “proper” career. When you’re in school, you’re given quite fixed ideas about what you should do and what success looks like. I became convinced that I should have a career in finance. Even though I had moments of doubt, I started my job in the corporate world, but I was quite unhappy. Then at the end of 2014 a friend asked me for cooking classes. She joked that her new in-laws would call her the lazy Makoti, a Zulu word for daughter-in-law, because she couldn’t cook. This sowed the seeds of an idea for a business. My research showed that there weren’t any resources where you could learn how to make traditional South African food. I started a Facebook page where I shared recipes and advertised classes; I taught every weekend and it made me so happy. I wanted to get more serious about it and I was lucky enough to join The Hookup


Dinner (THUD), which is an incubator to help entrepreneurs. It helped me with mentorship and funding so that I could leave my job and go to culinary school in Pretoria to improve my skills. Leaving my job was another huge moment of fear. But even though I was scared, I believed in my talents and my capabilities. After I graduated, I had to think about how I could develop a business model that moved this idea past just being a passion project and into a successful business that I could earn a living from. My finance background really came in useful here, so it wasn’t wasted. The business is now made up of lessons, selling kitchen accessories and a cookbook that came out in 2018. As I was writing it, I went back to the old recipes I’d shared on my Facebook page to see which were the most popular. If anyone found any parts too tricky, I made sure that all the ingredients, even the styling of the final dish, would be familiar to South Africans. I wanted it to be food that looked like their family meals. It’s actually quite shocking that this book is the first of its kind. But it’s also the reason it’s been so successful.


I think that we’re realising as South Africans how much currency we actually have in this world. We’re waking up to see beauty in the way we live and look. African culture is coming to the fore and we’re choosing to celebrate it. It’s an amazing moment.

Q&A What did you want to be when you were little? A teacher, like my mother. Describe yourself in three words? Creative, resilient, strict. Best advice you’ve ever been given? It’s not money until it’s in your bank account. Favourite SA destination? Limpopo because it’s so beautiful. Favourite uniquely South African dish? Umngqusho – it’s samp with curry and spice and it’s a creamy bowl of warmness and flavour. What is your home language? Sepedi. Can you speak any other South African languages? Venda, Swati and Zulu: all the others I can hear but not fully converse in. If you could have one superpower, what would it be? To stop time. The one thing I still struggle with is making time to rest and knowing that the world is not going to end if I take a little bit of time out. How do you relax? I like to travel, but when that’s not possible, a quick fix is a bubble bath with lots of candles and quiet time where I can reflect on everything. Do you use mentors? I do, and I think they are valuable, but I think it’s also important to realise that your mentor doesn’t have to be someone you see in person. Tech has done so much to break down barriers; it means I can learn from someone I’ve never met on the other side of the world through listening to podcasts, watching videos and reading articles. 65


Rabia Ghoor Entrepreneur

Lesson: “Naivety in business is sometimes a good thing.�




Rabia Ghoor founded swiitchbeauty, an online beauty company, when she was 14, selling one product on an Instagram page. After two years of combining entrepreneurship with schoolwork, she left school at 16 to pursue it full time.

The company now has a line of more than 20 products catering to the unique beauty needs of South African women, and has garnered more than 100,000 Instagram followers.


I was 14 when I started my business. You don’t expect 14-year-olds to be in business, but for me it was brilliant because I had so little to lose. There were no potential setbacks in my mind, simply because I didn’t know all the things that could possibly go wrong. That meant I just made it all happen. I’ve always been surrounded by entrepreneurs; my whole extended family are creative in their business endeavours in some way. Growing up in Laudium, Pretoria, my siblings and I were taught that if we wanted to buy something, we had to make money. So I always had little schemes on the go, such as selling stickers in the playground or even buying and reselling the sliders from the canteen. By the time I started swiitch, it was just another venture. I had no idea it would change my life. It started just because I was getting into makeup and watching tutorials on YouTube, and I thought that there weren’t any really cool, home grown, digitally native beauty brands in South Africa. I bought one silicon make-up brush cleaner,


because there wasn’t a product like it available in South Africa at the time, so I started selling it through my page on Instagram. My frustrations with the beauty offerings in South Africa at the time were largely because the big brands were American or European and didn’t really cater for the African consumer. I knew what it was like to walk up to the beauty counter as a woman of colour knowing that you’d never get the right foundation colour recommended to you. It wasn’t enjoyable; I thought there could be a different way to do things. I remember so vividly the day I left school. I had been up all night working on swiitch and hadn’t slept. I had a shower but put my school uniform on back to front, I was so exhausted. Then I went downstairs and poured milk on my cereal, but I missed the bowl. My mum looked at me and she said, “You’re not going to school today, are you?” I said no. She said, “Maybe you’re not going back ever.” That was it. It was actually a really weird time. I went


from having full attendance at school to having all the freedom in the world.

It’s been hard growing up and figuring out who I am as a person while developing a

For about three months I just sat in bed watching Grey’s Anatomy and eating Nandos. Amazingly, my parents said nothing, they just let me grow up. Then one day I came downstairs and told my mom, “I’m going to look for an office today.” She just said, “Let me know if you need any help.” My parents have been amazing at never questioning me and just letting me become my own person. That’s not always common in Indian families.

business. I’ve had to sacrifice hanging out with friends at parties so that I can show up to work at 9am on a Monday morning and be accountable to the people in my team. But it’s also been amazing.

My whole business is centred around social media, so I have always interacted with my customers. They have been integral in helping me decide what products we should research and develop. For example, our eyeliner, Liquid Luck, is made with a brush tip, unlike most liquid eyeliners, which are felt tips. It came about because a customer said she wanted one like that; the only other option was one that cost $19, which wasn’t an accessible price point for our customers. So we developed it.

The biggest challenge I’ve had is around imposter syndrome.


The older I’ve got, the more I’ve become scared about making big decisions, because I’ve got more to lose. But I’m learning to get used to that feeling at this new level; every time something new comes along that intimidates me at first, the second time around it’s less scary. You start to be OK at it, then good, then awesome.

Q&A Early bird or night owl? Both – I enjoy waking up early and going for a run because it’s such a good start to the day; you feel ready for anything. But on weekends I love staying up late and chatting to friends. Who is your hero? My dad – he looks like the Indian, moustached version of Paddington Bear. He’s so kind and intelligent and insightful. He also has this wonderful way of giving advice without making you feel like you didn’t know it in the first place. Favourite South African musician? Dani Bagel. Soccer, cricket or rugby? Soccer. Night in or night out? Night out. One thing you always make up on your face? My brows. Do you speak any South African languages? A tiny bit of Afrikaans.



Dr Precious Moloi Motsepe Doctor, entrepreneur and philanthropist

Lesson: “Be an eternal student.�




Precious Moloi Motsepe trained as a doctor, becoming a hospital physician and general practitioner and setting up a women’s health clinic in Johannesburg. Her career pivoted into philanthropy when, along with her husband Patrice Motsepe, she founded the Motsepe Family Foundation. Through its many programmes, the foundation aims to improve the quality of life particularly for the unemployed, women, youth workers and marginalised communities in South Africa. Dr Precious later entered the world of entrepreneurship when she founded African Fashion International, which promotes young South African designers and aggregates the African fashion industry through various platforms, including AFI Cape Town, Joburg Fashion Weeks and AFI Boutique. In 2013 the Motsepe family were the first on the African continent to join “The Giving Pledge”, started by Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffet.


I was drawn to studying medicine because I have a passion for helping people, and also I was following in my mother’s footsteps, who was a nurse. But there was another powerful memory that guided me towards this career. I was very young when my grandmother, who was a diabetic, passed away from renal failure, but I remember overhearing the doctor saying, “I’m so sorry, these were preventable diseases,” and that really stuck with me. There were lots of people in my community who were dying from things

When I got into Wits university, I was one of about 12 black students in a year of 250 pupils. Coming from a poorly funded high school, compared to the white students who went to really well-funded schools I had a lot of catching up to do. It was one stark example of the inequality that the apartheid era had created. The other was because there was still segregation, it meant black students couldn’t stay on campus, so for my first year I lived at home. We didn’t have electricity, so I used paraffin lamps to study at night. Later,

we could already fix. I wanted to help save them.

I was offered accommodation for black students at the hospital, where we were bused in and out of campus each day. There was no interaction between black and white students, except in lectures.

I was always very driven; when I was little and the uprisings started in my township, Soweto, my parents sent me to a very nice Catholic boarding school in the middle of nowhere to keep me safe. The school wasn’t well funded and there was limited electricity so we would go to bed when it got dark at 6pm or 7pm. I’d get up at 2am to study, but the only place where there was a light on was in the bathroom. So I’d sit in there and study – and hope no one interrupted me!


Segregation still existed in the hospital where we trained as students; black doctors were only allowed to work on black patients, whereas our white colleagues could work in white and black hospitals, so they saw a wider range of cases. My hospital had to deal with a lot of violence from a local township and the nurses there were particularly amazing in teaching us how to cope. You never know


who you’re going to learn from. But even though there were lots of challenges, they

I went into the fashion business because I saw on the one hand huge unemployment

were all on the periphery and I didn’t allow them to distract me from my focus and purpose in life.

among youth and women in the country, while also seeing the significant creativity that people on the continent had in fashion, music or the arts. I thought the fashion and clothing industry could be helpful in connecting sustainable small businesses with supply chains, and the huge resources we have here, such as cotton and wool, meanwhile created jobs for women in production, retail, marketing and everything in between.

When I was fresh out of medical school and had very little money, I started giving a very small amount to my university’s bursary fund to help others get through university. Philanthropy might be a new word, but Africans have always had “ubuntu”, the concept of giving and caring for your neighbour. I experienced it a lot as a child; one time my parents didn’t have enough money at the end of the month to cover all five of my siblings’ school fees and a local doctor lent my parents the money to make sure I could go back to school. We all looked out for each other in my community. Now, through our foundation, my husband and I have continued this. Among many of our projects we’ve managed to establish bursaries in all 27 universities in South Africa, a commitment of more than 3,000 bursaries for students, as well as programmes at international schools, such as Harvard.

We believe that if we invest in the education of young people, they will really change the future of this country and this continent for the better. 76

I have valued the importance of networks at every stage of my career. At university I learned a lot from my fellow students. In the workplace it’s important to have networks inside but also expose yourself to other sectors on the outside. There’s so much benefit from learning from your peers; you arrive at solutions much more quickly. Patrice and I have learned a lot about different ways of working from other philanthropists who signed up to the Giving Pledge. Moving from being a doctor into philanthropy, then into fashion, has allowed me to learn more about myself, work in different communities and interact with different kinds of people. It’s so inspiring and keeps me energised. I’m always keen to learn more. I’d say to anyone moving into a new field; be willing to learn, be humble and be an eternal student.

Q&A Braai or fine dining? Fine dining. Who would play you in the film of your life? Me. Guilty pleasure? I don’t have many; I enjoy chocolate now and again. What is the best gift you’ve ever received? My children. Introvert or extrovert? Introvert. What’s the one thing you wish you had more time for? Reading. Favourite South African musician? I couldn’t name one, your tastes build up over a lifetime. As a child, my mother influenced my taste a lot, she loved singers like Miriam Makeba who was a fantastic artist, then I loved Yvonne Chaka Chaka at university. Now I enjoy the Ndlovu youth choir and local artists. We have a programme that supports choral music in high school and Pretty Yende, the operatic soprano, came from that programme. We’ve also had lots of musicians play at AFI events, such as Riky Rick and AKA.



Palesa Mokubung Fashion designer

Lesson: “You have to be hungry – and stay hungry for opportunities.”




Palesa Mokubung set up her own fashion label, Mantsho, in 2004, which has since been shown at South Africa Fashion Week as well as on runways around the world. Last year she followed in the footsteps of designers, including Karl Lagerfeld, Stella McCartney and Marni, in creating a collection for the international fashion company H&M, and in doing so became the first African designer to collaborate with the brand.

Among her many awards and accolades, including the GQ Best Dressed Award 2019, the Free State Fashion Week Lifetime Achiever Award, participating in the 73rd Annual Fashion Forward International Thessaloniki Showcase and a Fashion and Innovation Award at the Mbokodo Women in the Arts Award, Palesa has appeared on the cover of Tribute magazine and in two television shows, Project Runway South Africa and The Cut.


I came to fashion by accident. My family are all creative, and I knew that I would end up in the arts, even if I didn’t know in what field. I applied to design school, and on registration day the queue for the fashion course was the shortest, so I joined that! From that moment I decided that I was going to be great. Ever since, I have been hungry for whatever opportunities came my way and worked to make them happen.

to make more. I worked for her all summer and at the start of the next school year, I decided to drop out to work full time. There were two other trained designers there who said I was really talented and that they could help me with any gaps in my knowledge. I did every job in the business, from selling clothes, buying fabrics, making patterns, styling the fashion shows; it was an amazing apprenticeship.

My first big opportunity was when I walked into a boutique in Johannesburg called Stoned Cherrie, looking for a summer job. The owner asked me where my outfit was from, and I told her that I’d made my little A-line skirt that morning. Amazingly she asked me if I could make 10 more for her to sell the next week. Because I still had school during the day, I asked some women locally if they could help, along with making matching tops. When I delivered the outfits, I was offered a job in the shop. I didn’t have any experience selling clothes, but I modelled my own outfit and people just couldn’t walk past it; by 2pm that day I’d sold the whole lot! The owner was so pleased that she wanted me


After three years, I realised that I was burned out. I had been trying so hard to prove myself – to myself and to everyone around me – that I had overdone it by working all hours and weekends. I needed a change. My next opportunity was when my mom saw an advert for a national television show which would follow aspiring creatives learning their craft over 13 episodes. I was chosen as the show’s young fashion designer; the show took six months to film, during which time they sent me to India and New York. After it was broadcast I was on such a high, and decided to start my own fashion label. I had nothing except a sewing machine,


but luckily a friend in the music business needed help with wardrobe and styling for

Sometimes that comes from someone else. About two years ago I met someone

her album. With the money she paid me, I was able to turn my mother’s garage into a little studio and hire an assistant.

who would change my life. I was at a show for Addis Ababa Fashion Week when a woman started asking me about the clothes I was wearing and my brand. We swapped cards, then later she asked me out for dinner, where she told me she’d been very impressed with me and my show, but my Facebook and Instagram accounts, where I had about 2,000 followers at the time, were really bland. After I got over thinking she was being rude, her message really hit home. I felt as though she was my morumuwa, a person sent from above to pass on a message. I went back home and started putting more effort into my social media accounts, posting and engaging more, and it transformed my business.

I called my label Mantsho, meaning “Black is Beautiful” in Sesotho, I wanted to create clothes that celebrate African beauty. It’s a feeling that I’ve had instilled in me since childhood. My home was always filled with books on black culture, images of beautiful and strong African people and sounds of Afrobeats, African Jazz, Neo-soul and 90s RnB, and everything in my upbringing was about living and expressing that. But I also love the contemporary, global world we live in, so it was important to me to draw from my roots whilst expressing it in ways that fit the times we live in. What’s funny about starting my own label and being the Creative Director is that even now I’m doing all the same jobs that I did when I started out with Stoned Cherrie. But I love it; I’ve still got that same hunger for the industry and I think that that has been key to my success.

It’s so important to check in from time to time, to remind yourself of that hunger and drive and keep feeding it.


My collaboration with H&M followed after that. There are some things that you can fantasise about – a big house for example – and work towards. But this was something that I could never have dreamt about; it was written in the stars. The opportunity to tell the story of an African aesthetic and see it in shops all around the world was just incredible. We have so many young design students in our fashion schools here, but there are no other prominent South African women fashion designers, so to be someone my country can be proud of is an honour.

Q&A Early bird or night owl? Night owl. Local TV series you can’t get enough of? I love Bonang Matheba’s reality television show, Being Bonang, but apart from that I’m not really a TV person. What is your home language? Sesotho. Is there anyone you consider a hero, if so who? My mom, because I don’t know what I would do without her. Do you rely on any networks? I have a personal “board of directors”; an informal group of people from whom I get advice, who respect me and have my best interests at heart. My mother is the head of the board, then it’s made up of friends and industry people, like Lucilla Booyzen, the founder of South African Fashion Week. Soccer, cricket or rugby? None – but I do I watch the World Cup. If you could have one superpower, what would it be? I could say to save the world, but really what I’d want is to eat as much as I liked and not gain weight! How do you relax? I don’t; I have a 13-month-old daughter and a business to run.



Professor Thuli Madonsela Advocate and academic

Lesson: “The importance of a dream.�




Growing up under apartheid, Professor Thuli Madonsela dreamt of change. When the regime ended and Nelson Mandela was elected as the first Black president of South Africa, she was part of a team in charge of drafting a new, fairer constitution for the country. She later worked for trade unions in the public and private sector, served as a full-time member of the South African Law Reform Commission (appointed to this position in 2007 by then President Thabo Mbeki) and in 2009 was appointed by then President Jacob Zuma as the Public Protector, an independent body tasked with defending democracy. Thuli was the first female Public Protector and while she presided over tens of thousands of investigations, her most famous was into former President Jacob Zuma’s misuse of public funds. The backlash ultimately led to his resignation. Thuli endured death threats and personal accusations, but ultimately was seen as a heroine. Among her many accolades, Time magazine named her one of the 100 most influential people in the world and Forbes named her African Person of the year in 2016. Thuli has co-authored several books and journals and is an advocate for gender equality and the advancement of women. She currently holds the position of Chair in Social Justice at the law faculty of the University of Stellenbosch and is the founder of the Thuma Foundation.


Many great things that have been achieved in life started with a dream. A dream has wings that help carry you through the tough times, because they give you a sense of what the final destination will look like. As a child growing up in apartheid, my foremost dream was that in the future there would be no apartheid; that my humanity and the humanity of every person in my country was going to be recognised, embraced and respected. I wanted to be a midwife of that new South Africa.

that was a super achievement. I, however, had different ideas, I wanted to study law. He couldn’t understand why – through his own life experiences he couldn’t see that a black person would ever be able to do that. I had to battle to make it happen on my own, but it taught me very early on that my dreams are valid, even if others can’t immediately see them.

I learned the power of dreams from my mom. She was a maid and had great dreams for me and my five siblings as we grew up in the township of Soweto. She believed that education would be the greatest leveller, and I can’t thank her enough for that.

once for three months. I was also involved in the trade union movement – my detention took place on my way from work as a volunteer part time trade unionist. Activism and fighting for justice were all consuming, so hard that I found myself feeling angry and wounded all the time, like a perpetual victim. I realised that I had stopped looking after myself, and that I wasn’t taking time to appreciate the things and people around me that made me happy. It was a good lesson; that even if you’re crusading for justice, humanity and a better planet, you still need to pause sometimes. Amid all kinds of adversity there are always beautiful things and

My father was an electrical labourer and later a small trader who had done very well for himself, despite being denied an education. When I was left with two years of high school, (I was in Grade 10 and he wanted me to drop out and skip Grades 11 and 12) he arranged for me to study medicine to become a nurse; he thought


At university I lived a hectic life. As well as studying, I was very involved in activism; I was detained several times, including


moments to cherish. I found that when I did take time to stop and smell the roses, as they say, I came back refreshed, with more energy to pursue the changes that I was committed to making. It’s especially important to value loved ones, even if you are busy. They might suddenly go before your quest is finished, and you end up thinking, “I wish I’d had more time with them.” In 1995, while still at Wits, I was awarded a fully paid scholarship to Harvard and I could even take my young son with me. I knew that being a Harvard graduate would be a huge boost to my career, but at the same time I was asked to be part of the team that would draft the new constitution of South Africa. I couldn’t do both, and it was an enormously tricky decision to make. I took days agonising over it. Eventually, I turned down Harvard. Everyone around me said that I had made the wrong decision, that I was a fool! But the truth was that I knew Harvard was always going to be there, while drafting the constitution of South Africa was a once in a lifetime moment. It was a huge privilege to be part of that. To be on that project, with truly great people like Nelson Mandela, was a defining moment of my life. Despite the new constitution and laws that I helped write that prohibited gender discrimination, racism or ageism, those things were – and are – still present. They are not always obvious, but there have been many times when I have felt, “I don’t think you would do or say that to a man”. As Michelle Obama once said, “When they go low, we go high”, so I try to maintain the high moral ground and 88

respect I believe in, despite disrespect often shown by some people. Throughout my career I have consciously pursued integrity – even when it has come at a high personal cost. If you pursue what you believe is the right thing to do, then there will be times when you experience push back. There can even be moments when you feel abandoned. But every challenge or setback makes you that much more prepared for the next one. Through the difficult times I have relied on various networks. My first line of defence is my family. My children and siblings have been so wonderful, and have had to shoulder a lot of pain, especially during my years as the Public Protector. I have incredible friends whom I have known forever, and various women’s networks that I rely on, such as South African Women Lawyers Association (SAWLA) and Business Women’s Association of South Africa (BWASA). Lastly, but not least, I have my religious networks.

I am a very spiritual person. I am passionate about the power of dreams and purpose-driven living, but I also know that not everyone has a clear dream from the beginning; sometimes it can take time to work out what yours is. In those instances, it’s important to find an environment that you love, focus on doing good work, and your dream will come.

Q&A Early bird or night owl? Early bird. What’s the one thing you wish you had more time for? Climbing and hiking. Four dream dinner party guests? I would choose four young people from the One Young World organisation who live on four different continents and countries: South Africa, Africa, Asia and one from the West. The One Young World organisation is doing so much to change the world with very few resources. I find them remarkable. TV series you can’t get enough of? I only really watch the news. Who would play you in the film of your life? Lupita Nyong’o. Is there anyone you consider a hero, if so who? Beside my parents, I don’t have a singular hero; my heroes are all the people who transcend adversity. What is your home language? Zulu/Siswati. Can you speak any other South African languages? Tswana, Xhosa, Sotho, and a little bit of Tsonga, Venda and Afrikaans. Guilty pleasure? Social media.




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