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WWith so many inspirational women outside of travel and tourism flying the SA flag high, here are a few of our top picks of inspirational local women leading the way in their respective fields.
Award-winning social entrepreneur, Thato Kgatlhanye is an inspirational South African social entrepreneur and CEO of Rethaka (Pty) Ltd. Her successful woman-owned business is focused on social change and improving the lives of the less fortunate. She is noted for green innovations such as the repurposed schoolbags, which are designed to use solar to charge during the day in order to provide much-needed light for children in the evenings to study and do homework. For all her hard work and dedication, she has won many accolades including the SAB Foundation Social Innovations Award in 2013, the Red Bull Amaphiko Social Entrepreneur Award, Special Ministerial Award at the CPSI Public Sector Innovation Awards, the 21 Icon Award, and International Elle Impact Award. She has also been featured on CNBC Africa and Forbes.
Simply known as Pumeza, throughout the world, this South African songstress is an operatic soprano who has taken the world by storm as one of the most prominent female singers to have made it onto the world stage. On joining the Stuttgart Opera, Pumeza went on to perform on world stages in renowned operas such as La Boheme, De Zauberflote, Le Nozze di Fiaro, Carmen and the Minotar. She released her first debut album, ‘Voice of Hope’ in 2014 and her second ‘Arias’ in May 2022. Pumeza graduated cum laude from the University of Cape Town College of Music and was awarded scholarships at the Royal College of Music and Royal Opera House in Covent Garden.
Advocate, professor, and former South African Public Protector, Thuli Madonsela is truly an icon of South African democracy. Through her work as Public Protector and advocate she has demonstrated her incredible knowledge and extensive background in applied constitutional and administrative law principles. From her humble beginnings, Thuli went on to graduate with a BA in Law from the University of Swaziland, an LLB from the University of the Witwatersrand, and an LLD (honoris causa) from the University of Stellenbosch – later receiving another LLD (honoris causa) from the University of Cape Town. She served in both the ANC and UDF but declined political office believing it would not allow her to make the best contribution to society. So while she declined the position of ANC MP in the first post-apartheid Parliament, she helped draft the final constitution of South Africa at this time. She was later appointed to the position of Public Protector by President Jacob Zuma, though this did not deter her from investigating the presidency and other prominent politicians and businessmen for corruption. Her legacy is one of taking a stand for the public and holding leaders accountable for their actions. Professor Madonsela is an avid mountaineer who has summited Mt Kilimanjaro twice under the #Trek4Mandela campaign and for the Social Justice M-Plan. She also regularly hikes for the #Action4Inclusion campaign, an initiative to end student debt.
One of the top three most published scientists, Tebello Nyokong, is a world-renowned South African chemist and professor at Rhodes University and best known in the industry for her work in photo-dynamic therapy for cancer treatment. Not only has Tebello been lauded for her research in nano-technology but her work has seen her receive the Order of Mapungubwe from the Presidency of South Africa, the South African Chemical Institute Gold Medal and the National Research Foundation’s Lifetime Achievement Award. She was inducted into the Lesotho Hall of fame in 2010 and received the L’Oréal-UNESCO Award for Women in Science in 2009. Growing up as a disadvantaged child in impoverished conditions, Nyokong cites her interest in science as having started in the mountains of Lesotho where she had to take care of sheep.
Semenya is undoubtedly not your average South African woman. While she is without a doubt our most famous female sprinter and world champion middle-distance runner, she has had to face an enormous amount of prejudice that resulted in her having to deal with a battering of questions, testing and worldwide criticism following gender testing, by the IAAF. Though the results were never disclosed, the IAAF cleared her for participation in international competitions as a woman. She was subsequently included on the British Magazine, New Statesman’s list of 50 People that Matter in 2010 for casting a spotlight on our traditional expectations of women and how a changing world requires us to re-evaluate those expectations.