Women's day south africa influential women

Photo: Envato Elements

Women’s Day 2019: South Africa’s ten most influential women

To celebrate National Women’s Day, we look at ten of South Africa’s most influential and inspiring women.

Women's day south africa influential women

Photo: Envato Elements

We have no shortage of inspiring and motivational women in South Africa, that’s for sure. It’s only fitting that, on National Women’s Day, we pay tribute to South Africa’s most influential women.

It’s been a long road since 1956, when more than 20 000 women marched to the Union Buildings in Pretoria and demanded an end to Pass Laws. The protest greatly contributed to attainment of equality for all South Africans.

“They fought because they did not want to carry a pass. I carry my pass every day in my heart. Because as a woman, I can’t walk freely on the streets. We can’t claim our freedom as women in this country and so we must continue the fight.”

Fatima Meer

Without the active participation of the ten influential women on this list, South Africa wouldn’t be where it is today. Women rule the world. And also, the business sector, the entertainment industry, and sports.

South Africa’s influential women

Caster Semenya – Olympic gold medalist

caster semenya
South African Caster Semenya reacts after winning in the women’s 2000m race during the France’s LNA (athletics national association) Pro Athle Tour meeting on 11 June 2019 at the Jean-Delbert stadium in Montreuil, a Paris neighbouring suburb. – The double 800m Olympic champion, who was racing for the first time since a controversial new gender ruling came into effect, finished in 5min 38.19sec ahead of Ethiopian pair Hawi Feysa and Adanech Anbesa. Photo AFP/Geoffroy Van Der Hasselt

Caster Semenya can easily be described as South Africa’s most influential sportsperson. Caster keeps winning, despite the number of times she’s been ridiculed, and the many battles she’s faced.

From being investigated by international sporting bodies to having her medals taken away, to being reinstated again.

Caster has looked on as her name is dragged through the mud but yet she continues to rise.

She is a 2016 Olympic gold medalist and was included in the 21 Icons third series that same year, celebrating the country’s inspiring leaders.

She is also the first woman to be named ‘Most Influential South African by Avance Media.

Thuli Madonsela – South Africa’s former Public Protector

South African Public Protector, Thuli Madonsela smiles for the media as she arrives for the 20th annual Opening of the South African Parliament on 13 February 2014, in Cape Town. Photo: AFP/Rodger Bosch

Thuli Madonsela is an advocate and professor of law, and was instrumental in drafting South Africa’s constitution. She also brought to light the R246m worth of upgrades at former President Jacob Zuma’s Nkandla homestead.

South Africa’s former public protector, keeps the inspiration coming, one just has to scroll through her Twitter feed every day is enough motivation to carry us through.

Through life, I have learned that the most important critic whose judgement of my actions matters, is my conscience.

Gerda Steyn – Comrades record-breaker

South Africa’s Gerda Steyn raises her arms as she crosses the finish line, winning the women’s section of the Two Oceans ultra-marathon, on 31 March 2018, in Cape Town. – This is the 49th edition of the race, which is over 56km, and comes close to both the Indian and Atlantic oceans, hence it’s name. (Photo: AFP/Rodger Bosch

Gerda Steyn notably earned a R1 000 000 payday as she shattered the up run record-beating second-placed Alexandra Morozova by more than 18 minutes back in June at the Comrades.

Steyn started running in 2014 after she moved from Johannesburg to Dubai to work as a quantity surveyor. She entered the Dubai Marathon the following year and the rest, as they say, is history.

“To get a podium place at Comrades takes a lot of training, but more importantly a strong mind. I would say 70% of the race is a mental game.”

Sibongile Sambo – Founder of SRS Aviation

Sibongile R. Sambo ‏ south africa women
Caption: “#YouthConnekt, I am excited to be here to meet and angage with our future leaders#Youth of Africa. I will share my experience and Learn!” / Image via Twitter: @SRSAVIATION

Sibongile Sambo is the pioneering founder of the first 100% Black Female Owned Aviation company in South Africa. She ventured into a male-dominated industry in 2004 and hasn’t turned back yet.

SRS Aviation offers clients professional and personalised flight options to destinations around the world, while her entrepreneurial spirit has earned her a string of accolades and awards, including the Top Entrepreneur at the Fidentia Awards.

“I have a philosophy that I’m where I am today because somebody invested in me. It’s my opportunity now to invest other people,”

Thulile Mthethwa – Founder of Memeza Shout Crime Prevention

I had the opportunity to meet Thulile Mthethwa at the Google Impact Challenge Africa Awards where Memeza was crowned as one of the winners.

Mthethwa – a software developer turned social entrepreneur – had been a victim of crime countless times. When a family member was brutally attacked in 2012, she vowed to spend her time fighting crime.

“[Being selected as a finalist at the Google Impact Challenge Awards means] we are doing the right thing, we’re doing it the right way, and we should not give up. We should go on because crime and gender-based violence affect all of us.”

Dr Mamphele Ramphele – South African Politician and Activist

Dr Mamphela Ramphele
Mamphela Ramphele at Unlocking South Africa’s Potential: The Challenge for New Political Parties on 28 May 2013. Photo: Wikimedia Commons/Chatham House

In addition to being the former President of Agang SA, Dr Mamphele Ramphele also holds senior positions at Gold Fields, the World Bank and Circle Capital Ventures.

Dr Ramphele’s political awakening came at a very young age, when her sister Mashadi was expelled from high school after she demonstrated against the celebrations of South Africa becoming a Republic in 1961.

Even though Dr Ramphele exited South African politics in 2014, she still holds a special place in the hearts of many South African women.

Sophia Williams-De Bruyn – Former South African anti-apartheid activist

 sophia williams-de bruyn
Image via Twitter: @21Icons

Described as one of the cornerstones of South African politics, Sophia Williams-De Bruyn led the Women’s March in 1956 and was the founding member of the South African Congress of Trade Unions.

“I felt a lump in my throat when I looked at this large army of women: dignified women, courageous women. I felt so humbled to be part of such bravery.”

She was also the first woman to be awarded the Women’s Award for exceptional national service, the same year she received the Mahatma Gandhi Award. Williams-De Bruyn is currently a provincial legislator in Gauteng.

Maria Ramos – Finance veteran

maria ramos south africa women
Maria Ramos, Group Chief Executive, Absa Group, South Africa; Global Agenda Council on the Future of Africa, speaks during the session ‘Rethinking Africa’s Growth Strategy’ at the Congress Centre at the Annual Meeting 2010 of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland on 28 January 2010. Photo: World Economic Forum/Remy Steinegger.

Ramos’ career began as a waste clerk at Barclays. Today, she is one of the leading figures in South Africa’s finance industry, as well as the former CEO of Transet and former CEO of Absa.

Fortune magazine ranked Ramos as one of the 50 Most Powerful women in business, and she is currently the Chairman of the Banking Association of South Africa.

Yvonne Chaka Chaka – President of the Princess of Africa Foundation, Activist and Singer

Yvonne Chaka Chaka
Yvonne Chaka Chaka, South African Legendary Singer, performs at the 30th Annual Awards Gala hosted by The Africa-America Institute at Gotham Hall on 22 September 2014 in New York City. Photo: AFP/Thos Robinson

You may know Yvonne Chaka Chaka as a fantastic singer and an incredible songwriter, but she’s also the founder of Princess of Africa Foundation, and inspires South African women to keep aiming high.

In addition, she’s also an honorary colonel in the South African Air Force (SAAF) and an UNICEF ambassador of goodwill. In 2012, she met with African leaders at the United Nations to talk about LGBT rights within Africa.

“Women are the strength of the world, I gather my strength from the women who came before me […] I have no cause to regret anything I’ve done in my life.”

Basetsana Kumalo – Miss South Africa and businesswoman

Basetsana Kumalo is a former Miss South Africa, as well as a businesswoman, entertainer and television producer and presenter.

She is involved at ChildLine, Take a Girl Child to Work, Reach for a Dream and various other foundations, while her own foundation – Romeo and Basetsana Kumalo Family Foundation – supports orphaned children.

“If you’re dealing with difficulties, ask yourself, “Have I done my best?” None of us are perfect, but if you do your utmost with honesty and integrity, you will overcome any challenges.”