As South Africa’s 20th anniversary of post-apartheid democracy draws to a close, women have been playing a huge role in nation building, reconciliation and economically empower.
One woman who embarked on such a journey after spending so many years in diaspora recently won the prestigious 2014 Forbes Africa Businesswoman of the Year Award.
She continues to inspire and set the pace for fellow business leaders across the continent as one of the most successful entrepreneurs across Africa.
“My parents were my role models” said Phuthi Mahanyele, the outgoing Shanduka Group Chief Executive Officer.
“They came from families with little opportunities, but were able to create opportunities for other people. So watching them were great inspirations for me,”she said.
Born in one of the most famous townships in the pre-independence fight for freedom, Soweto, where opportunities are scarce, left the country to study in the United States of America at a teen age of 17.
Once described as sharpest brains of a black woman the country has ever produced by one of the veteran economists, 1993 was the first step into her inspirational journey.
She obtained a BA in Economics and that opened doors to a job at a well known New York firm that specialised in infrastructure development.
Mahanyele’ after studying and working in the United States of America, she had so many opportunities out there but decided to come back to her mother land, Africa. This is something that many Africans would not have considered as an option.
“It was the dawn of a new democratic South Africa. I was extremely fortunate to be afforded opportunity to study abroad by my parents but it’s always been my goal to come back and use the knowledge and skills I acquired for the advancement of my people” she said.
Africa has lost most of the finest talent to the world due to social-economic challenges but Phuthi decided to come back and confront them in a move that inspired fellow Africans.
Head of Project Finance at the Development Bank of Southern Africa was the next assignment then later became Managing Director for Shanduka Energy in 2004.
Shanduka Group founded by businessman-cum politician Cyril Ramaphosa had grown to become one of the biggest black-owned companies in Africa now led by Mahanyele who took reins from Ramaphosa.
Phuthi’s journey did not end there but was the start of another adventure.
In 2012 she made an inspirational speech at Women’s Leadership Conference arguing that greater role for women in business was necessary not only to rectify a social unjust but more importantly because there was “ an economic and business imperative to use the talents of women to solve problems that the world faces”
At the US-Africa Leaders Summit, she was the only African woman on the panel for “Expanding Communities” The New Era for Business in Africa.
“I believe that women look at themselves and see their potential. Many times you see their talent and capabilities but unfortunately they don’t have support or resources.
“In finding solutions to address the challenges that women face in advancement to leadership positions, I believe it starts with women being afforded opportunities to play a meaningful role. We have more women than men graduating from universities, yet they remain behind when it comes to opportunities particularly in private sector” she indicates.
She is the brains behind World’s Dignity Day that she believes ethics underlying the philosophy of dignity is that people must have a right to have equal opportunities in order to realise their potential. But she moaned that the impact of Dignity Day having increased substantially is still yet to make inroads in Africa.
“We need to look at areas that are challenging us as Africans. The key area for us is around the young people we have in Africa, 15 to 25 years olds make up 60 % of the population of the continent today.
“A key issue is to make sure that these people are educated to be able to contribute towards the continued growth of our economies on the continent. In looking at our partnerships at Shanduka we have been able to create partnerships with Shanduka McDonalds, today we employ 11 300 people in South Africa- what we have done is educate and employ young people coming into our business” Mahanyele says.
The inspiring entrepreneur is set to embark on a new adventure from June this year after resigning from Shanduka.
“Yes that is correct, l’m really excited about my new venture and lm looking forward to forming new relationships.”
By Solomon Mutasa