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16 AUGUST 2012
South Africa’s 30 wonder women

To celebrate their 30th edition, Wits Business School Journal shines a light on 30 of South Africa’s most powerful and influential women. Whether in media or mining, banking or politics, these women are forces to be reckoned with, and role models to many.



Wendy Appelbaum.
Wendy Appelbaum

Wendy Appelbaum is a businesswoman and philanthropist and one of the richest women in Africa.

Appelbaum, daughter of Liberty Life founder Donald Gordon, was a director of Liberty Investors, the holding company of Liberty Group (Liberty International changed its name to Capital Shopping Centres Group in 2010, and Appelbaum still holds shares).

Appelbaum is involved in many philanthropic projects. Through The Wendy Appelbaum Foundation, her company initiates, selects and drives programmes addressing health and education interests and concerns of South African women.

She is a director of Sphere Holdings, a black empowerment company focused on the financial services and mining sectors. Appelbaum holds various directorships and trusteeships, and is a member of numerous organisations registered in South Africa and abroad. These include the Wits Donald Gordon Medical Centre, a postgraduate teaching hospital of the University of the Witwatersrand; The Donald Gordon Foundation, the largest private charitable foundation in Africa; and the World Wide Fund for Nature South Africa.

She is a member of Harvard University’s Women’s Leadership Board, the International Women’s Forum and a board member of Synergos Africa. She was previously the deputy chair of Women’s Investment Portfolio Limited (Wiphold Limited), the first women-controlled company to list on the JSE with then-assets in excess of R1 billion.

In 2006, she was recognised by Leading Women Entrepreneurs of the World, an organisation that honours and promotes female entrepreneurial excellence.


Wendy Ackerman.
Wendy Ackerman

Wendy Ackerman’s husband Raymond may have made a success of Pick n Pay, but she didn’t establish her name in business by hanging on his coat-tails. She was instrumental in developing the brand, particularly its social responsibility ethic.

In 1967, while Ackerman was pregnant with the couple’s fourth child, her husband was fired from his job at Checkers. He scraped together the capital to buy four small stores, and from there they built up what is now South Africa’s second-largest supermarket chain.

Ackerman was made a director in 1981. Her focus has been the development of Pick n Pay’s employee benefits.

The couple control the Ackerman Family Trust, which owns half of Pick n Pay, but they retired from the company’s board last year. However, they are still involved in overseeing its expansion into Africa.

Wendy Ackerman has worked hard to mould Pick n Pay into a socially responsible retailer. In the 1970s, the Ackerman family established their first philanthropic venture, the Ackerman Family Educational Trust. The Ackermans were staunchly opposed to apartheid and Pick n Pay was one of the few companies to promote black employees.

At her behest, Pick n Pay was the first company to start supplying free antiretrovirals to HIV-positive patients in the early 1980s.

Ackerman is also a patron of the arts and rescued Cape Town Opera from funding difficulties. Among her many accolades, she has a Paul Harris Award from the Rotary Foundation and was named one of the Institute of Personnel Management South Africa’s Most Influential in the Women in Business and Government competition in 2008/9.


Santie Botha.
Santie Botha

Santie Botha is chancellor of the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University in Port Elizabeth – at 48, the youngest chancellor in South Africa – and serves on the board of Tiger Brands Limited and Famous Brands. She is a South African marketing pioneer who played a role in the success of the 2010 World Cup as head of marketing at FIFA sponsor MTN.

Botha holds a degree in economics from Stellenbosch University. She started her career at Unilever in London and South Africa and then moved to Absa – at 34, the youngest member of the group’s board. There, as group executive director, she successfully branded the newly amalgamated bank, launching an aggressive marketing campaign to win over its own employees as well as its customers, and attacking the image of a bank as stuffy and bureaucratic. She was also responsible for its e-commerce programme.

Botha joined MTN as chief marketing officer in 2003 and soon made a splash when she painted OR Tambo Airport yellow (the brand’s signature colour). During her time at MTN, she helped embed the brand in Africa and the Middle East. But her main legacy was that a company born in Africa became the first-ever global sponsor of the FIFA World Cup.

Botha has won a slew of awards, including the 2010 Businesswoman of the Year from the Businesswomen’s Association of South Africa, Marketer of the Year in 2002, The Star Top 10 Businesspeople in South Africa 2003 and Young Business Person of the Year in 1998.

Botha is one of South Africa’s top 10 wealthiest women.

The role of a chancellor is traditionally that of a figurehead, but Botha has said she plans to play an active role in developing the institution as a place of learning and as a brand.

Elisabeth Bradley

In her 70s and having retired from the boards she sat on, Elisabeth Bradley still retains influence as the fourth wealthiest woman in the country.

Bradley’s parents were businessman Albert Wessels and journalist and renowned poet Elisabeth Eybers. It was Wessels who brought Toyota vehicles to South Africa in 1961, and by 1968 they were the most popular commercial vehicles in the country. He soon began producing them here.

Bradley, who holds a BSc from what was then the University of the Orange Free State and an MSc from London University, worked as a research chemist in the United States for a year in the early 1960s. When she returned to South Africa, she got involved in her family’s companies. Many say she was the brains behind Toyota South Africa’s success.

In 1986, she was appointed managing director of Wesco Investments, which had a large stake in Toyota South Africa and, after the death of her father in 1991, became executive chair. When her brother Bert died in 2002, she was appointed non-executive chair.

Bradley has served on the boards of blue chip companies such as the Standard Bank Group, Tongaat Hulett and Sasol, and the Rosebank Inn. She is also on the Wits Business School Advisory Board. In 2007, she was honoured with a Manex Award, which recognises excellence in leadership.

Salukazi Dakile-Hlongwane

Salukazi Dakile-Hlongwane (62) has a passion for social upliftment and has spent her career developing Africa and its women. The company she helped to create, Nozala Investments, is a broad-based women’s investment firm that aims to ensure economic advancement for women.

Dakile-Hlongwane grew up in Soweto. Her father was a civil servant and her mother made and sold dresses to neighbours. She has said this inspired her own entrepreneurial spirit. Dakile-Hlongwane went to school in Lesotho, where her parents sent her to escape the Bantu education system. After school, she did an economics degree and went to work for the Lesotho National Development Corporation. She then went to the United States to do her MA in development economics.

Since then, Dakile-Hlongwane has worked for the African Development Bank in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire; for the Southern African Development Corporation in South Africa; and for FirstCorp Merchant Bank in the structured finance unit. She has been CEO of Eqstra Holdings Limited and is a director of MultiChoice Africa. She was also assistant general manager of specialised finance at BoE NatWest.

Dakile-Hlongwane and two other women, Jean Ngubane and Dawn Mokhobo, were the founding members of Nozala when it was established in 1996. It is currently controlled by its founding members through Nozala Holdings and 10 women’s empowerment groups. A separate trust supports business start-ups in poor areas.


Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma.
Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma

Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma (63) is a formidable and widely respected politician. So much so, that when the ANC wanted to take over the presidency of the African Union earlier this year, they chose Dlamini-Zuma as their candidate.

As Minister of Home Affairs, Dlamini-Zuma has been widely credited with bringing order to a mismanaged and incompetent department. Home Affairs received a clean audit for the first time in 16 years in 2011.

She was a leading activist as a student in the 1970s. She left South Africa in 1976 for exile in Britain, where she completed her medical studies and worked as a paediatrician. She met Jacob Zuma in Swaziland and married him in 1982 (they divorced in 1998). She returned to South Africa in 1990, when the ANC was unbanned, and was part of the Gender Advisory Committee during Codesa.

Dlamini-Zuma became democratic South Africa’s first Minister of Health under Nelson Mandela and had the daunting task of overhauling the country’s public health system. While her tenure was not without controversy, she managed to do so. She also challenged pharmaceutical patents, paving the way for the widespread distribution of antiretroviral drugs.

In Thabo Mbeki’s administration, she was kept on as Foreign Affairs minister. When Mbeki resigned and her ex-husband became president, he retained her as Home Affairs minister.

Pam Golding

Pam Golding is founder and life president of the globally recognised Pam Golding Property group. She is an icon in the property industry, and is widely acknowledged in South Africa as a role model for women and young entrepreneurs, and internationally as a leading businesswoman.

Pam Golding Properties was launched in 1976 with virtually no capital, no leads, no infrastructure and just one sales assistant. Golding’s success is credited to a talent for matching buyers and sellers, networking skills and passion for property. The company specialises in top-class real estate in many countries. It employs about 2 500 real estate professionals.

In recent years, Golding’s role has grown beyond the business of property into one of an ambassadorial nature as a global networker and facilitator, encompassing both the promotion of South Africa and its diversity of investment opportunities.

Over the years, she has been honoured for her leadership skills and personal achievements with an array of national and international awards, including being named Lifetime Achiever at the Ernst & Young World Entrepreneurship Awards in 2009.

As a member of local and international initiatives – including the International Women’s Forum and Proudly South African, of which she is a founding member – she is linked to high-profile government and business leaders, making her influence great and far-reaching.


Ferial Haffajee.
Ferial Haffajee

Tough and tenacious, Ferial Haffajee is one of the most respected and influential women in the South African media.

The daughter of garment workers, Haffajee grew up in Johannesburg and studied English and African literature. She trained at the Weekly Mail’s cadet school and began her career as a cub reporter when the paper became the Mail & Guardian. At 22, Haffajee was on a panel of journalists chosen to interview Nelson Mandela on his release in 1990. Haffajee also has experience as a radio producer and TV reporter at the SABC and was political editor at the Financial Mail.

Haffajee worked for the M&G in various capacities throughout her career and in 2004, at 36, was appointed editor. She was the first woman to edit a national mainstream newspaper in South Africa. She steered the M&G to record circulation, while maintaining its reputation for courageous, quality journalism. In 2009, she took on the mammoth task of repositioning City Press. It now boasts 1.75 million readers, sets the weekly local news agenda and has a first-rate editorial team.

Haffajee was voted one of New African’s 100 Most Influential Africans last year, she has won a Sanlam financial journalism award, was a Shoprite/Checkers Woman of the Year in 2004 and won the Women in The Media award in 2006.

Haffajee is a member of many boards, including that of the International Press Institute and World Editors’ Forum.


Gail Kelly.
Gail Kelly

Gail Kelly (56) heads up one of Australia’s biggest banks, but she was born and grew up in South Africa. Kelly began her career as a teller at Nedbank in 1980 but was fast-tracked to management.

She and her family left South Africa in the mid-1990s and she continued in banking in Sydney. By 2001, she had held senior management roles in a range of areas including retail and commercial banking, strategy, marketing and human resources. Kelly has spent the past 10 years as CEO of two Australian banks, St George Bank from 2002 to 2007 and Westpac from February 2008 to date.

Kelly holds a Bachelor of Arts degree and Higher Diploma in Education from the University of Cape Town, an MBA with distinction from Wits Business School and an Honorary Doctorate of Business from Charles Sturt University in Australia.

Kelly is a non-executive director of the Business Council of Australia, the Australian Banker's Association, the Financial Markets Foundation for Children, and a member of the Financial Services Advisory Council and the Sydney Cricket and Sports Ground Trust. Kelly is also Care Australia’s Ambassador for Women’s Empowerment.

She is ranked at 32 on the Forbes list of the World’s Most Powerful Women and she is Australia’s highest-paid woman. She has four children – including triplets.

Basetsana Kumalo

Basetsana Kumalo (38) was a beauty queen who won Miss South Africa (and was a Miss World runner-up) in 1994, but she is far better known today as an astute businesswoman.

Kumalo was born in 1974 and brought up in Soweto, where she and her siblings had a business selling sandwiches to make extra money for the family.

During her reign as Miss South Africa, Kumalo met producer Patience Stevens, with whom she started a TV company, Tswelopele Productions. Kumalo was just 20 at the time.

Not long after, she and Stevens persuaded the SABC to allow Tswelopele to produce Top Billing independently – the first independent licence granted by the broadcaster. Tswelopele is now one of the top 300 empowerment companies in South Africa. In 1999, it merged with Union Alliance Media and listed on the JSE, making Kumalo one of the youngest black women directors in the mainstream economy.

Kumalo also has her own eyewear and cosmetics range, was the face of Revlon, a presenter on Top Billing for nine years and was president of the Businesswomen’s Association of South Africa. She sits on the board of loveLife and the Nelson Mandela Institute for Education and Rural Development. In 2011, she was honoured as a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum. Kumalo plans to diversify even more and go into coal mining.

She and her husband, businessman Romeo, have established a children’s charity. They have two children.


Wendy Luhabe. Photo: Flickr, Colby Stuart.
Wendy Luhabe

A formidable and familiar face in South Africa’s boardrooms, Wendy Luhabe (55) is probably the most powerful and visionary businesswoman in the country, as well as a social entrepreneur and author. Luhabe, who epitomises the self-made woman, has spent much of her career working to empower previously disadvantaged people, especially women.

Luhabe worked her way up at luxury brands Vanda Cosmetics and BMW. In 1992, she began her first foray into social entrepreneurship, founding a consultancy called Bridging the Gap, which helped prepare previously disadvantaged people for the business environment. She broke new ground in 1994 by founding women’s investment group Wiphold, which enabled tens of thousands of women to invest for the first time and was the first women-owned company to list on the JSE. She also started a private equity fund for women-owned businesses. She has been chair of, among others, the Vodacom Group, the Industrial Development Corporation and the International Marketing Council, and is the chancellor of the University of Johannesburg.

Luhabe is the recipient of multiple awards and honorary degrees. She is also the author of Defining Moments, the profits of which go to a fund for women.


Graça Machel. Photo: Flickr, Commonwealth Secretariat.
Graça Machel

Graça Machel is not strictly a South African – but with her grace and passion for social justice and having married our favourite citizen, we love to claim her as our own.

Machel is the only woman ever to be the first lady of two countries. She was born in rural Mozambique. As a schoolgirl, she won a scholarship to study in Portugal. When she got home, she joined the Mozambican Liberation Front (Frelimo), which was to become Mozambique’s post-liberation ruling party. She became a schoolteacher and when Mozambique achieved independence in 1975, she was its first Culture and Education minister. During her tenure, the percentage of Mozambican children in primary and secondary schools rose from about 40% of all school-aged children to over 90% for boys and 75% for girls. Illiteracy dropped by 20%.

Machel married to Frelimo leader Samora Machel – Mozambique’s first president after independence – in 1975. He died in a plane crash in 1986. She married then-president Nelson Mandela in 1998.

Machel is a dedicated humanitarian, particularly devoted to children’s causes, and has been honoured by the United Nations for her work.

In 1994, the UN secretary general asked Machel to investigate the impact of armed conflict on children. Her 1996 report was groundbreaking and proposed comprehensive actions to protect children affected by armed conflict.

She is a member of the Group of Elders, an independent group of global leaders, started by Mandela and chaired by Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, who work together for peace.

Machel is a Dame of the British Empire and one of Forbes’s 100 Most Powerful Women in the world. Her outstanding humanitarian contributions have been recognised by a number of awards, including the Laureate of Africa Prize for Leadership for the Sustainable End of Hunger for The Hunger Project, the Nansen Medal for her service to the cause of child refugees, the Africare Distinguished Humanitarian Service Award and the Council of Europe’s prestigious North–South Prize. Machel is a goodwill ambassador for Unicef, chair of the National Organisation of Children of Mozambique and president of that country’s Unesco commission.


Thuli Madonsela.
Thuli Madonsela

South Africa’s courageous public protector since 2009, Madonsela has stood firm as she fulfils her mandate to strengthen constitutional democracy and promote good governance. Her work ethic and dedication to truth has brought credibility back to her office after it was tainted by the Oilgate scandal during the tenure of the previous incumbent, Lawrence Mushwana.

Madonsela has been involved in community and social justice issues since the 1980s and in her early career was a teacher and union organiser. As a human rights lawyer and expert on equality and policy, she was part of the team that drafted the country’s constitution in 1996. She gave up a scholarship at Harvard to do this. Madonsela helped draw up many statutes enacted since 1994 and was the co-architect of the policy framework that formed the basis of the Ministry for Women, Children and People with Disabilities. She has written extensively and her achievements include co-authoring the bench book for equality courts and a handbook on family law.

The Press Club last year named Madonsela Newsmaker of the Year. She was in the headlines when she was threatened with arrest after investigating the police for maladministration.

Madonsela is also involved in international human rights work, participating in delegations to conferences abroad and the drafting of country reports.

Phuti Malabie

The Wall Street Journal named Phuti Malabie one of its Top 50 Women to Watch in 2008. Charismatic, glamorous and ambitious, Malabie at just 40 is already a seasoned executive and CEO of Shanduka, a black-owned and managed investment company started by businessman and politician Cyril Ramaphosa.

Malabie has said that her drive comes from her privileged upbringing. Her father was a prominent businessman and she went to a private school, getting a standard of education she knew was not available to many black girls at the time. After school, she went to university in Britain and the United States.

Back in South Africa, she was employed as a public relations officer for I&J until she joined Fieldstone, a United States-based energy firm. There, she worked her way up to vice president. She went on to head up the Project Finance Unit at the Southern Africna Development Bank. In 2004, Ramaphosa offered her a job at Shanduka. She became managing director of subsidiary Shanduka Energy until 2010, when she was promoted to CEO of the group. Under Malabie, the organisation last year managed to snap up a master franchise agreement to run all McDonald’s South African fast food outlets before its competitors could.

Malabie is a board member of the Vodacom Group and the Black Management Forum, as well as a number of Shanduka Group investee companies. In 2007, the World Economic Forum named her a Global Young Leader.

Gill Marcus

Gill Marcus is the ninth governor of the Reserve Bank – and the first woman to do the job.

Marcus was born in Johannesburg in 1949 to anti-apartheid activist parents, so notions of democracy and political dedication were inculcated within her from a young age. She and her parents, brother and two sisters went into exile in London in 1969, interrupting her university studies.

In London, she ran the family sandwich bar and finished her BCom degree through Unisa. She also worked for the ANC’s information department and became editor of its weekly bulletin. When the party was unbanned 20 years later, she moved back to South Africa and was asked by the party to start an information department here. She became the ANC’s media interface at this crucial time of political upheaval. In 1994, she travelled South Africa with Nelson Mandela. She was elected a member of parliament that year and chair of the joint finance committee. She became deputy minister of Finance in 1996 and deputy governor of the Reserve Bank in 1999. In 2009, she became governor.

She was chair of the Absa Group, a non-executive director of Goldfields and professor of policy, leadership and gender studies at the Gordon Institute of Business Science. She supports the Johannesburg Children’s Home and Children of Fire (a burns charity) and is chair of the Rhodes Scholarship Fund.


Michelle Meyjes.
Michelle Meyjes

Michelle Meyjes is the most powerful woman on the commercial side of the media industry. She is the CEO of the MEC Group, a large planning and buying agency, and chair of Group M. She has reached her position through vision, integrity and hard work.

Meyjes did a BCom, but dropped out in her second year to take a job in promotions with Republican Press. Fifteen years later, she left the marketing industry and worked in fashion and electronics. She was the marketing director of Panasonic Consumer and the first woman on its board.

She left in 1993 to start her own specialist media company, Media by Storm, with Erna Storm. At this stage, media agencies were moving away from being creative agencies to being specialists. In 1999, they were bought by the WPP Group and rebranded as The Mediaedge, which forms part of MEC.

Meyjes is nothing if not driven. She says to succeed as a woman in the media industry, “you have to have nerves of steel and be made of metal” and willing to make sacrifices.

Precious Moloi-Motsepe

The career of Precious Moloi-Motsepe has been marked by transformations. She is a medical doctor, a philanthropist and the wife of one of South Africa’s richest men – and now she’s a fashionista.

Through her husband, mining magnate Patrice Motsepe, Moloi-Motsepe acquired a stake in Leisureworx, a top event management company that ran the country’s most prestigious fashion shows. Leisureworx is now called Africa Fashion International (AFI) and Moloi-Motsepe is realising her big plan for the company – to support and promote young South African designers, especially those from poor and rural areas, and make local fashion relevant in the global market. Joburg Fashion Week is one of AFI’s platforms.

Fashion is a woman-dominated field and developing women has always been close to Moloi-Motsepe’s heart.

She started out working in public hospitals, mainly in paediatrics, but later found that her passion was gynaecology and ran a successful practice in Johannesburg. She has said that if women are healthy, they have healthier families. Today, AFI runs a programme called Design for Life that helps disadvantaged women get better access to breast cancer screening.

Moloi-Motsepe serves on several philanthropic boards, the Harvard’s Women’s Leadership Board and the Women and Public Policy Programme in Gender Equality. She has three sons with Motsepe and is well-connected in politics, business and media.

Futhi Mtoba

Ntombifuthi Mtoba has garnered a range of firsts in her career. She became the first woman on the board of Deloitte, the first black chair of that firm and the first black woman to hold such a position at any of the country’s ‘Big Four’ firms. She was also the first woman to be president of the Association for the Advancement of Black Accountants of Southern Africa (Abasa).

Mtoba grew up in Swaziland, one of nine children. She has said that she learnt confidence and independence from her father, who was adamant that his daughters would grow up to take care of themselves.

She studied for a BA in economics at the universities of Botswana and Swaziland and then moved to South Africa, where she got an honours degree in economics and qualified as a chartered accountant.

After a stint at a firm in Mthatha, she joined Deloitte & Touche in Johannesburg in 1988.

As a black woman at that time, it was particularly difficult to advance in this male-dominated field, but Mtoba rose in the company nonetheless, a feat she has credited to visionary leadership at the firm.

As Abasa president, she has been an indefatigable campaigner for the growing of black talent.

As well as chairing Deloitte, Mtoba sits on numerous boards and is the president of Business Unity South Africa.


Nicky Newton-King.
Nicky Newton-King

Nicky Newton-King is the first woman to run the Johannesburg Stock Exchange, Africa’s largest, in its 124-year history.

Having been deputy CEO of the JSE for nine years, Newton-King stepped into the top spot recently. She was the obvious choice, considering she had been deputy and was an accomplished lawyer and manager. However, she was put through a stringent selection process.

Newton-King, originally from Cape Town, is a graduate of Stellenbosch and Cambridge universities. Before she worked at the JSE, she was a partner at one of the country’s biggest law firms, Webber Wentzel Bowens, where she advised clients in the securities and financial services industry. In 1996, she joined the JSE to sort out an insider trading scandal, just as major changes began in the almost-bankrupt exchange. It was still very much a ‘boy’s club’ then, but a time of transformation was beginning, that Newton-King would lead.

Since then, she has been behind the writing of legislation, such as the Insider Trading Act, one of the only statutes in the world that compensates those negatively affected by insider trading. In addition to her normal duties, Newton-King also led the transformation process at the JSE, consulting with all staff about the implementation of employment equity.

Newton-King has three law degrees, a fellowship at Yale and attended Harvard for a development programme.


Wendy Ngoma.
Wendy Ngoma

Professor Wendy Ngoma steers Wits Business School with an understanding of both academia and the business world.

Ngoma was born in Kuruman, Northern Cape, and brought up by her mother, a nurse, her greatest role model. After school, she got a degree in education from the University of Fort Hare, studied at London University by means of a scholarship and got a master’s in education at Wits. Ngoma completed her PhD at WBS in 2007.

She taught at the Graduate School of Public and Development Management at Wits for 11 years, before joining WBS.

Her areas of expertise include change management; organisational transformation and restructuring; social entrepreneurship and human resource management.

She has also started a consulting company, has worked for various organisations on management consulting and development programmes and is a Crans Montana Forum New Leader of Tomorrow. This is a community of people all over the world who have proven their leadership in business and governance.

A WBS senior staffer told Wits Business School Journal: “Wendy is a visionary and a robust leader. Her biggest priority in the school is to grow the academic projects, while creating an environment that empowers all people to deliver excellence, at all times.”


Nonkuleleko Nyembezi-Heita.
Nonkuleleko Nyembezi-Heita

Nonkuleleko Nyembezi-Heita is Forbes’s 97th most powerful woman in the world. Since 2008, she has been CEO of a subsidiary of ArcelorMittal, the world’s biggest steelmaker, owned by the Mittal family of India.

Nyembezi-Heita was born in Pietermaritzburg and grew up in Clermont, a township near Durban. She excelled at school and was awarded a prestigious scholarship from Anglo American that allowed her to study a BSc in electrical engineering at the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology in the United Kingdom. She got her master’s degree at the California Institute of Technology, where she was valedictorian.

She began her career in 1984 with IBM in the United States and South Africa. IBM groomed her for leadership. She headed its Windhoek division till 1998, when she became CEO of Alliance Capital Management. She then joined Vodacom as head of its mergers and acquisition division.

During Nyembezi-Heita’s time at ArcelorMittal, the economic situation changed drastically as recession hit. The construction sector was particularly affected by the economic downturn and bought less steel, so Nyembezi-Heita has been steering her firm through tough times. She has faced these challenges with characteristic determination, with a thorough cost-cutting review. She has emphasised the need for the company to expand on its wider obligations in environmental, social responsibility and health arenas. She is the 2011 winner of the WBS Management Excellence Award.

Bridgette Radebe

As Africa’s richest black woman, Bridgette Radebe has come a long way. Her money is made in mining, yet Radebe is a champion of the poor and an outspoken advocate of the nationalisation of mines.

Radebe wanted to study law at Wits, but was barred because of her race (though her younger brother Patrice Motsepe managed to get in and graduate. It was apparently Radebe who persuaded him to go into mining).

But she is a born entrepreneur and nothing was going to stop her. Radebe had to defy legislation to start her firm Mmakau – named after the village in which she grew up – as a contracted company managing shaft mining operations and procurement for major firms.

Mmakau today is a successful but under-the-radar business with quality assets in platinum, gold, uranium, coal, chrome, exploration and mining services. And Radebe has more knowledge about deep-level mining than any woman – and most men – in the business.

Radebe has helped draft crucial mining legislation. As founder and president of the Junior Mining Chamber, she has pioneered the creation of sustainable mining communities. In 2008, she won International Businessperson of the Year from the Global Foundation for Democracy.

She is married to Jeff Radebe, South Africa’s justice minister.

Christine Ramon

Kandimathie Christine Ramon (44) is an executive director and chief financial officer of Sasol. Two of Sasol’s executive directors are women (the other is Nolitha Fakude).

Ramon, who hails from Port Elizabeth, is one of the country’s top 10 wealthiest women, with an estimated fortune of just under R50 million.

Ramon qualified as an accountant in 1990 with a BCompt Hons from Unisa. She started her career with Coopers & Lybrand and was audit manager at its offices in South African and Italy. During this time, she was seconded to the Independent Electoral Commission as deputy finance director during the 1994 elections.

She subsequently joined Johnnic (now Avusa) in 1995 and worked her way up to CEO, where she was known for her tough leadership style.

Ramon is a director of several companies, including Transnet Limited. She is also a member of the Transnet audit committee.

In 2006, the World Economic Forum recognised her as a Young Global Leader. She attended the Senior Executive Programme at Harvard Business School in conjunction with Wits Business School in 1999.

Maria Ramos

Maria Ramos is group CEO of the country’s largest bank, Absa.

Ramos was born in Lisbon, but immigrated to South Africa with her family when she was six. Her family struggled financially, so she had to get a job straight out of school. She went to work at Barclay’s Bank as a clerk. Ramos wanted to apply for the bank’s university scholarship scheme, but was told it was only open to men. She persuaded the bank to give her the scholarship and went to Wits in 1984 to study for a BCom, where as a student and later as a lecturer she got involved in politics.

When the ANC was unbanned, Ramos was involved in setting up its economic policy and in 1996 she became director general of the Treasury, where she worked closely with then-finance minister Trevor Manuel (whom she married in 2008) to strengthen the country’s economy. In 2004, she became CEO of Transnet and embarked on an ambitious restructuring of the transport parastatal, making it profitable.

Ramos was named Outstanding Businesswoman of the Year 2009 at the African Business Awards, and serves on the executive committee of the World Bank’s Chief Economist Advisory Panel. Fortune magazine ranked her as one of the most powerful women in international business for four years in a row, from 2004 to 2007.


Mamphela Ramphele.
Mamphela Ramphele

As a doctor, struggle icon, academic, author, top businesswoman and outspoken champion of the oppressed, Dr Mamphela Ramphele’s achievements are impressive enough; that she attained many of them as a black woman during apartheid is astounding.

Ramphele was born in 1947 near what is now Polokwane, the daughter of school teachers. When she left high school, she wanted to become a doctor, at a time when this was difficult even for white women. She was accepted into the University of Natal’s medical school in Durban. Her years at university were formative ones: she became involved in politics and met the love of her life, Steve Biko.

Ramphele and Biko became the foremost proponents of the Black Consciousness Movement, which aimed to give black people a sense of their worth and power. She was also dedicated to community upliftment, establishing clinics and literacy projects. As an activist, Ramphele suffered greatly at the hands of the apartheid government, from banishment to the murder in police custody of Biko in 1977, while she was pregnant with their son.

During the 1980s, Ramphele became a published academic and in 1992 she earned her PhD at the University of Cape Town. In 1996, she made history when she became the university’s vice chancellor, the first black person and the first woman to be appointed to such a post in South Africa. In 2000, she became managing director for human development at the World Bank – the highest-ranking African member of the organisation. She held the post until 2004.

Ramphele has since formed BEE investment company Circle Capital Ventures, of which she is chair, and sits on the board of MediClinic. She has won numerous prestigious awards and has 18 honorary degrees.


Jane Raphaely.
Jane Raphaely

The undisputed doyenne of South African women’s magazines, Jane Raphaely (73) has been a powerful voice in the media for decades.

In her candid autobiography Unedited, published this year, chair of Associated Magazines Raphaely relates how she was born in England to a working-class family. She gained her BSc in sociology and economics at the London School of Economics, London University and did graduate studies at Columbia University in New York on a Rotary Foundation Fellowship.

Raphaely came to South Africa in 1960 and made her mark as a newspaper columnist, an ad copywriter and a PR agent in Cape Town. In 1964, she launched Fairlady magazine for Nasionale Pers and became the magazine’s first editor, remaining so for the next 20 years. In 1983, she left the magazine to launch the South African edition of COSMOPOLITAN through Jane Raphaely & Associates. Five years later, she formed Associated Magazines to publish Femina.

Raphaely scored a major coup a decade ago when she persuaded Oprah Winfrey to let her publish a South African O Magazine, the first international publishing rights granted by the magazine. Today, Associated Magazines boasts most of the country’s top women’s titles.

Raphaely is the recipient of numerous awards for professional and humanitarian achievements. She continues to oversee operations at Associate Magazines.


Terry Volkwyn.
Terry Volkwyn

She’s the driving force behind Primedia Broadcasting’s success, a natural leader who has grown the company’s radio stations’ audience and revenue and increased their social responsibility profile.

Terry Volkwyn started her career as a sales rep for the Rand Daily Mail and Sunday Express newspapers in 1983. She joined Talk Radio 702’s sales department in 1986, where she was soon promoted, at just 26, to lead the sales team. Under her leadership, 702 showed a record growth in revenue.

Her subsequent sales career with 94.7 Highveld Stereo and 567 Cape Talk was nothing short of visionary. She became known for putting together formidable sales teams and inspiring a shared vision that yielded phenomenal results in sometimes-volatile economic times.

After she was appointed CEO of Primedia in 2002, Volkwyn successfully undertook the massive operation of integrating the company’s four stations. She also turned around the ailing Talk Radio 702 and launched the Eyewitness News service.

She has worked to include more women in management and this shows in the strong representation of women at Primedia.

This year, Volkwyn was nominated for the Woman of the Decade award by The Media and won a Paul Harris Award from the Rotary Club for her work with Lead SA. Lead SA is an initiative of Primedia and Independent Newspapers, aimed at getting South Africans to make a difference in each others’ lives.

Esmaré Weideman

She’s been a journalist and editor of three magazines and now Esmaré Weideman is the first woman CEO of Media24, South Africa’s largest publishing group.

Weideman grew up in the Western Cape and did a BCom at Stellenbosch University. She stumbled on a career in journalism when she visited the journalism department and fell in love with the sound of the typewriters the students were using – and so chose to do a degree in journalism.

As a journalist, she cut her teeth at Media24 magazine Finansies & Tegniek (now Finweek) in 1985, but it was in political reporting that she really shone. In 1989, during turbulent times for South Africa, she joined The Star as a reporter. Weideman was the only journalist to follow Nelson Mandela on his six-week world tour after his release.

After a move from Johannesburg to Cape Town, she started writing for magazines and was briefly editor of Fairlady. Then she accepted the position as editor-in-chief of South Africa’s most popular weeklies YOU, Huisgenoot and DRUM. Collectively, these magazines have over 2 million readers.

In 2011, she replaced Francois Groepe as CEO of Media24. Weideman’s plans for Media24 centre around taking the group into the 21st century, focusing on strengthening its print legacy by embracing the possibilities of digital media.


Helen Zille. Photo: Flickr, The Democratic Alliance.
Helen Zille

As leader of the opposition Democratic Alliance and premier of the Western Cape, Helen Zille is South Africa’s most visible female politician.

Zille began her working life as a journalist. It was she who, as a reporter on the liberal Rand Daily Mail, exposed the truth behind the death in police custody of anti-apartheid activist Steve Biko.

She was an activist herself during the 80s, involved with groups such as the Black Sash and the Independent Media Diversity Trust. She joined the Democratic Party in the mid-1990s and in the 1999 general elections, she was the DA’s MEC for education. In 2004, she became a member of parliament, mayor of Cape Town in 2006 and leader of the DA in 2007. A global think tank called City Mayors named her World Mayor of the Year in 2008.

After winning the Western Cape province in the 2009 general election, the DA appointed Zille Western Cape premier. As premier she has been a staunch voice of opposition against the ANC and its youth league. Under her leadership, the Western Cape was this year given top marks (82%) by the Public Service Commission for the performance of provincial premiers. Performance was measured on criteria such as ethics, career development practices and transparency.

Professor Shirley Zinn

Professor Shirley Zinn is recognised as one of South Africa’s top human resources experts. She has been head of human resources at Standard Bank South Africa and the deputy global head of human resources for the Standard Bank Group since 2010. In addition to her HR role, she is also responsible for Group corporate social investment, as well as the transformation portfolio.

Zinn’s experience and expertise were acknowledged in 2005 when she was called upon by Nedbank CE Tom Boardman, who was trying to revive the bank. She was general manager of human resources at the South African Revenue Service at the time, working side by side with then-commissioner Pravin Gordhan to turn around the revenue service. Financial Mail in 2008 said Nedbank was at that time “in a quagmire”. Boardman is credited with turning around the country’s fourth largest bank – and Zinn was his “key lieutenant”.

Zinn began her career as a teacher in the Western Cape and went on to lecture at the University of the Western Cape. She moved into training at Southern Life and from there gained impressive experience in HR.

Zinn holds a doctorate in education from Harvard, as well as degrees and diplomas in education and psychology. She is also an extraordinary professor in HR management at the University of Pretoria. She has received many prestigious awards, including a Topco media award for Top Woman in Business and Government and Top Executive in Corporate South Africa.
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