South Africa marks the 2017 Women’s Month under the theme “The Year of OR Tambo: Women united in moving South Africa forward”. The country marks Women’s Month in tribute to thousands of women who took part in the historic 1956 women’s march to the Union Buildings in protest against the pass laws of the oppressive apartheid regime.
Women’s Month also serves as a call to action for the current generation of women; for them to continue to struggle towards the total liberation and empowerment of women.
ANC Today speaks to prominent businesswoman Ipeleng Mkhari, CEO of Motseng Investment Holdings, on the strides we have made towards gender equality as well as the most pressing challenges facing women in South Africa today.
ANC Today: What would you say would be the key ingredients that have led to your success?
Ipeleng: Fundamentally passion. I truly love what I do. I love working with the people that I work with. I love creating things, coming up with innovative thoughts and ideas.
As an entrepreneur, you’ve got to have a creative state of mind. You need to have the passion to take on that level of risk.
The success factor is defined by broad themes around the offices people work in, the number of people that they work with.
A lot of people don’t know what it took to get to that point. It is important to talk about the real issues and challenges of being an entrepreneur, because success is not just an event.
You must have passion. That has been a major contributing factor in my journey; getting up even when I failed many times – to still get up again and still do the same thing over again.
ANC Today: What challenges did you have to navigate to get to where you are today?
Ipeleng: I have been in business for 20 years. In 1997, I started working for a certain organisation and in that same year, I realised that I was just a front. I had just finished university and was six months into my job.
My greatest challenge was learning, in adversity, to be able to navigate obstacles that you don’t expect to come across your way. You have got to make decisions quickly, and decisions that are based on a value system or a set of rules and integrity you carry.
If I look at that 1997 to 2007 trajectory for me, I went through various challenges. There have been challenges around raising finance, cash flow sustainability, and being able to attract the best people and keep them.
I have never gotten into business because I believed it was something sexy or glamorous to do, because it is very hard.
The challenges are necessary to make you realise the need to focus on what you are doing. They also make it that much more important to protect and grow your business.
Question 3: If you had an opportunity to talk to your younger self, what advice would you give?
Ipeleng: I would say to a 20 year old Ipeleng, “don’t be afraid, fear is a huge crippler of people’s ideas and their own vision of self.”
I think I have done okay in that area, and I have done it only because I was young. Truly don’t have fear, those are my words even to Ipeleng today.
Try something out, because you don’t know what could come out of it. That has been, to a certain degree, a little bit part of my journey, I had a lot luck.
The time when I started, there were no policies around the codes of good governance, BBBEE was there.
There were no very strong policies as we have today around women and youth. The policies have grown over time and have enabled businesses like Motseng to survive or grow. When I started, it was a lot of trial and error.
ANC Today: Critics say nothing much has been done in the past 23 years of this government, what has been your experience?
At macro level, 2017 has been a seriously, fundamentally painful year for the country and for women.
We have experienced and seen horrific tragic femicide and other acts of brutality on women. It is not that as a country, we have not been exposed to this for many years, I believe we are a violent nation generally.
This is not a government problem requiring just a government solution. Government has a role to play, but in my mind, it is not solely a government responsibility.
At a micro level, this is a societal issue – civil society, government, private sector & businesses matter. It is a description and a narrative that needs to be taken and very seriously by all members of society.
When we look at our leaders, in all walks of life, we need to look at them and be able to say, you are the kind of people, men and women, who represent the people we want and feel safe around them.
As a women, I feel very strongly that the Department of Women has no voice in this conversation, has no narrative to speak of, that I can say there it is – that’s what they stand for and have been active in this conversation since its inception.
That’s a real challenge because that is an arm of government that has been setup to deal specifically with that particular group that is so challenged.
I also that think the justice system has certainly got an even more critical role to play and I think they are playing it, within the limitations of their own challenges.
I understand that there’s discussions about establishing courts that will focus specifically on matters related to violence against women. I think those are the kinds of things that we need.
We need to be able to hold the perpetrators of such acts seriously accountable. This means they need to feel the full might of the law.
I think our government has always spoken out against violence, the need to protect, celebrate and uplift women. As a society, we just haven’t realized how deeply wounded we are and how violence begins.
ANC Today: If you were to be a President for a day, what would you do?
Ipeleng: I’m a go getter, and obviously thats the type of President I would be.
My top priority would be to look at how do we get the economy growing. How do we really engage and support small to medium size businesses, like Motseng, to survive ?
We must really engage society around entrepreneurship and what that brings to an economy that cannot rely on the good old resources based sectors.
We need to start understanding what the new sectors, globally, are and engaging our young people in the concept of doing it for themselves, so that they are able to create businesses that employ other people, that put food on people’s tables, so that people can go out there work, learn and grow.
We are going through a major economic slump, we certainly are an emerging market, but that doesn’t suggest that our GDP must be growing at the very low levels it is growing at. That would be my thing, that’s what I know.