For many women, Women’s Day is a 24-hour time-out from traditional female roles, a day when you’re feted and celebrated. But there’s a far, far bigger backstory to SA’s Women’s Day. It also presents an opportunity for us to reflect on how far South African women have come in their quest for a better, more equitable society.
Every year, August represents Women’s Month, and on the 9th, Women’s Day. It’s an historic day, one which marks the anniversary of the 1956 protest march of 20 000 women on the Union Buildings in Pretoria. They were protesting against the Pass laws during the apartheid era, the march organised by members of the Federation of South African women (FSA) and led by four women, Lillian Ngoyi, Sophia de Bruyn, Helen Joseph and Rahima Moosa. The women sent a clear, public message – they refused to be silenced or have their freedom taken from them by unjust laws.
The 20 000 carried a petition containing over 100 000 signatures. After handing over the petition, they remained standing in silence for 30 minutes outside the Union Buildings in a powerful, non-violent display of unity. This was followed by a protest song composed in honour of the occasion, Wathint’ Abafazi, Wathint’ Imbokodo – “You strike a woman, you strike a rock”, a phrase which has now come to represent South African women’s courage and strength.
This march was described as one of South Africa’s most disciplined, dignified and emotional demonstrations. The women also made a unanimous decision that if the police tried to stop them, every person would go down on her knees to pray, and if anyone was arrested, they would all be arrested in the name of solidarity.
At the end of the protest, the women sang Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika, before moving away peacefully.
In 2016, in honour of the 1956 women’s protest march, the Women’s Living Heritage Monument at Lillian Ngoyi Square in Pretoria, was unveiled. The artwork and murals tell the story of women’s contribution to the liberation struggle and features statues of the four women who led the protest.
Women’s Month and Day continue to draw attention to the many important issues that women in the country still face: domestic violence, discrimination in the workplace, unequal pay, sexual harassment, lack of education for girls and much more.
But it also provides an opportunity to show how far women have come; to talk about the strength and resilience of women and their contribution to society and the country. South African women – like women the world over – have made substantial progress in empowering women and achieving gender equality.
This year’s theme is #WhatWomenWant and focuses on promoting gender equality for a sustainable future. So, while you’re having your mani and pedi treat courtesy of the men in your life, pause – use it as an opportunity to think about #WhatWomenWant. And for the men in our lives, #WhatWomenWant is for you, too. It’s a time to celebrate the achievements of women, whether social, political, economic or cultural.
Scroll down to read about some of the many women in our community who are making a difference.
Marketing manager, Excellerate Brand Management
Please tell us a little about your background. I’ve been told over the years I have every woman’s dream job – I work in a mall. Ha! Ha! I’ve spent the last 16 years in the shopping centre and property management industry – more specifically in brand management, marketing and events. It’s been a wild and exciting journey – with many memorable moments.
Who inspires you the most and why? I think inspiration comes from different individuals, at different times of your life. I find individuals who exhibit great leadership, ethics and problem-solving skills to be inspiring. I’m also inspired by changemakers, those who ACT to see change for the better – whether this be social change or in the business environment. It takes grit and determination to go against the grain and see dreams turn into reality.
From your experience, how does one build a successful brand in business? To me a successful brand is one that is customer centric, and one that finds delightful ways to meet their customer’s needs. Brand experience trumps the visual identity and marketing messages we share and successful brands get this right. With the world throwing us “curveballs” on a regular basis and “new normal” being a far too familiar term – marketing and branding strategies need to remain fluid and quick-to-act when necessary.
Your best advice to aspiring female entrepreneurs? I’ve been given so many great pieces of advice over the years, but the one that sticks with me is a quote by Nelson Mandela: I never lose, I either win or I learn. If we embrace defeats as a learning opportunity, then we can face problems with a different perspective – to lose the battle, win the war. Life is about meeting new challenges each day and making the most of them.
Attorney and Businesswoman
Please tell us a little about your background. I am a qualified litigation attorney with my own practice, focusing largely in civil, labour and commercial work. In addition, I have a good practice of family law focusing on divorce litigation, and have strived to assist woman in divorce and maintenance disputes. Generally, women have always been at a disservice, and the profession being so male dominated, very few women are adequately represented for the best outcome for themselves.
In addition to law, I recently acquired my own laser and aesthetic clinic. It has been a challenge being in a different industry, but I took the time to learn the business, and today I’m seeing the benefits.
Who inspires you the most and why? Empowered women inspire me. Women who have started businesses, worked hard for their success, and achieved a status and standing in society. My dad is an inspiration to me, to have achieved a successful foundation for his business through his own self-determination, perseverance and hard work.
From your experience, how does one build a successful brand in business? In order to be successful at what you choose to do, you have to set standards for your achievement, work towards your goals, focus, and make sacrifices. You need a strong mind, a strong will and dedication. Success motivates me.
Your best advice to aspiring female entrepreneurs? Keep trying. Don’t give up. Aim to achieve your goals. Do everything you can to make it work, and if you fail, you know you did your best. It’s important to make sure you do what you enjoy doing. That is the key to success, be happy with the work or business you do, it makes you want to be there.
Business owner, Showerhaus
Please tell us a little about your background. Except for the first few years after college, I have always worked for myself. I have always been in sales and working hard and increasing sales has always inspired me to work harder. I have owned my own business, Showerhaus, for the past 18 years. Initially I did just about everything myself, but now employ 17 staff members, who enable us to continue growing our business.
Who inspires you the most and why? After much thought, I believe it is Margaret Hirsch. I love the way she motivates people and is always posting such uplifting comments on her social media pages.
Although she seems to be very busy and so hard working, she manages to find the time to holiday with her husband. It doesn’t matter how old you are, you are never too old to motivate and to try and achieve more in all spheres of life as well as to try and inspire others.
From your experience, how does one build a successful brand in business? Customer service is number one and will always be the most important factor when running a business. A customer should never have to phone and ask a question. They should be kept updated from their first contact with your company. We pride ourselves on the reputation we have built up over the years on supplying a quality product together with the best customer service.
Your best advice to aspiring female entrepreneurs? Work hard! There are no shortcuts. Dedicate yourself to growing your customer base and ensure you look after each and every customer like they were your only customer.
Please tell us a little about your background. Known to most as “Dr Maxine”, my life in the medical field started in Durban when I qualified with my MBCHB cum laude in 2017. I am a general practitioner with a passion for aesthetic medicine, skin health and women’s health. I am the proud founder of a medical and aesthetic practice in uMhlanga.
Who inspires you the most and why? I’ve always admired the iconic Coco Chanel. I’m inspired by her rebellious spirit and the way in which she pushed the societal boundaries of what is expected of a woman. I am constantly reminding myself of her success story while building my own empire and pursuing my dreams.
From your experience, how does one build a successful brand in business? I am still learning myself, however, I have found that a brand needs to be consistent, and it needs to stand for something. For me, the quality of my client’s experience is essential. A brand needs to deliver a reliable, professional and client-centred experience. I also believe a strong company ethos is vital. The values of a brand filter down from the top, and you need to set the standard and be an example. You need to believe in what you offer.
Your best advice to aspiring female entrepreneurs? I have a few simple pointers that I feel every female entrepreneur should be aware of. Firstly, failure is inevitable. You will mess up. It’s all part of the journey and you have to find lessons in those moments. Secondly, the better you do, the harder it gets. Do not let the fear of “making waves” deter you from your dreams. And lastly, it’s an emotional rollercoaster. Some days everything runs perfectly, and other days you question why you ever started. That’s normal – just remind yourself of your “why”, and keep to the path.
Owner, Platinum Marketing
Please tell us a little about your background. I began my career in the hospitality industry overseeing sales and marketing for the Mount Nelson Hotel. Years later I joined the Beverly Hills Hotel in uMhlanga, and was tasked with setting brand standards and a business plan with a strong events calendar.
In 2020, I launched Platinum Marketing, assisting companies in positioning and cementing a brand philosophy, with a strong story. Working and collaborating with luxe brands, I curate co-branded experiences.
Who inspires you the most and why? Being Women’s Month I would like to honour women in my life:
My mother – who taught me to “Get up and show up no matter how you feel.”
My sister – “Fall down seven times, but get up eight.”
My daughter – my reason for being, and for being an example of humility and for pushing me to be the best version of myself.
Liz Mc Grath – who started The Liz Mc Grath Collection – a trio of luxury hotels – at the age of 62.
Annette Kessler – food editor and founder of showcook.com – for being a shining light and example of encouraging and fostering young people in hospitality and passing on kindness and pearls of wisdom to everyone she meets.
From your experience, how does one build a successful brand in business? I have learnt that your brand cannot be divided into a personal and business image. Be true to yourself and surround yourself with people who push you to be the best version of yourself. Find what sets you apart from everyone else, what ignites passion and drive, and gives you focus. This will become your purpose, and inspiration every day. Take the little risks that make big dreams possible, and find work that will promote self-expression, growth, and gratitude.
Your best advice to aspiring female entrepreneurs? Be ready for failure. A set-back is never as frightening as not trying at all.
Owner, Pro Talent
Please tell us a little about your background. I started my recruitment agency, Pro Talent, 28 years ago and it has grown into a national and international placement agency covering many career fields. I have also written two books, am a motivational speaker and a business coach. I started The Robin Hood Foundation 17 years ago.
Who inspires you the most and why? I am not inspired by one particular individual or role model, but by elements I see in various people. I am inspired when I see courage, generosity of spirit, bold thinking, people making a difference in the world for all the right reasons, and when I see people achieving what they never thought they could do.
From your experience, how does one build a successful brand in business? I think a successful brand is a consistent one, that is based on your top values, that are lived out each day in a congruent manner. A brand isn’t anything fake or synthetic. It’s about being a good, decent human. I think the best way to build a great brand is to always add extra value. Pick your battles and allow others to be right. Always act with complete integrity and always do what you believe to be the right thing. Be 10% kinder – make people feeling better off after dealing with you.
Your best advice to aspiring female entrepreneurs? Believe in yourself. Think bigger. Do something you are really passionate about, that you are good at, and that helps the world. You have never arrived in business so stay humble and do the work. Support other women. It is not a race where there is only one winner. Develop a tribe of fellow like-minded entrepreneurs who are your network. Don’t neglect yourself and your family in the pursuit of your business goals. Be comfortable with things being done but not being perfect.
CHRISTY ANN DU PLESSIS
Physiotherapist and online fitness coach
Please tell us a little about your background. I am an online fitness trainer and qualified physiotherapist, and recently launched my own activewear range. I have always been a fitness enthusiast and knew I would end up in the fitness industry. I started online workouts during lockdown and did not expect it to take off the way it did. Ladies can enjoy a tailored 30-minute “live” workout with me daily, without the need for any equipment. Additionally, ladies can sculpt their physiques by joining our online resistance workouts where we use dumbbells and bands. I also take part in a TV show on Supersport TV, Showmax and Cable called 5 Colour Fitness. Finally, I am a body coach with my motto being “Believe, Move, Nourish.” A fit and healthy lifestyle is a balance between thinking right, staying active and eating well.
Who inspires you the most and why? I am inspired by intelligent, successful businesswomen in South Africa who are able to juggle the responsibilities of motherhood and be successful in business. I am also motivated and inspired by the women who show up to do my workouts every day because I know how beneficial it is to them.
From your experience, how does one build a successful brand in business? While building my brand – ChristyAnn.fit – I have seen that consistency and adding value to other people will always build trust. People should know what to expect when they interact with you or your brand.
Your best advice to aspiring female entrepreneurs? Follow your heart and pursue your dreams. Always do the right thing, even if it hurts. Build relationships with people who add value to your life and listen more than you speak.
Area principal, Pam Golding
Please tell us a little about your background. I studied law and psychology and was admitted as an advocate at the Cape High Court. I won Miss Universe SA, catapulting me into the world of modelling, television and show hosting. Property is in my blood, so when I was presented with the opportunity of buying the Pam Golding Durban North franchise, I leapt at the chance. In 2013, I managed to engineer a merger and created a large franchise spanning from Durban North, to uMhlanga and uMdloti.
Who inspires you the most and why? I am inspired by people who have turned their lives around, remained humble and grounded, and have a solid moral compass. Meeting Mandela was profoundly inspirational for me. Dr Taban – a leading pulmonologist who rose above his circumstances to become renowned in his field – also inspires me. I was also very fortunate to have parents who were both incredible role models. Our mantra as a family has always been that “actions speak louder than words”.
From your experience, how does one build a successful brand in business? Brands begin with the people behind them. Relationships are key to building a brand, and, most importantly, a brand and a business should have a solid identity that differentiates you from your competitors. This brand identity should be emulated by those who represent the brand.
Your best advice to aspiring female entrepreneurs? Being an entrepreneur, the buck starts and stops with you. Have a strong vision, clearly define your business plan and strategy, have a solid mission statement, and you have the ingredients for success: the rest is up to you – your people skills, your passion and determination and your discipline. Don’t get disillusioned by negative sentiment. Always be ready to adapt to changing circumstances. Business is a marathon not a sprint; never compromise long-term relationships for short-term gains. Look after people, give back to others, run an ethical business and deliver excellent service. Find your “why” and make sure your business aligns with your values and purpose. Persevere – “grit” is the single most important determinant of success across all fields. Learn to be “gritty” and your business will thrive.