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Strong & Innovative Women in South Africa

We have so many strong, creative and innovative women in South Africa. It is important that our daughters hear their stories, it is important that they hear our stories. While each of our journeys, as women, may be different – we can all learn from each other. It is important that we share our experiences. I have compiled the stories of five amazing women in South Africa. Some of these women are wives and mothers, who faced many challenges in their journey to success, some had to make their own opportunities and some are proactively changing the future of South Africa; read their stories:

Mampho Sotshongaye

Mampho Sotshongaye is the founder and Managing Director of Golden Rewards 1981 cc in South Africa. She is an entrepreneur and award-winning business leader, and her construction business has won local awards and received international recognitions. She founded the business in 2010 but started operations in January 2013 and now employs 56 people from disadvantaged communities. On an ongoing basis, she applies various skills transfer and community upliftment programmes, providing training and support for local workers in all projects. Mampho brings 18 years of experience in the construction industry to the business having previously worked as a Construction Manager and Contracts Manager.

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Mampho Sotshongaye learnt how to sell when she was very young; she would help her mother who traveled to Durban to buy food in bulk, which they would repackage and resell in the rural areas. It helped her realise that hard work eventually pays off and puts food on the table. It also gave her an incredible sense of purpose. Mampho reached the top 20 of 22 000 applicants in the 2021 Africa’s Business Heroes, a competition run by the Jack Ma Foundation which offers $1.5 million in prize money. She was the overall winner for the Eskom Business Investment Competition and was featured in the Lioness Weekender. These achievements do not mean her journey was easy. She has had many doors closed in her face because of her gender:

During a three-year project, I was constantly undermined by a consultant because I am a woman. Eventually, I had to replace him as our working relationship deteriorated beyond repair. Subsequently, I then employed a retired engineer who was willing to work with me.

There were other instances where she was ignored in meetings and refused funding even though she met all the requirements. This was when imposter syndrome kicked in and made her question if she was on the right path. But then she found a way to reframe these experiences:

I think of myself as an avocado – you either love me or hate me. There is nothing wrong with me, some people just prefer something else.

It is this confidence, self-awareness and knowledge that she wants to pass on to the next generation: she works with the University of Cape Town and College of Cape Town to provide mentorship to students in the civil engineering faculties.

I love that Mampho sees herself as an Avocado and realises that she is more than enough just the way she is. This is a legacy we should pass on to our daughters! Another lesson I see in Mampho’s journey is endurance, the road will not always be easy but if it is where we are meant to be, we mustn’t give up. For more information on Golden Rewards, you can visit https://goldenrewards1981cc.co.za.

Siddika Osman

Siddika Osman is the Co-founder of Nkgwete IT Solutions with Chief Operations Officer Sagaren Kanniappen, Siddika Osman is the company’s primary shareholder. Boasting more than 25 years’ experience in the ICT sector, including with firms such as Transnet IT, arivia.kom and T-Systems, Siddika is an award-winning IT professional.

In 2019, Siddika won the inaugural Africa Tech Woman of the Year Award, was a finalist in the Top Gender-Empowered Organisation: Fast-Growth Women-Owned SMME category of the Standard Bank Top Women Awards, and first runner-up in the Digital Woman category of the SITA GovTech Digital Public Service Awards. Siddika’s technical expertise and business acumen are integral to Nkgwete IT Solutions’ success. In 2021, Siddika was one of the 50 women included in the Mail & Guardian’s Power of Women list, in the business category.

Siddika didn’t have the road paved for her. She was born and grew up in eMalahleni (then Witbank) and didn’t have the opportunity to attend university after school. She began her working life as the private secretary to the regional manager at Spoornet. She quickly realised that she wanted more from her career, and spotted an opportunity when Spoornet undertook a major project to change all its computers.

I approached the IT manager and told him I wanted to learn about IT. He allowed me to watch him working and to learn from him in my spare time. When he moved on to another opportunity he recommended me to his successor.

Having established that IT was what she wanted to do, Siddika made the effort to learn more about it and equipped herself.

Nkgwete It Solutions recently launched its IT hardware offering ONE Technologies, a majority female-owned and South African-grown laptop brand. Developed on the philosophy that technology enables progress, ONE Technologies’ hardware has been designed to make technology accessible and affordable for all tiers of the South African business market.

I grappled with how we could compete with international tech players to achieve our vision of unlocking South Africa’s potential through technology. It is from this that the idea of ONE Technologies was born. We have now sourced unsurpassed, superior-specification hardware at highly competitive prices, which means that we can unlock the potential of the people of Mzansi by making reliable tech accessible, affordable, and available to all.

What I love about Siddika’s story is that when she didn’t have the opportunity to go and study, initially, she found opportunities where she was. She educated herself as best she could and then, later on, educated herself formally. She never gave up and has worked hard to get where she is today. Now, she looks for opportunities to make tech accessible to all South Africans! For more information about ONE Technologies, please visit https://onetechnologies.tech.

Claire Blanckenberg

Claire Blanckenberg is the founder and CEO of Reel Gardening. Claire’s business journey began when she was 16 and tried to grow vegetables to sell to her parents. She found it expensive, confusing, overwhelming, and she was ultimately unsuccessful. Through this experience, she realised the need for an easy solution to grow vegetables correctly.

During her Architecture degree, she designed housing that needed a simple food security solution. It was then that she created the Garden in a Box, a concept designed to feed a family of 4. It encases seeds and nutrients in colour coded paper tape at the correct distance below the soil, making planting and growing food simple and affordable to maintain. This took off and she established the company at the end of 2009. Reel Gardening is now a patented concept.

Designed to be handmade by previously unemployed mothers, Reel Gardening has a positive social impact not only by using their product but also through its creation. The company is a Social Enterprise and they enable the establishment of household food gardens in impoverished areas across South Africa. In the past 20 months, they have helped 48,100 households to become food secure!

When I embarked on this path there were very few female entrepreneurs to mentor me. Today, as one of those women, I hope to inspire others at the start of their journey.

Claire Blanckenberg was recently announced as the winner of the 2023 Veuve Clicquot Bold Woman Award, courtesy of her innovative spirit.

Claire’s creativity and innovative ideas are a perfect example of the talents and ideas that South African women inject daily into South Africa. I love that she found a solution for something that challenged her and through it has been able to help others. For more information on Reel Gardening, you can visit https://reelgardening.co.za.

Advocate Tarisai Mchuchu-MacMillan

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

Growing up in Khayelitsha, Tarisai was surrounded by gender-based violence and, although she was never a victim herself, she wondered why violence and abuse was accepted as the norm. Tarisai believes that her law studies at the University of Cape Town and her participation in the student council and its societies, including the Student Health and Welfare Organisation (SHAWCO), helped her to find her voice.

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

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

I love that everyday I get to be part of the solution as a woman to issues that affect us, as women in society, relationships and families. I love that I get to connect people to solutions, I get to contribute to the economy by fundraising to sustain over 60 households that we directly employ, and empower our beneficiaries and contribute to systems change. I love that my job challenges me to think beyond one thing, but solve problems in a multi-faceted, multi-connected whole society approach. I love that I am young, black and get to solve problems that I faced when growing up and often felt so powerless to even confront. I love that we are rights based and empowering and we do not approach our work as enablers or saviours, but as change agents working with those who have walked the difficult paths and empowerers.

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

I have been blessed to know and work with Tarisai and I think what we can learn from her is to work with organisations in our community, lifting and helping where we can. We can’t do everything, but, we can do something! In fact, we must do something 💕. To support MOSAIC or find more about what they do, you can visit https://mosaic.org.za

Hetsie Otto

Hetsie Otto has always used touch creatively and in healing others, she is a qualified Life Coach, Occupational Therapist and Pressure Point Practitioner, on top of being a Contemporary Artist & Fine Art Photographer. Hetsie went to Stellenbosch University and studied Occupational Therapy, not actually knowing what it was about, but it fitted her like a glove. It taught her a lot about herself and who she really is. After working in a hospital for 4 years, she started her own private practice, with a friend, working with kids who had learning problems. They were the second OT practice in Cape Town, and the first in the Northern Suburbs. She did that for 16 years and thoroughly enjoyed it.

It gave me the opportunity to have enough time with my kids, but I also learned how I love connecting with people and how much I care about them.

After that, Hetsie felt like a change of direction and studied an alternative technique, pressure point, working on people with physical and even emotional problems; she absolutely loved it. At sixty, she was diagnosed with her first breast cancer and it was a huge shock. She stopped working but decided to give attention to her creative side more, which was always part of her. She took up photography and, while her technical ability was almost non-existent, she eventually learnt how to really play with her camera. She met people along the way that helped her to find her ‘voice’; she likes to push boundaries, break rules, and keep on developing new ways of taking photos.

After her second cancer, which was again totally unexpected, she decided to take her painting more seriously. Just doing it on the side was not enough anymore. So, she did some courses, had 2 exhibitions, 1 solo exhibition, and she is planning a photo and painting exhibition for later this year. Even though she is dealing with cancer, getting older, and having her off days; She still loves to take up a challenge and do more of her art in between spending quality time with her grandkids.

I heard a quote the other day about ‘life happens for you and not to you’. While I don’t think that is true for everybody, I like to think that it tells my story. Growing up in a physically and emotionally abusive household made me tough but also sensitive about other people.

So, life happened for me, taking me on all these routes which gave me all the time to blossom, develop my own inner growth and really live! Cancer, especially, taught me how to live. Cancer doesn’t define me but adds quality to every moment of my day. It really changed the way I live. I also started to go to therapy years ago which to this day deepens and enriches my life so much and is one of the best gifts in my life.

I still want to do stuff, reach for the stars, and know that when I die, I will have used up as much of my talents as possible. My life was and is rich with colours, shapes, lines and with wonderful people who gave me so much, while I was in the healing field, for which I will always be extremely grateful!

I have been privileged to work with Hetsie for many years. She is a wonderful person who continues to achieve so much, while also inspiring others. Hetsie has studied with the  Ruth Prowse School of Art and has a unique Art and Photography style which is full of emotion and life. Hetsie has taught me to never stop dreaming, making goals or planning. She has inspired me with her determination, despite the obstacles that she has faced. If we can learn one thing from her, it would be to never stop discovering and sharing your talents. To keep up-to-date with Hetsie’s adventures and to discover her distinctive art, visit https://hetsieotto.com.


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