Women’s Opportunities: Advancement and Progress ... For Some

As described in Chapter 5, the post-apartheid government passed the Employment Equity Act of 1998 (EEA) and the Broad Based Black Economic Empowerment Act of 2003 (B-BBEE) to bring employment equity and balance into the private and public sectors. These acts were aimed at engineering a more representative role for the black majority, in particular women, youth, and people with disabilities.1 The EEA also included affirmative—action measures to redress the disadvantages in employment that designated groups (Africans, Colored, and Indians) had experienced.

in many ways, women now have the opportunity to do things that they never could before. They have made significant advances since 1994, in large part due to the government’s initiatives on their behalf. Today, a group of highly successful black businesswoman is adding value to the private sector, while powerful black women leaders are also taking important roles in the government and academe.

in the private sector, some women are leading the most powerful and influential institutions in the country. They include

  • • Salukazi Dakile-Hiongwane,2 CEO of Eqstra Holdings Limited and founding member and chief executive of Nozala investments;
  • • Phuti Malabie,3 named by the Wall Street Journal as one of the “Top 50 Women to Watch in 2008” and executive and CEO of Shanduka, a black-owned and managed investment company; and
  • • Nonkuleleko Nyembezi-Heita,4 former CEO of Arcelor Mittal South Africa Limited, a subsidiary of the world’s largest steelmaker, and Forbes’s 97th most powerful woman in the world in 2011.

In the public sector, women such as Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma,5 former Minister of Health, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Minister of Home Affairs, and chairperson of the African Union; and Thuli Madonsela,6 South Africa’s Public Protector, who focuses her time and attention on ending mismanagement and misappropriation of funds and ensuring good governance, are powerful examples of women who have and continue to influence the country's policies and practices at home and abroad. Then there’s a woman who is in a category all of her own: Mamphela Ramphele —a doctor, academic, author, and businesswoman whose achievements are even more remarkable given many occurred during apartheid and despite the government’s efforts to suppress and marginalize black South Africans.

Many of these women have been able to work through the system’s obstacles and gain recognition for their efforts.7 The South African constitution’s specific commitment to redress gender imbalances and promote the representation of women in electoral politics—and its identification of women in general and black women in particular as needing affirmation in the work place—have resulted in increased opportunities for women.8

Where women, and particularly black women, were more or less disenfranchised in the years leading up to the end of apartheid, they are now becoming important players in the South African economy. The state created specific requirements in the finance, management, science, engineering, and technology sectors, which has opened up many opportunities for women as well as men. Women who have some level of education, skills, and training are positioned to take advantage of those opportunities.9

But, as discussed in Chapter 8, the number of women graduating from such educational programs is still relatively small. As a result, women with these skills, particularly black women, are rare and sought after.10

Indeed, black South African women who are educated are “gold”11 at the moment. Corporations want to recruit such women for management and ownerships positions, and they are increasingly placing them in top positions or on boards as they recognize the importance, as Sharmala Govender CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters says, of having a “black image and keeping up the status of being a progressive and open organi- zation.”12 In the words of Maria Phalime, author and former deputy director of 2010 FIFA World Cup at Provincial Government, “It pays, so to speak, to be a black woman in South Africa in certain respects.”13 Indeed, some of the top companies in the country have a significant number of black women in upper management and on their boards.14

Corporations are also empowering women within their companies, especially black women. If a company sees that a person has the potential but not the skills, they will pay for her to go through a training program and then place her in a higher-level job. In that way, companies are both improving the skill sets of their employees and fulfilling affirmative-action requirements.15

At the same time that black women as a category have been given a special boost in corporations, white women have advanced, as well. In fact, white women have an advantage in that they know how to play “the game”16 in the corporate sector—which is an entirely new space for many black women, given that race and class marginalized them during the apartheid years. Thus, white women have been able to move into leadership positions much more easily than black women.17

More must be done to ensure greater representation of black women in senior management positions,18 but women generally are doing better than men at all levels. As Gillian Godsell of the Wits School of Public and Development Management says, “If a women has an education and some skills that will enable her to compete in business, the world is her


oyster. ”

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