Celebrating South African Women: Part 2

Celebrating South African Women: Part 2

Celebrating South African Women: Part 2

We’re picking up where we left off with our feature on SA’s wonder women. 

Note: You may  wonder why we didn’t mention other trailblazing SA women. We simply don’t have the capacity to cover each and every female icon. We have, however, added some honourable mentions and encourage you to research them as well as names we could not list here.

Cassie Kozyrkov

If you used Google to find this article you should thank South Africa’s Cassie Kozyrkov. 

Kozyrkov is Google’s Chief Decision Scientist. As a data scientist and statistician she founded the field of Decision Intelligence at Google. While Kozyrkov was born in Russia, she was raised in Port Elizabeth and is considered a South African through-and-through. She started her studies in economics and mathematical statistics at Nelson Mandela University at the age of 15. 

As the primary expert in Applied AI and data science process architecture at Google she was ranked LinkedIn’s No.1 Top Voice in Data Science and Analytics in 2019 and has featured in/on Forbes, Harvard Business Review, Web Summit, Wired, Decision Intelligence Podcast, Medium and more. 

Laura Kurgan

As the Director of the Interdisciplinary Center for Spatial Research at Columbia University Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation (GSAPP), Kurgan is one of the most famous South African women and one of the most laudable people in SA history. 

Kurgan’s work has been published by MIT and Princeton University and her work has even featured in exhibits at the Museum of Modern Art in NY as well as the 

Kandyse McClure

Another famous face which few people know as South African is Candise McClure, or Kandyse as she is known professionally. Now living in Canada, Kandyse is famous for her roles in Battlestar Galactica, Hemlock Grove, Carrie, Children of the Corn, Smallville, Broken Kingdom, Romeo Must Die, Alphas, The Good Doctor, Supernatural, Charmed, Haven and Snowpiercer. 

Nicole Engelbrecht

Social media has transformed quite dramatically over the past few decades – we’re consuming new forms of media in novel ways. Working in corporate management for 20 years, Nicole Engelbrecht harnessed these changes to enter a rather untapped market in SA – true crime.

As writer, podcaster and host of the True Crime South Africa and I Lived Through This  podcasts, Engelbrecht has become a household name for many South Africans.

Janet Suzman

While we’ve skipped Helen Suzman, we’d like to remind you that Helen’s niece is also a wonder woman. 

Suzman trained at the London Academy of Music before joining  the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1963. She starred in various RSC plays and films, including:  

Nuns on the Run
A Dry White Season
The Crown
Midsomer Murders
Ruth Rendell Mysteries

Retha Joubert

Retha Joubert had her sights set on fine art, but her skills would lead her in an unconventional direction.She realigned her passion to establish herself as one of the most profound culinary artists in South Africa. Joubert’s experience with various media and mediums has made her a trendsetter in cake-making, sugar art and cake toppings and sparked her tutoring business – Retha Joubert Sugar Studio. 

Image: © Retha Joubert 2022, provided by Uhkwini.co.za

Julia Robson

It’s not a rather unconventional move – switching form dentistry to eSports, but it’s Julia ‘Bish’ Robson’s story. Only around 7% of South African gamers are female – a statistic which coaxed Robson to found DNMK eSports in May 2020 – making her the first female eSports platform owner in South Africa. 

Robson faced much uncertainty, as there weren’t many guidelines to guide her way. This is probably why and how she started carving the way for other girl gamers

Natalia da Rocha

As one of the first women of colour to graduate and enter the entertainment industry in SA Natalia is a force to be reckoned with.  She represents diversity through her heritage as well as her outlook on life. As she notes in our interview, “You have to be multi-skilled and multi-talented to have constant work.” While Da Rocha is excited about the novel opportunities available to youths, she is adamant that commitment and perseverance remain pivotal drivers for success. 

Image: © Natalia da Rocha 2022, provided by Uhkwini.co.za.

Her advice for young women is to power their own success through purpose and perseverance. It doesn’t get easier with time, but you can choose how much time you invest in entertaining your failures. Success requires diversification of skills and getting back in the saddle after each setback.

Angelique Rockas

Anyone familiar with the ‘Internationalist Theatre’ will know that the UK institution was founded wholly by two South Africans – Athol Fugard and Angelique Rockas. 

Born and raised in Boksburg, Rockas was dubbed ‘l’enfant terrible’ by poet George Bizos. These words catalysed her career as the breaker of the status quo and led her to establish a theatre company in the UK aimed at showcasing multi-racial and multi-national performances and cast members – eventually featuring plays by the likes of Tennessee Williams and international productions like Carmen.  

Margaux Langley

Few people have the ability to blend in perfectly with nature and social circles alike – yet this skill is quite innate to Margaux Langley.  She engages her natural environment and bustling world of humans with equal enthusiasm, skill and empathy. She’s hosted icons such as Nina Dobrev, Kim Jones, the New Zealand and Australian rugby teams as well as Creedence Clearwater Revival, managed the Kruger National Park’s annual lion census and overseen/trained at Tswalu, Singita, Kruger National Park and Sabi Sand Reserves.

 Image: © Margaux Langley 2022, provided by Uhkwini.co.za.

If our words don’t sway you, perhaps Mathey’s shooting prowess will…



Marina van der Merwe

South African ‘export’ talents aren’t always covered locally, which is why SA’s hockey coach Marina van der Merwe deserves a shoutout. 

Van der Merwe found her feet in Canada where she was appointed head coach for Canada’s national women’s field hockey team for an incredible stretch of 19 years from 1976 to 1995. Under her leadership the Canadian team would qualify for every major international game. Van der Merwe was inducted into the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame in 2014. 

Mavis Vannie Lavis

While Mavis’s true identity may be under wraps, she’s managed something quite remarkable: using her unashamedly fresh, unguarded and honest rhetoric to engage, entice and endear followers of all races, classes and cultures in SA.

Although she entertains online, she is avidly involved with philanthropy and will support any cause she believes in, from a single student requiring clothes and makeup for a dance to corporate social investment initiatives focused on whole communities. 

Mavis is harsh but forgiving, scathing and kind: she is the epitome of the SA’s older sister and ultimate diva!

Lilian Ngoyi

When it comes to women who changed SA, Lilian Ngoyi’s name is too often overlooked. 

Dubbed  the ‘mother of the black resistance’, she was also the first woman to join the ANC’s national executive committee. Lilian and her female comrades led the women’s march to the Union Buildings on 9 August 1956 to protest pass laws. Winnie Madikizela-Mandela noted that Ngoyi’s strength sprung from her humble lifestyle – she could speak to and for the workers because she herself was a simple factory worker. 

Ngoyi would die in obscurity and isolation  – as a banned person, she was not allowed to interact with other banned persons, meet with more than three people at once, nor could she attend lectures, cinemas, weddings, funerals or parties. She also had no means of income due to being barred from entering cities. Desmond Tutu stated that her name would be written in letters of gold in the true history of South Africa. 

Honourable mentions

This list is but a minor showcase of the women who made and are making South Africa great. A complete showcase of SA’s wonder women will be featured on Ukhwini.co.za soon.  

Adriana Marais

Aithne Rowseis
Alba Bouwer
Alice Krige
Antjie Krog
Ashleigh Moolman
Ashley Gardner
Asnath Mahapa
Augusta Vera Duthie
Barbara Mallison
Belle Delphine
Bessie Head
Bertha Solomon
Blossom Tainton-Lindquist
Boity Thulo
Beth Tweddle
Brenda Fassie
Candice Boucher
Candice Pillay
Cariba Heine
Carrol Boyes
Caster Semenya
Cathy O’Dowd
Chanelle Botha
Charlotte Aubin
Claire Johnson 
Cindy Adler
Connie September
Crystal Hulett
Dalene Mathee
Dena Kaplan
Denise Scott Brown
Dineo Lioma
Doja Cat
Dorice Fordred
Dorothea Bleek
Dorothy Masuka
Dot Cleminshaw
Dylan Kohlstãdt
Edana Romney
Ela Gandhi
Elana Meyer
Elizabeth Abrahams
Elizabeth Connell
Embeth Davitz Nadine Gordimer 
Emma Smith
Eugenia Chang
Fatima Meer
Felicia Mabuza-Suttle
Ferini Dayal
Florence Waren
Fiona Ramsay
Frances Rivett-Carnac
Gail Kelly
Geraldine Pillay
Gertrude Fester
Gisèle Wulfsohn
Glynis Barber
Gonda Betrix
Helen Suzman
Himla Soodyall
Igle Gledhill
Ingrid Jonker
Irma Stern
Irene van Dyk
Jani Allan
Janice Lee
Jo Ratcliffe
Josie Borain
Josie Field
Karen Zoid
Karin Van der Laag
Katharine Blake
Kathy Keeton
Keabetswe Motsilanyane
Khabonina Qubeka
Khadija Patel
Jani Allan
Lara Logan
Leila Agnes Reitz
Lesley-Ann Brandt 
Linda Mvusi
Lindy Sutherland
Lisa Williams
Mary Burton
Mary Fitzgerald
Masabane Cecilia Rangwanasha 
Maud Sumner
Miriam Makeba 
Nadia Tromp
Nana Meriwether
Nandi Madida
Natalie du Toit
Natasha Thahane
Penelope Coelen 
Petronel Nieuwoudt
Phillipa Johnson-Dwyer
Pippa Tshabalala
PJ Powers
Pumeza Matshikiza
Rahima Moosa
Rapelang Rabana
Roxane Hayward
Salukazi Dakile-Hlongwane
Sarah Collins
Sasha Pieterse
Senamile Masango
Sophy Gray
Suanne Braun
Tarina Patel
Verna van Schaik
Vinette Ebrahim
Virginia Lee
Wendy Ackerman
Wendy Luhabe
Winifred Hoernlé
Xiaomei Havard
Yvonne Chaka Chaka
Zainunnisa Gool
Zola Budd

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