Prior to her marrying Prince Harry and being bestowed the Royal title of Duchess of Sussex, Meghan Markle had the DNA of feminism, activism, gender equality and female participation. These attributes may have been qualities she was born with and subsequently nurtured by her parents who wanted their daughter to be empathetic to those less fortunate than she was. We all know by now how, at the age of 11 years old, Duchess Meghan wrote to Proctor and Gamble, Linda Ellerbee and Senator Hillary Clinton to have an advertisement changed because she viewed it as “sexist”. She said “something in her just didn’t feel right about the advert”. At such a young age, she believed that if something was not right, one had to say so and do something about it, and that she did. She believed she could make a difference, and she continues to make a difference.
Duchess Meghan continues to be who she has always been, and thankfully, being a senior member of the British Royal Family has not altered her passion and beliefs. Since becoming a Duchess, her activism and participation in world issues, particularly where women are concerned, continue undeterred. The patronages and charities the Duchess has taken on reflect who she is and what she believes and stands for.
On their recent Royal Tour of Southern Africa, and whilst her husband was away in Botswana, Angola and Malawi, on 26th September 2019, Duchess Meghan hosted a private breakfast with nine inspiring women. It would appear that these women were chosen for their leadership, strength, resilience, courage and quite simply for daring to do what others would not or could not do. I believe they were chosen because the Duchess could see a bit of herself in each of these women and more importantly, she saw them as women she could learn from and be inspired by. In Omid Scobie’s article for Harper’s Bazaar, he states that the meeting was for the Duchess “to better understand the roles they play and have played for their country and their communities”.
Let us meet these women and learn something about them which hopefully, will inspire us to be a “force for change” and propel us to engage and participate more meaningfully in our communities. As way to ignite conversation, I will provide a little background of each participant and from that we can glean why we think they were chosen by Duchess Meghan. Kindly share in the comments section what you think about the women, what resonates with you as readers and why you believe they were chosen. Some aspects of their careers are obvious why they were chosen but let’s look deeper and learn something new together.
Lindiwe Mazibuko (39 years old), is an academic, former politician, musician and the former Parliamentary Leader for the opposition Democratic Alliance (DA). Lindiwe has been called a “rising star in Parliament” and a possible future DA leader. In a tightly contested race in 2011, she was elected the new DA parliamentary leader having beaten the incumbent Athol Trollip to become the first non-white person to lead the Democratic Alliance in parliament.
Towards the end of her tenure, Lindiwe was described as “arrogant” by members in the DA’s caucus in Parliament.
I am not South African and therefore do not know anything about Lindiwe but it struck me as interesting that when strong women put themselves out for service, usually they are described as “angry”, dare I say it “uppity” and “full of themselves”. But it does not appear to me, whilst researching on Lindiwe, that others’ opinion of her deterred her in anyway. (Source: Wikipedia)
Sonja De Bruyn Sebotsa: Founder and Principal Partner, Identity Partners.
Sonja has 22 years’ experience in Investment Banking and Investments in South Africa and internationally. She is the Founder and Principal Partner at Identity Partners, a Johannesburg based women-led investment holding company that has operating businesses in Corporate Finance Advisory, Fund Management and Mining & Resources. Sonja chairs the Mid-Market Fund at Ethos and contributes to the firm’s wider transformation activities. Ethos and Identity Partners have a Cooperation Agreement which encompasses a range of activities to bring more women and black professionals into the private equity space. (Source: LinkedIn)
Her investment company identity Partners, targets its social impact through the Identity Development Fund which manages R145m million to fund women and youth entrepreneurs (where 53 businesses have been funded to date).
She holds a Bachelor of Laws, LLB (Hons) degree from London School of Economics (1993), Masters in Economics and Business from McGill University, Canada and has completed the Harvard Executive Programme.
Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng:
Rosina Mamokgethi Phakeng GCOB (age 52 years) is a Professor of Mathematics Education who, in 2018, became a vice-chancellor of the University of Cape Town. She has been the vice principal of research and is a full professor and Deputy Vice Chancellor for Research and Internationalisation at the University of Cape Town. (Source: Wikipedia)
Prof. Phakeng is a prolific and well respected researcher with 80 research papers published! Among many awards, she was recognised by CEO magazine as the most influential woman academic in Africa in 2014.
She is the founder of a non-profit, Adopt-a-learner foundation, that supports students from rural areas to acquire higher education qualifications. See more of her impressive Bio.
Sophia Theresa Williams-de Bruyn:
Aged 81 years old, Sophia was the oldest out of the group of women the Duchess met. Sophia is a former South African anti-apartheid activist. She was the first recipient of the Women’s Award for exceptional national service. Sophia was born in Villageboard, an area that was home to people of many different nationalities. She attributes her sense of empathy for others to her mother.
Like the Duchess, Sophia is of mixed parentage and during the apartheid system, she was classified as “coloured”. While she was in upper primary school, started working in a textile factory during vacations, to ensure that when school started she will have pocket money. The workers in the textile factory asked her to help “solve their problems with factory bosses,” and she eventually became the shop steward, helping to articulate the workers’ grievances. Unfortunately, she never returned to school and continued working at the factory. Later, she became an executive member of the Textile Workers Union in Port Elizabeth.
Her political career began in the 1950s, when she was appointed as a full-time organizer of the Coloured People’s Congress in Johannesburg.
On August 9, 1956, at the age of 18 and the youngest of the leaders, she led the march of 20 000 women on the union buildings of Pretoria along with Lilian Ngoyi, Rahima Moosa, Helen Joseph, Albertina Sisulu and Bertha Gxowa to protest the requirement that women carry pass books as part of the pass laws. After the Coloured Population Act was passed, Sophia was assigned by the Coloured People’s Congress to work on issues relating to pass laws. She is the last living leader of the Women’s March.
In the late 1950s, she married Henry Benny Nato De Bruyn, an activist in the liberation movement, and an Umkhonto we Sizwe soldier. (Umkhonto we Sizwe in Xhosa language is “Spear of the Nation” and the armed wing of the African National Congress). Sophia’s home thus became a haven for other anti-apartheid activists.
She went on to complete her studies and obtain her teacher diploma by 1977, all while working as an administrator for the ANC in Lusaka, Zambia, where her husband had been exiled in the early 1960s.
She returned to South Africa with her husband after the ban on ANC and its activities were lifted. Her late husband served as South Africa’s ambassador to Jordan until he died in 1999. She was a member of the Commission of Gender Equality before joining the Gauteng Legislature in 2004 and becoming its deputy speaker from 2005 until 2009, before moving to national parliament.
In 1999, She was awarded the Ida Mntwana Award in Silver. In 2001, she was the first to be awarded the Women’s Award for exceptional national service and in the same year received the Mahatma Ghandi Award. (Source: Wikipedia) More about Sophia.
Mbali Ntuli (age 31 years old):
A politician and a member of the Democratic Alliance, Mbali is the former Provincial Campaigns Director for the party in Kwazulu-Natal (KZN). A native of Kwazulu-Natal (the most famous and the largest South African tribe, with approximately 10–12 million people spread across KZN, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, and Tanzania), she currently serves as a member of the KZN Provincial Legislator and serves as the DA KZN Spokesperson on Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (CoGTA). She is a former leader of the Democratic Alliance Youth, the youth wing of South Africa’s official opposition party.
She holds a Bachelor of Social Science degree from Rhodes University, and runs a taxi business, a family owned enterprise founded by her father, a well-known South African taxi owner and founder of the Kwazulu-Natal Taxi Association.
Mbali has received several accolades; notable among them was being named one of South Africa’s 200 Young People to Watch in May 2011, and one of the Top 40 Power Women by the Destiny magazine.
In February 2013, Mbali was named a Trustee of C.R.O.W (Centre for Rehabilitation of Wildlife) citing a passion for wildlife as reason for her acceptance of the position.
Mbali is active in politics and has held several positions. She held the office of Chairperson of the Federal DA Youth from 2010; and was elected on 18 May 2011 as a councillor for the community of Inanda in the eThekwini Municipality; and became DA Youth Federal Leader in 2013.
She was elected to the KZN legislature after the 2014 general election. In 2018, she left the Legislature to take up a staff position for the DA in KZN, as the party’s Provincial Campaign Director (PCD), when she was tasked to help grow the DA’s support in KwaZulu-Natal in the 2019 elections. While the DA in KZN lost their position as the Official Opposition in the province, the party did manage to grow their support from 12.76% to 13.9%, and subsequently, increased the number of seats that they hold in the KZN Legislature, from 10 to 11.
In the 2019 elections, Mbali appeared 2nd on the provincial list for the Democratic Alliance, and has taken up her seat in the KZN Provincial Legislature, as the DA’s Spokesperson on Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (CoGTA). (Source: Wikipedia)
Born in August 1993 (the youngest in this group of women), Nompendulo is described in an interview with The Citizen as an “energetic gender activist driven by the plight of the country’s youth and women.” Her political life appears to have started in her university days where she served as the Student Representative Council president at the University of Witwatersrand. She now sits in the South African parliament as an MP with the African National Congress.
Nompendulo pledged to channel her energy and sharp knowledge to do well for South Africa – and said she would use parliament to pursue her passion to fight for the causes of young people and women.
However, while feeling strongly that a lot more needed to be done for the youth, she was conscious of the fact that she was no longer a student activist but was now part of legislature and governance, a restrictive space with a lot of red tape. “I am very passionate about women, youth and education and the African continent. I am passionate about education in a broader sense, in a lived experience type of way,” she said. “We need to have more young people representing the country. The current representation is not sufficient in terms of demographics and proportional representation of young people and, most importantly, women. This is something that I am passionate about”.
She is also an advocate for education and said in her interview that “I want young people to have access to education, regardless of where they come from. They must have access to good education and they must succeed in the education space. That speaks to both basic and higher education”.
She praised all efforts by the previous administration to fight gender-based violence. “We must call out this type of behaviour, we must call out patriarchal and chauvinist nature of society and address it. We must have a conversation to say we can’t have society where women are marginalised.
Nompendulo says “I grew up in a space where you lead and you serve”. (Source: The Citizen)
Siviwe Gwarube: Executive Director of Communications for the Democratic Alliance.
Siviwe had the desire to be a family lawyer however, having completed her undergrad in law, politics and philosophy, and burdened with student loan debts, she put her studies on hold to look for work. In 2011 she had the good fortune to be part of the DA Young Leader’s Programme of 2011 which facilitated her passion for politics and in particular the DA. (Source: DA website) (Source: The Citizen).
Siviwe is currently an MP, having been elected this year after holding various communications positions in government. She serves on the portfolio committee on health in parliament.
Dr Mamphela Ramphele:
Dr Mamphela is a politician, a former activist against apartheid, a medical doctor, an academic and businesswoman. She is a former Vice-Chancellor at the University of Cape Town and a one-time Managing Director at the World Bank.
In 1955, Ramphele witnessed a conflict between a racist Dominee (Afrikaner Church minister) and the people of the village of Kranspoort that contributed to her political awakening.
While at university, Dr Mamphela became increasingly involved in student politics and anti-apartheid activism, becoming one of the founders of the Black Consciousness Movement (BCM), where she met her partner, anti-apartheid activist Steve Biko. Under apartheid rule, Dr Mamphela faced banning orders but that did not dim her light in activism. In 2004, she was voted 55th in the Top 100 Great South Africans in 2004. (Source: Wikipedia)
See more of Dr. Ramphele’s fascinating biography.
Judy is described as someone who is “passionate about education and leadership development”. She has been credited as being among the instrumental players in the successful execution of the 2013-2018 strategy to double the number of scholars in residence. Judy began her career in banking, where she specialized in’ organization development and systems change”. She holds a bachelors degree in psychology and an honors degree in industrial/organisational psychology both from Nelson Mandela university, as well as a masters in organisational psychology from Columbia University in New York. She is currently the CEO of the Mandela Rhodes Foundation.
Being “passionate about education”, Judy has been invited as a keynote speaker, panellist, moderator and programme director on several public platforms locally and internationally, for institutions such as the Graça Machel Trust, Obama Foundation, Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls, Oxford University, and various provincial and national school principals association conferences. Judy has published work in the Journalist and Thought Leader. (Source: Mandela Rhodes Foundation)