Celebrating South African Women: Part 1

Celebrating South African Women: Part 1

Celebrating South African Women: Part 1

During Women’s Month, Rand Rescue would like to give a shoutout to all the amazing South African women throughout the world.

We’d also like to remind our readers of some of the greatest female trendsetters, visionaries, movers, shakers, athletes, creators and leaders of SA’s past and present. Given the enormous contributions and laudable efforts of South African women we will split this series into two parts.

South Africa’s Wonder Women

The Champagne label Veuve Clicquot disclosed the results of their International Women’s Entrepreneurship Barometer Study in 2020 which showed that South Africa has the highest percentage of women entrepreneurs of all countries studied – with a whopping 54% of South African women considered entrepreneurs. South Africa beat countries like France, the UK and Japan for the top spot.

But our women aren’t just great at business – they flourish in all industries and philanthropic pursuits.

While we can’t mention all women who have made a difference in our society, we will try to cover a wide scope of industries and eras to showcase the talents, trials and efforts these women have made and are still making in SA and abroad.

A note on pronouns and phrasing: Rand Rescue is aware that some readers are sensitive to the use of gendered terms and pronouns . We are using female/women/woman/girl/girl child terms in our articles because the plight of women from a traditional African (and international, historical) point of view requires distinction and these terms are still prevalent in all research and non-profit organisations’s plights throughout the African continent and worldwide. This does not mean that we are insensitive to other marginalised communities or wish to create conflict or exclusion – neither does this article serve as a platform for bashing or minimising the efforts of any other South Africans. South Africa is the only country carrying the moniker of ‘Rainbow Nation’  and although we’re a society with extreme bias, inequality and conflict, Rand Rescue would like to be flag bearers for ALL South Africans in the international sphere. We implore readers to understand this intention and celebrate South African women with no holds barred.

Tebello Nyokong

Dr Nyokong is an award-winning scientist who has, among other things, received the coveted UNESCO L’Oreal Award as well as the Order of Mapungubwe for her groundbreaking work in cancer research. She has explored ways in which photodynamic therapy (PDT) can be used to ‘kill’ cancer cells without harming the individual.

Noteworthy achievements:

– Fulbright fellowship from the University of Notre Dame
– Subject for Adrian Steirns “21 icons” photographic series
– Director of the DST/Mintek Nanotechnology Innovation Centre
– Research Chair for Medicinal Chemistry and Nanotechnology DST/NRF
– Professor of Physical-Inorganic Chemistry, Rhodes
– Adjunct Professor of Chemistry, University of Tromsø, Norway
– Recipient of the National Research Foundation’s Lifetime Achievement Award 2013
– Recipient of the ISE Electrochemistry Excellence Award in Teaching and Research
– South African Chemical Institute Gold Medal Award 2012
– Member of the National Centre for Research on Human Evolution in Spain
– Recipient of the Royal Society in Chemistry and Pan African Chemistry Network’s Distinguished Women in Chemistry Award
– Member of the UNESCO High-level panel on Science, TEchnology and Innovation for sustainable development
– Winner of the International Conference on Frontiers of Polymers and Advanced Material Award as well as their Chemistry Award
– Lesotho Hall of Fame inductee
– Committee C. de Duve recipient of Nobel prize in Medicine, 1974
– Order of Mapungubwe recipient, 2005
– CSIR best NLC grant holder of the year award 2005
– Editor of the African Journal of Pure and Applied Chemistry
– Editorial board member: Global Journal of Physical Chemistry
– Editorial board member: Journal of Spectroscopy & Dynamics
– Editorial board member: International Journal of ELectrochemical Science
– Member of Agence National de la Recherche, France
– Member of the Research Foundation of Flanders, Belgium
– Member of the advisory Board for the XVIII International Symposium on Bioelectrochemistry and Bioenergetics, Portugal
– Member of the advisory Board for the World Association of Laser Therapy Conference
– Reviewer for the Reaxys PhD post-doctoral fellows prize candidates from the UK, Belgium, Spain, France and the UK

Penelope Heyns

No list of South African female achievers will ever be complete without mentioning Penny Heyns.

While South Africa has produced many an athlete – and swimmers in particular – Heyns made numerous headlines throughout her career, despite hefty international opposition due to international backlash against Apartheid South Africa.

While her achievements (mentioned below) speak volumes, Heyns didn’t rest on her laurels when she resigned from international athletics – offering swimming clinics, camps, coaching, correction services, mental preparation tutoring and motivational speaking both locally and internationally.

But once we look at her achievements it’s quite impossible to bring politics or race into the matter – Heyns is an icon for all South African and African women.

One of the most amazing facts is that Heyns had started swimming at 14  – an age considered inadequate to start off swimming by all international competitive swimming coaches and institutions. Many people paid her no mind since she had started too late to ‘work with’ in many minds.

Three years later – having been banned from any international competition before – she became the youngest SA Olympic squad member and competed in her first international events at the tender age of 17. Within 4 years Heyns would go on to make World History: her achievements have never been replicated by any female swimmer in the world and some have not been achieved by any male swimmers either.

These include:

– Youngest member of the SA Olympic team, 1992 Barcelona Summer Olympics
– South Africa’s first Olympic Gold Medalist in 44 years
– Lauded as the world’s greatest female breaststroker of the 20th Century as the only woman in Olympic history to win both the 100 and 200 m breaststroke events at the Olympics
– Broke a total of 14 individual world records throughout her career
– The only breaststroke swimmer in history (male and female) to break four world records in one competition – which she did twice in one year
– Broke 11 World Records over 3 months
– Swimming World Magazine Hall of Fame inductee, 2007
– The only woman in history to hold all three breaststroke World Records simultaneously
– Swimming World Magazine’s Female World Swimmer of the Year 1996
– Swimming World Magazine’s Female World Swimmer of the Year 1999
– Broke 2 short course World Records within one hour in 1999

Anastasia Tsichlas

A name which many South Africans may not be familiar with is Anastasia Tsichlas. This is mostly due to a bit of a slow cross-cultural uptake in support for the local Soccer scene.

Tsichlas grew up in a soccer (football for our international readers) loving family and so it was no surprise that she immersed herself in the local sport. She started her career as promoter  and marketer for PSL clubs, including Swallows and Blackpool. She was appointed Managing Director for the Mamelodi Sundowns FC in 1987 who won their first league title the following year. Under her leadership the team continued winning more trophies than any other club and received the award for the Best team of the decade 1990 – 2000. She has gone from strength to strength – being featured in various local and international football magazines due to her success as club manager. She was a member of the FIFA organisational committee for the 2010 FIFA World Cup SA as well as the FIFA Football Committee.

Other noteworthy achievements:

– First woman in the NSL PSL Executive
– Member of the PSL Security Committee
– Chairperson of the PSL Legacy Committee
– First woman appointed in the SAFA executive committee
– Member of the NEC
– Member of the SAFA International Board
– Chairperson of the SAFA Technical Committee
– Chairperson of the SAFA Referees Committee
– Chairperson of the SAFA Medical Committee
– First South African appointed to CAF
– Vice President of CAF Women’s Organising Committee
– First South African appointed to the FIFA Football Committee
– SAFA match commissioner
– CAF match commissioner
– FIFA Olympic qualifying games match commissioner
– Recipient of the President of the Republic of South Africa Award
– Co-Chair of Tsichlas Investments

Leila Fourie

Dr Fourie was appointed the Group CEO of the JSE in 2021, but she has had a hand in multiple organisations and philanthropic work throughout her career.

Fourie is Co-Chair for the Secretary General’s UN committee – Global Investors for Sustainable Development. Additional roles she managed previously include:

– Co-Chair for the Sustainable Stock Exchange model guidance on climate disclosure and the UN climate disclosure
– Executive of Consumer Finance at the Commonwealth Bank of Australia
– NSW Vice PResident of the Economic Society of Australia
– Member of the Board Audit Committee of Lifeline Australia
– CEO of the Australian Payments Network,
– Managing Director of Standard Bank Cards Division
– Chairman of the Diners Club
– Board Member of Diners Club International Advisory Board
– Global Director of Credit analytics, capital and portfolio management for Standard Bank Investment bank in SA, UK, Hong Kong, Russia, Brazil and Argentina.
– Winner of the Economic Society South Africa Founders’ award 2012 for Best Masters Economic thesis.

Zine Nkukwana

While Zine Nkukwana is noted for her work in tech, she has her finger in various pies across industries – with work in leadership, development, marketing, education and more.

Under her guidance as CEO of Lindamahle Management Systems (a 100% female owned ICT) they became the first female-owned company in Africa to sign up as a Google partner in the Digital Skills for Africa Programme. She subsequently partnered with IBM on a project dubbed IBM Digital Nation Africa.

More claims to fame:

– Recipient of the All Ladies League Association of Women Economic Forum’s 2019 Woman of the Decade Award
– Recipient of the Woman of Excellence Award 2018
– Recipient of the Iconic Women Creating a Better World for All Award 2017
– Judge of the Department of Communication and Digital Technologies, Standard Bank and Ericsson SMMEs in innovation and technology panel
– Member of the Pan African Panel on Economic Empowerment of Women in Africa
– CEO of South African Women ICT FOrum
– National Deputy President of Progressive Blacks in Information and Communication Technology
– Chairperson of the African Tourism Boards Marketing and Communications Committee
– Accredited and registered Cisco Networking Academy trainer
– International motivational speaker and GBV activist

Charlotte Maxeke

White Mary Jane Patterson may have been the first black woman to graduate from a US university, South Africa’s own Charlotte Maxeke didn’t  hold back either – noteworthy, however, is that Maxeke was the first African black woman to graduate from a US university, which she receive in 1903 – graduating with a B.Sc from Wilberforce University of Ohio.

But that’s not Charlotte’s only claim to fame. Among other things, she performed for none other than Queen Victoria herself as part of the African Jubilee Choir which toured England from 1981 – 1983. In an effort to achieve formal education she joined the choir on a US tour which was cancelled, and decided to stay on. After graduating she returned to South Africa where she organised the Women’s Mite Missionary Society and was later awarded funding by Chief Ramakgopa in Polokwane in order to start a school. Lack of funding never saw this project come to fruition, but along with her husband she later founded a school in the Witwatersrand. Through her extensive regional travels focused on teaching and evangelical pursuits, Maxeke was the only known woman at the time to be welcomed to the king’s court in Transkei under King Sabata Dalindyebo.

She focused on political activism by publishing her famous Umteteli wa Bantu address on suffragette matters – challenging both racial and gender norms and subjugation. She organised the anti-pass movement in 1913, founded the Bantu Women’s League in 1918 and led a delegation to Prime Minister Louis Botha to discuss the plight of black women. Since her concern was not predominantly racial, she also participated in the Women’s Reform Club in Pretoria, was a member of the Joint Council of Europeans and Bantus as well as the president of the Women’s Missionary Society in South Africa.

Following further international travels and exposure, Maxeke founded an African employment agency in Johannesburg in 1982 and became the first black woman to serve as parole officer for South African juvenile delinquents.

Other achievements:

– Established the BWL which was the ANCWL predecessor
– Johannesburg General Hospital was renamed to the Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg Academic Hospital in 2008
– Honoured by the South African Navy through the SAS Charlotte Maxeke (S102)
– Statue erected in her honour at the Pretoria Garden of Remembrance
– Mentioned in Nontsizi Mgqwetho’s poetic works

Penelope Andrews

Professor Penelope Andrews is one of the most noteworthy lawmakers in the USA. While Andrews was born and raised in South Africa, her career path started off abroad given the restrictions by Apartheid legislation.

Obtaining her teaching degree in Australia, she taught for eight years before moving to NY, USA where she taught international, gender, race and comparative law for 15 years.

Her credentials include:

– First black dean of the University of Cape Town Faculty of Law
– First female dean of the Albany Law School, USA
– Editor of the International Journal of Law in Context
– Editor of the Human Rights and the Global Economy E-Journal
– Editor of the African Law E-Journal
– Acting Judge of the North Gauteng High Court
– Member of the Africa Section of Human Rights Watch
– Member of the National Centre for Law and Economic Justice
– Chair of the board of the Institute for African Women In Law
– Member of the National University of Ireland Galway’s External Advisory Group on Gender Equality
– Co-Founder of the South African Reading Group
– National Bar Association’s International Award for global human rights advocacy
– The USA’s Lawyers of Colour 4th Annual Power List entree
– Established the Penelope E. Andrews Human Rights Award at the University of KZN
– Finalist for the 2005 Constitutional Court of South Africa vacancy

Olive Shisana

It’s strange that South Africans could be so ignorant of the achievements of our tribe, and yet Professor Olive Shisana is a perfect example of how little we know about our people.

Without explaining anything more, let’s consider her achievements:

– Masters in Clinical Psychology, Baltimore, USA
– Doctor of Science, Johns Hopkins University, USA
– Doctor of Science, Bloomberg School of Public Health, USA
– CEO of the Human Sciences Research Council
– Honorary Professor, UCT
– Professor at the Medunsa School of Public Health
– Founder of the UWCT Public Health Programme
– First Director General of Health under the Mandela Administration
– President of the International Social Science Council
– Executive Director for the HSRC;s Social Aspects of HIV/AIDS and Health
– Executive Director for the World Health Organisation’s Family and Community Health, Switzerland
– Founder of the South African National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey
– Founder of the Maternal and Child Mortality Surveillance
– Member of the Ministerial Advisory Committee for National Health Insurance
– Member of the US Institute of Medicine Committee on Methodological Challenges in HIV Prevention Trials
– Member of the Emory University Global Health Institute Advisory Board
– Chair of the Nelson Mandela 46664 Board
– Chair of the Committee of Heads of Research and Technology in South Africa
– Chair of the South African BRICS Think Tank
– Chair of the AIDS Global Conference
– Winner of the South African Academy of Sciences: Sciences for Society Gold Medal award
– Honorary Doctor of Laws at Monash University, USA

It is quite clear why Madiba chose her to lead South Africa in medical research and she is a shining light for all South African girl-children and women.

Refilwe Ledwaba

Aviation has always been a male-dominant industry, which makes Refilwe Ledwaba’s work all the more noteworthy.

Refilwe received the AeroTime Women in Aviation award in 2021 for her Girls Fly Programme in Africa which – at the time – had already furthered aviation and aerospace education of more than 70 000 girls in Botswana, Cameroon, Kenya and South Africa. Ledwaba was the first South African black woman to qualify as an air transport helicopter pilot – this is in addition to her fixed-wing pilot’s licence, qualified flight instructor status and undercrewed aerial vehicle pilot. She flew for the South African Police force in various crafts for more than a decade and subsequently focused her time and effort on furthering the immersion of girls into the industry.

Margaret Harriman

Not many people will know the name Margaret Harriman, but she is one of South Africa’s greatest sportswomen. Born in 1949, Harriman didn’t stop her wheelchair from going for gold. She started competing in paralympics in 1960 – participating in various sports, including archery, athletics, dartchery, lawn bowls and swimming. She won eight gold medals in archery between 1960 and 1968 (for Rhodesia and South Africa – as dual citizen). Due to a sporting ban on SA she couldn’t compete from 1976, but made her re-entry at the 1996 Summer Paralympics where she won her 17th and last medal in lawn bowls.

DJ Zinhle

DJ Zinhle is a Jack of all Trades (and master of all). She is, quite obviously, a DJ, but also works as producer, entertainment judge and actress. She’s received numerous accolades and awards for her music, including the 2020 SAMA 26 Record of the Year, NAMA 2020 Pan African Artist of the Year, 2021 SAMA 27 Best Music Video of the Year and the 2022 Global Music Awards Africa’s DJ of the Year award. But that’s not all. She also owns an alcoholic beverage brand, Boulevard Rose, a hair company called Hair Majesty, a design company called Jiyane Atelier, a fashion accessory brand called Era and a Luxury AirBnB Apartment.

Marlene Dumas

Marlene Dumas is one of SA’s most acclaimed fine artists. Hailing from Cape Town where she studied Visual Arts, she later moved to the Netherlands. Her work has been exhibited at international museums and she was even chosen to represent Holland in the 1995 Venice Biennale. She went on to study psychology but continued her career as artist. In 1985 the sale of her artwork Jule-die Vrou placed her as one of only three living female artists trading for over $1 million. Her work is permanently displayed at the Museum of Modern art and exhibited at the 2022 Women Painting Women exhibition at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth.

Basetsana Kumalo

Basetsana is not only a pretty face, but has a brain to match her looks. She started her career in beauty pageants in 1990, winning Miss Soweto and Miss Black South Africa at 16, and won the title of Miss South Africa in 1994 – the same year she was first runner-up in Miss World. Kumalo later went into other forms of entertainment such as television presenting and productionAs co-owner of Tswelopele Productions, she not only represented the flagship brand Top Billing, but owned it. Her company later merged with Union Alliance Media which nabbed them a JSE listing. Some of her other laurels include:

– President of the Business Women’s Association of South Africa
– Owner of investment company Pro Direct 189
– Board member of Unipalm Investment Holdings
– Board member of Vhangana Energy Resources
– Board member of Tactic Group Limited,
– Board member of SME Financial Holdings Limited
– Board member of Morongwa Investment Holdings
– Board member of Q2 Petroleum
– Board member of PHAB Holdings
– Revlon spokesperson
– Founder of the Romeo & Basetsana Kumalo Family Foundation
– Spokesperson for the UN’s Children’s Fund
– Board member of Seven Falls
– Owner of clothing brand Bassie
– Owner of Bassie Red Cosmetics and Bassie Gold range

In Addition to these, she has received numerous local and international awards and has published numerous books and volunteers at numerous non-profit organisations.

Brittany Bull

Women’s contributions in Science and Tech aren’t always celebrated the same way men are celebrated, which is why Brittanny Bull deserves a huge shoutout. At the tender age of 18, Bull was part of a team of teen girls who helped launch SA’s first Privately owned satellite. The satellite monitors shifting weather conditions over the African continent and poles. While Bull did not build the satellite, their team built and programmed the payload which allows it to accurately collect and process thermal imaging.

Her love for engineering and space started when she joined the Space Trek bootcamp at 16. As part of their training the participants were tasked with designing, building and launching small satellites via high-altitude weather balloons.

Gill Marcus

Gill Marcus was South Africa’s first and only woman to hold the position as Governor of the South African Reserve Bank. She lived in political exile from 1969 to 1990 and completed her South African studies via correspondence – graduating with a BComm in Industrial Psychology. She was elected to parliament in 1994 and appointed Deputy Minister of Finance in 1996 before moving on to her Professorship of Leadership and Gender Studies at the Gordon Institute of Business Science. She later joined Western Areas mining before being appointed non-executive director of Gold Fields and chair of the Absa Group thereafter. In 2009 she filled Tito Mboweni’s shoes as Governor of the SARB.

Watch out for part 2

Part two of our series will include noteworthy names such as Thulisile Madonsela, Claire Johnston, Albertina Sisulu, Hassina Mouri, Helen Suzman, Pumeza Matshikiza, Natalia da Rocha, Josie Borain, Nicole Engelbrecht, Jesse February, Margaux Langley, Charlize Theron, Pippa Tshabalala, Kgothatso Montjane, Chrysoula Argyros, Antjie Krog, Mavis vannie Lavis, Ofentse Pitse, Sandra Laing, Melanie Banfield, Miriam Makeba and Kitty Phetla.

Are you ready to make your mark on the world?

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We don’t charge a cent for our initial consultations with you and can provide sound advice as an accredited provider of financial services who works with numerous international financial institutions, are on speaking terms with SARS and the SARB and understand the local legislation and financial intricacies of most countries where South Africans resettle.

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