August is a month that we should utilise individually and collectively; to reflect on key matters that impact on our day to day lives. And at the end of this intense reflection, we should come out with a resolution on our plight as women, and what action points we’d need to embark upon.
We should not continue to assume the ‘victim’ attitude, but rather the ‘victor’ one – we must emerge victorious in our attitude, demeanour and sense of purpose. We must strive to conquer obstacles in our way, and clear the path for a successful future. For too long since Beijing have we been identifying the problem, we should now enter the phase of solution finding.
I was so privileged this women’s month to receive a warm message that read: “we are privileged to know a strong woman like you, we wish to birth a generation of strong women, but mostly importantly we hope to rise with you, and shine a light of hope in a society where darkness is the norm, femicide and violence against women and children is a daily headline”. This captures the spirit that women espoused this women’s month, expressing their utmost indignation at the violence against women.
Their message continued: “the fastest way to change society is to mobilize the women of the world.”
So, my dear sisters, we should not stop the effort of mobilizing each other, to bring about change this decade, as I believe that we can all contribute.
In this month, we also pay tribute to our struggle icons, Ma Winnie Madikizela Mandela, Mama Veronica Sobukwe and Ma Albertina Sisulu. We celebrate the Centenary of the birth of Ma Albertina Sisulu, who is is described as a brave, inspiring activist, a humanitarian who served her country and nation selflessly.
We also pay tribute to the late Kofi Annan, the former UN Secretary General – who during his term of office and after advocated for gender issues, hence the establishment of United Nations Women – now headed by our former Deputy President Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka.
Lastly, we pay tribute to all women who have been activists and advocates of political, economic and financial emancipation, who actively strived for great gallant milestones for us to see the change we are seeing since 1994.
Women activism dates back to the times of the Bible. We can follow the pathways of key women who made their way into the Holy Bible (like they do in the Guinness Book of Records). We have women such as Sarah, Deborah, Hannah, Esther, Ruth and Rahab – to name a few, who were all activists and leaders in their own way during their time. You will find in the Bible readings that many women supported the mission of Jesus and the apostles. They raised the necessary resources required to support Him during His ministry.
A Difficult Economic situation…
We are heading towards national elections next year where we’ll be electing our future leadership. We need to remember that as business women, we are equally responsible to make the time to go and cast our votes when that day comes. This is our social responsibility as I believe we are the ones who are the dealmakers that can bring about the much needed change.
We need to take time out of our busy schedule to ensure that we put the right people in the right position, as our country needs sound political leadership to take us into the future. The issue of gender policies and implementation is of prime importance. These policies are a pressure point that these hard nut-men need to bring us on board. Therefore we need leadership that will progress this country and move it to the next trajectory.
Our country is going through pain economically. Thus it impacts our daily life financially and socially. In the recent City Press Wealth Index, it was reported that South Africa is one of the countries with the highest gini-coefficient in the world. There is macro-economics, there is micro-economics and there is the economics of your own business and your own home, and those we are in full control of and we can go through measures to overcome the abyss that we are in at the moment. As a patriot, I believe it’s like a cold front at the end of winter when spring is about to emerge.
StatsSA further reports that most of the industries have negatively contributed to the growth GDP, especially the mining, quarry and manufacturing industries. We’ve witnessed the recent poor performance of retailers’ which is a barometer of our socio-economic standing.
World events have affected the economy, wherein the dollar/rand rate plummeted due to the Turkish drama. Moreover, the VAT, inflation and fuel price have rocketed, and all these have ramifications on us as women, as most of us are the bread winners of our families and society – affecting all of us.
Of fundamental significance, the declining moral fibre in our communities is perturbing, affecting especially the youth, whose aspirations sadly, is mainly in pursuit of material wealth, thus lacking substance. Education doesn’t appear to be a priority to many of them and substance abuse is high and unemployment of graduates is not making the situation any easier.
Mothers are nurturers, and thus we ought to take heed of this situation and guide our youth towards good moral values and integrity. Particularly also the girl child and the recent phenomenon of ‘blessers’ that is rampant in society – as I believe it is in women’s hands as mothers to ensure that the future we want for them is the one we’ll also be proud to be part of … it is said ‘mma ngwana o tshwara thipa ka bohaleng’
Women in business and corporate…
This is a time of activism in the boardroom of the corporate world, because it controls the mainstream economy of our country. Women must therefore suit up, be courageous and take leadership seriously.
We applaud the Johannesburg Stock Exchange for the rule that requires all companies to submit their gender policies annually, we need more such policies in the corporate world and in state owned enterprises, so that to we also meet our sustainable development goals, which are moving at a snails’ pace.
As it is women’s month, we applaud the key appointments made recently; that of Vice Chancellors’ of UCT and Wits, Professor Mamokgethi and Dr Judy Dlamini, respectively. When one looks back at our history, one would never have thought that they’d be where they are today. They are self-empowered women and they used their knowledge to empower themselves. Their credentials speak for themselves.
“It’s not where you come from that makes you, but it’s your determination to succeed that does.”
Many are not aware of the tough wars that are fought in the boardrooms of corporate South Africa. There are continuous battles we have to fight to change the corporate culture and to crack this patriarchal society. Some of us become trouble maker activists in the boardroom to try to bring about change and to be disruptive in a rather too organised a situation that preserves the status quo. Hence, we need to bring more of women into the board rooms, as the more we can bring, the more change can be brought about.
Activism is required, as we saw this year – an executive took the CEO of a listed company to court on gender discriminatory comments. We need the courts as a platform for us to voice our unhappiness when we are cornered and marginalised, as we’ve got nowhere else to go to enforce this. Let us use all our might to bring about change.
We have examples of women who are ethical and demonstrated excellence in their work and are sought to clean up ailing state enterprises. Recently we heard how Khanyisile Kweyama, present here today, the chairperson of PRASA, was harassed and kidnapped but she still stands upright, determined to clean up the organisation amidst the threats.
Women such as Khanyi Dhlomo a media mogul of our time is making a mark through excellence and Daphne Mashile-Nkosi who is an Executive Chairperson and owner of a chrome mining company, has become a trailblazer in the mining industry. We also acknowledge Monhla Hlahla, former CEO of ACSA, who turned it into a profitable organisation, recently appointed to chair the board of Denel. This demonstrates that women can lead. We are not dull; we need to aspire to rise up the business and corporate ranks.
“Ethics, excellence and empowerment”…
We can see how in today’s time our heroines are these very women and many others in business and leadership positions, who are leading in ethical conduct.
Unethical conduct is a global phenomenon and for some odd reason, our country is flagged more than others, and I truly believe our own media doesn’t do us much good. I’d be in New York and will hear an American talking about what is happening in my country. We attract unnecessary attention; and yet the Enron debacle happened in the US, the Pottinger saga in Britain, thus we need to protect our turf – not that we must hide things – but we should guard against over narration of our issues. You can even predict what the headlines will be on Sunday!
In South Africa we tend to talk more about corruption in the public sector and less on the gross unethical behaviour that we observe day to day in corporate South Africa. As we speak today, none of the Steinhoff characters have been brought to book, and we are watching with keen interest when that will happen. Some much has been lost, about R24billion of public pensioner’s funds and R282billion of shareholders value has been eroded – isn’t it that a calamity! I’m pleased that finally they have been summoned to Parliament.
When you take up a position of leadership you must lead and act on principle; even when you have to take unpopular decisions like I had to this year, only to get a nod of approval from the very valuable stakeholder, the shareholders, for taking decisive action. This is the price we have to pay and we become unpopular for that, but we will be rewarded at the end.
I recently read about leadership where it said: a leader should lead with influence and not authority, but in this instance I beg to differ. I believe influence is great, but a bit of authority is required because without being cogent and decisive, nothing will ever happen. We need to ensure that with the positions we hold we can influence policies and enforce them.
It’s said… “Life begins at the end of your comfort zone”.
The matters regarding land in our country are to be noted. As women we are poised to take advantage of land that could be available to pursue commercial agriculture. Not subsistence farming as before, but commercial agriculture that brings into the country dollars and feeds the nation, increasing our export market. (Premier David Makhura on the Allocation of land)
I like the model of the ZZ2 – which is a commercial farming organisation – it partners with communities like the Makgoba tribe with their huge tracks of land produce avocado trees, which are set for export – it is said avocadoes are gold in the international market. They have also established the Moeketsi fresh produce market, where even the smallest farmer could bring their goods to the market. Their model excited me as it ties in with my theme and topic of “ethics, empowerment and excellence” – they strive for these three aspects through their commercial agricultural projects.
Similarly, in the mining sector, Anglo has done empowerment partnerships and transactions in the past months with women as shareholders. I am one of the fortunate ones to have been able to participate in the Seriti and New Largo transactions. This opportunity has leveraged me to be a significant player in the coal mining mainstream economy.
Such opportunities should be catalytic to bringing change, offering SMME’s opportunities for procurement, supply through enterprise development and community projects. This is what one is striving to achieve.
As women, we have to be on a constant look-out for opportunities. It is said “search for opportunity, what is out there – waiting for you to find”. And that’s what I believe empowerment of women is all about. It starts with us; we need to be self-empowered with a positive attitude before anyone empowers you.
I have told myself that I will seize each opportunity that meets my criterion and hence I believe there is no ceiling placed for me. I’m unstoppable in my dreams, because our country’s constitution – that our fore fathers and heroines have fought for – have set me free.
Let no man try and stop me, because they will not succeed.
I’ve seen men in corporate South Africa grow and grow exponentially into billions; and they are applauded when they do so; they are highly revered as doyens of industry. When a woman makes a few millions, she is told to be satisfied and make way for others!
My fellow sisters, allow me to invite you to join on this positive, aggressive journey, as it is not only for the privileged few; but it has been made for us all. We have to rise from our comfort zone and grab every opportunity. When we succeed, we should grasp it, hold on and never let it go. And I repeat, let no man try to stop you in your realms and dreams. We need to form formidable partnerships, collectively, so that when this happens, we are able to support each other. In Xhosa it’s said: ‘siyaqxokelela’… we pull our resources together, you can’t do it alone, but with others.
When women stand together as a collective, change happens, a dynamic force emanates. Just take the 1956 Women’s March – just imagine if all those women who marched to the Union Building today were entrepreneurs and owned small businesses and came together to contribute to the GDP of our country – where would the economy of our nation be now? Maybe we should emulate those women – on one condition – that we must all be prepared to work hard! Kuya theshwa la… akulalwa!!
‘It is said “behind every woman, it is a tribe of other successful women who have her back’
United Nations Women emphasised that “Empowering women to participate fully in economic life across all sectors is essential to build stronger economies; achieve internationally agreed goals for development and sustainability; and improve the quality of life for women, men, families and communities. The private sector is a key partner in efforts to advance gender equality and empower women”
‘Girls compete with each other and women empower one another’
We are empowered do so much in life. We need to be driven by ethical culture and virtue. What does it mean? It means we care about our business, employees, environment, society, communities and that you are empowered and should do this with humility and humanity. Private sector is the economic driver and that’s where the real change ought to be happening. Not only in government, everybody blames the government for lack of growth, but what is our individual contribution?
We have come a long way as women in this country. The global wave of gender issues, women empowerment and women in leadership roles in all spheres of life has really given an impetus to our plight, we are grateful to our government for taking a bold lead in this regard, through various laws and policies.
Though, it’s perturbing to read the recent Quarterly Labour Force Survey (QLSF) where it’s reported that 32% of managers in South Africa were women. They dominated the domestic worker, clerk or technician positions, with men dominating the rest.
To add another stroke to this grim picture, the recent City Press Wealth Index also mentioned that only one woman is in the top 50 of corporate executive earners.
As women of today we must be courageous and fearless – fearless of failure, fearless of success and fearless of tackling those difficult situations. We need a concerted effort and a culture that the youth can emulate. We need more role models.
We need to conduct ourselves ethically personally or in business and this should not leave people doubting our stand point or decision making skills.
From a progression perspective, excellence is a virtue that we must pursue at all times in whatever situation. The same is expected of women in the corporate and business world, since legacy has made it a man’s world. We have got to emerge strong and exceptional in our conduct at work.
We must compete and outdo our male counterparts to get the recognition we deserve. Women in today’s time need a survival kit for sustainability and for our excellence to be acknowledged. Thus, mediocrity won’t work for us – actually it will hold us back. And I want to add #DownWithMediocrity!
To make it to the top it takes tenacity and resilience to keep it together. You need passion and excitement each day – and this is what enables me to have boundless energy. You have to keep at it all the time for recognition. And you don’t stop trying.
Ethics and excellence go together… an ethical person will always seek to be diligent and excellent in their business dealings and relations with others.
Excellence is an incessant striving toward something better and a continuous improvement – it is therefore a direction not a destination. Aristotle the Greek philosopher once said “we are what we repeatedly do”. Thus, excellence is a habit not an act. In other words it is more about becoming, than being, a way of life that we women who are self-empowered need to reclaim.
Let’s continue in our quest to make a difference in the business and corporate sector. From the statistics I have mentioned, we need a transmogrification (to change or alter greatly and often with grotesque effect) of quantum leaping the issues of empowerment of women. Let’s face it, we still lag behind… –
What are we going to do about it?
I don’t want us to continue mourning each year, rather let’s use this time to find and bring about solutions. The policies are in place and we should start looking at things differently. Or do we need help from men, who are always willing to tell us where we are going wrong or how they see us fitting in the economic and social strata? ‘inzima lendaba bafazi’!… maybe we should make them feel more guilty than they are!
What I know is, we still need more aggression, we need to find solutions and not reflect too much on the problems as they stand. But devise a formula of how we can overcome. This is what our conversations should be about – on how we’d overcome this impasse of slow transformation. And I believe the answers are before us. Let us analyse as women the opportunities that exist in our country right now, and as a collective, let’s see how we can conquer and target those.
Let’s not operate in the dark, but rather be more informed as to where these opportunities are as part of our empowerment strategy going forward. Let me share some points for you to ponder as you leave here… in the following sectors:
- Financial Services: we control the financial spend whether it is ‘tikkies’ or rands. We need a strong multi women financial services outfit that we own and control, and in our numbers we can do it.
- Retail Market: we are the consumers and customers of the retail market. These retails are multibillion conglomerates; therefore, there should be significant women ownership and shareholding and strong procurement policies
- Agriculture: we can feed the nation and international market through elegant partnerships with those companies that are already established in commercial farming and know how. We should not strive to start from the beginning because it will take us too long. Let’s fast track and catapult in those established companies. There are huge opportunities in procurement supplying fresh food products to the retailers and for export.
- Healthcare: the NHI is coming… where are the opportunities in healthcare? Women are not present in the healthcare industry, namely the pharmaceuticals, hospital ownerships etc.
- Real Estate: there is a dire need for rental stock countrywide, and this includes student accommodation.
- Energy: women are not present or participating in the industry, if they are, they are merely appendages. Let us study the integrated resource plan that Minister Radebe is gazetting and lets’ provide our inputs – it’s coming out on Friday.
These are just some of the low hanging fruits that I believe are available and should be looking at as women, as a collective. There are many others that I can mention, where we are missing in action…
To do these things however, we are going to need money. Where will we find the money? The state owned financial institutions should come to the party and contribute to this transformation by affording us equity capital. There is no more BEE money around, as we can’t access it. Therefore, I believe this is the role the state owned financial institutions should play to assist us at favourable rates, not at exorbitant abnormal rates.
I believe the active way forward is to begin to dissect these issues at forums and platforms like this and maybe the PBF should arrange workshops that enable us to dissect these discussions further. Last year Minister Edna Molewa mentioned the Oceans Economy that is available as an opportunity; we should be looking at how we can access these opportunities.
Let me conclude with a quote by Madelein Albright when she said: ‘It took me be a long time to develop a voice, and now that I have it, I am not going to be silent’
Women let’s not be silent, , let us have those loud irritating voices that will reach those ears and get attention.
By Dr Anna Mokgokong
Dr Anna Mokgokong is an entrepreneur and business woman of note, founder of the Community Investments Holdings (CHI) and serves on the boards of many companies. This article is adapted from her speech to the Progressive women in Business Annual lunch, organised by the PBF in August 2018.