South African Women Who Made Major Moves This Year [2021 Update]

Updated on 13 December 2021

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Clockwise from top left: Women who made moves in 2021, Sonto Pooe, Ayanda Mbanga, Zandile Mkwanazi, Mihlali Ndamase, Lettie Mashau, Khensani Nobanda.

SME South Africa reflects on the achievements of several South African women entrepreneurs and corporate leaders, whether it’s them taking on a new C-suite position of a major company, launching a new business venture or helping to drive innovation on the African continent.


1. Sonto Pooe

Nativechild, a locally manufactured natural-based hair and body care brand, recently received the best SED (small enterprise development) supplier award for the top performing business in its category from Clicks. The brand has been supplying Clicks with ten of its products since 1 December 2020. 

Nativechild’s founder is Sonto Pooe, a beauty entrepreneur who identified a gap in the market for natural hair products and launched the business in 2015. The brand’s products are responsibly sourced, 100% plant based and include hair care and accessories for women and children, and body care. All products are locally developed and manufactured.

In an interview with Bizcommunity, Pooe spoke about the brand’s mission. 

“We are not just haircare and bodycare brand. 

“We are a conscious brand, very much aware of the impact of cosmetics on the environment and people and we are at the forefront of brands who genuinely care about the people we serve and our planet.” 

Adding to an already successful year, Pooe opened her first beauty bar and salon in Cresta Mall in early October despite prevailing challenging economic conditions. 

2. Khensani Nobanda

Khensani Nobanda was the 2021 Loeries Marketing Leadership and Innovation Award winner. The Award recognises individual excellence in brand communication over an extended period. 

The Loeries promotes and supports creativity by helping brands, agencies and consumers appreciate the value of ideas and creative excellence.

Nobanda is Nedbank Group Executive: Group Marketing and Corporate Affairs, she became Nedbank’s Executive Head of Group Marketing in September 2017 and was promoted to her current role (and the Nedbank Group Exco) in May 2018. Her career of more than twenty years in brand communication saw her starting out as an assistant brand manager at Unilever, where she eventually rose to head up the Skin Category in Africa, the Middle East and Turkey. Then followed leadership and executive roles in Diageo, South African Breweries and Vodacom, before joining Nedbank.

Nobanda believes that marketers have a superpower – the ability to understand consumer behaviours. “We know how to influence those behaviours. Accountants can tell you the numbers, but ultimately a large part of the growth of the bank is down to how the marketing team tells the story of our brand and its offerings and how this impacts consumers choices”. 

3. Mihlali Ndamase 

Ndamase made news in 2021 when she made the cover of the Forbes magazine as one of the 30 Under 30 alongside a list of other inspiring young Africans. Now in its seventh year, the list features Africans under the age of 30 who are innovative entrepreneurs, tech geeks, sports stars and influential creatives leading a pandemic-hit Africa.

In 2019 Ndamase confirmed herself to be one of South Africa’s top influencers when UK-based media company Hopper HQ revealed that the South African beauty and lifestyle vlogger was among the highest-paid Instagram users from all over the world. Since then her brand has continued to grow. 

This was the year that Ndamase also launched Malakyt, an online  platform for beauty professionals to advertise their skills to attract more clients. It also allows clients to book services from hundreds of beauticians who do make-up, nails and hair.

4. Zandile Mkwanazi  

Zandile Mkwanazi founded GirlCode in 2014 as a hackathon targeting women in tech. Her goal was to address the tech gender gap. GirlCode is a social enterprise that aims to get more women into the tech industry, and facilitates the advancement of their skills through various training and outreach programmes. The company has taught and reached more than 62,000 young South African girls to date.

Today GirlCode has grown to include Digital Academy, the GirlCoder Club, the GirlCode Accelerator Programme and the GirlCode Incubator initiative.

This year Mkwanazi walked away with the 2021 Santam Social Entrepreneur (awarded to a female entrepreneur who is making a real difference in her community). 

In 2018 Mkhwanazi announced a collaboration with Amazon Web services to launch a nationwide competition that will give 30 female-run SMEs access to cloud computing training through the AWS CloudStart program.

Mkhwanazi hopes to teach 10 million girls how to code in the space of 10 years.

5. Ayanda Mbanga

Ayanda Mbanga’s company, Ayanda Mbanga Communications, was this year appointed as a partner for LinkedIn Talent Solutions in the South African market after 23 years in the industry. 

Ayanda Mbanga Communications is a recruitment advertising company. Their offerings include recruitment advertising, response management, e-Recruitment and employer brand development.

The partnership with Linkedin  will allow the company to expand its footprint of customers invested in their hiring, learning and engagement solutions. With this agreement, Ayanda Mbanga Communications will be offering value-added services to its customers. 

 Ayanda Mbanga Communications was established in October 1998 as a media buying agency specialising in recruitment advertising placements. They have received numerous awards for their work in this niche industry over the years. Moving from traditional markets such as newspapers, they made the digital move to online platforms such as LinkedIn.

6. Lettie Mashau 

Lettie Mashau has been CEO of the Motheo Construction Group since 2019. This year she received the Top Women in Property Award at the Standard Bank Top Women Awards. The annual awards recognise and honour outstanding leadership, inspiration, vision, and innovation in organisations that help women rise to the top of the economic ladder.

Under Mashau’s leadership the organisation this year announced a new management structure, according to SA Affordable Housing, which will see it “strengthen its footprint in all nine provinces and diversify into new business segments”.

The company this year continued its efforts to empower  young graduates in the construction industry through the Motheo Truly Empowered Programme. 

Mashau succeeded the late Dr. Thandi Ndlovu who founded the construction group in 1997 and built it into South Africa’s largest black women-owned construction companies in South Africa.


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Women who inspire, (clockwise) Bonang Matheba, Basetsana “Bassie” Kumalo, Palesa Mokubung, Shaney Vijendranath and Lauren Dallas.

1. Palesa Mokubung

Mokubung’s fashion brand, Mantsho reached a major milestone this year when it became the first African label to collaborate with the Swedish retail giant, H&M. The Mantsho X H&M Collection is currently sold online and is available in 11 countries, including South African H&M retail stores.

Mantsho means “Black is Beautiful” in Mokubung’s native language Sesotho. Mokubung founded her clothing brand Mantsho in 2004. Since then her clothing brand which is known for its vibrant fabrics, bold and edgy designs, has been seen on runways in Senegal, Greece, New York, India and Nigeria.

2. Ofentse Pitse

Pitse carved her name into the history books this year when she became the first black South African woman to conduct and own the first ever all-black orchestra. Her 40-piece symphony orchestra is called Anchored Sound. Pitse is following in the footsteps of her late grandfather, Otto Pitse, who was an orchestra conductor and trumpet player.

Initially Pitse put together a youth choir in 2017 made up of classically-trained youth from Soweto, Katlehong, Tembisa and Pretoria, according to online newspaper Soweto Live. This later grew to become an orchestra.

After learning that there are no all-black orchestras in the world, Pitse approached established classical musicians in various orchestras to boost the ensemble, which gradually grew from eight to 19 to 40-piece symphony orchestra.

3. Mogau Seshoene

The Lazy Makoti‘s brand reached new heights this year when Seshoene’s cookbook won the international award at the Gourmand International Awards ceremony for Best Cookbooks of the Year in Macao, China. Her book The Lazy Makoti’s Guide to the Kitchen was placed second in the world.

Seshoene first launched her business as a cooking project, which later developed into a fully-fledged cooking lessons business based in Pretoria, The Lazy Makoti (makoti is an IsiZulu word for bride).

Locally her cookbook is currently a bestseller and is on its fifth run. The former auditor has her eyes set on a television show, she said in a recent interview. The Lazy Makoti’s Guide to the Kitchen is a South African cookbook that celebrates Mzansi’s heritage and culture through African meals.

4. Bonang Matheba

TV presenter Matheba, also known as Queen B, gave South Africans another reason to celebrate with her new product on the market: a luxury beverage brand called House of BNG. Matheba’s House of BNG offers a Brut Methode Cap Classique (MCC) and a Brut Rose MCC. MCC is South Africa’s equivalent of champagne. The term refers to local sparkling wines that are made in the traditional French method.

Another win for Matheba this year was when fans all over the continent voted for her as the African Influencer of the Year at the 2019 E! People’s Choice Awards. According to The Citizen, Matheba won, beating out other African celebrities like Cassper Nyovest (South Africa), Minnie Dlamini-Jones (South Africa), Yemi Alade (Nigeria), Tiwa Savage (Nigeria) and Davido (Nigeria).

See also: 3 Things That Bonang Matheba Has Mastered That Your Brand Is Missing

Ntombezinhle Jiyane aka DJ Zinhle with business partner, Brandon Reynolds. 

5. Ntombezinhle Jiyane aka DJ Zinhle

The disk jockey and music producer who has produced hits like “Umlilo” and “My Name Is”, reminded us of the importance of having diversified income streams. DJ Zinhle, who is co-author of Meeting Your Power, in October this year launched Jiyane Atelier, a decor and design company with long-time friend Brandon Reynolds.

She is also the owner of the bespoke watches and jewellery brand, Era by DJ Zinhle. Recently DJ Zinhle hosted a pop-up store for Era by DJ Zinhle at Mall of Africa in Midrand, Johannesburg. DJ Zinhle also received a nomination at the All African Music Awards (AFRIMAs) in the “African DJ of the Year” category.

6. Amanda Dambuza

This was the year Dambuza shared her inspirational story. Her book, Baked In Pain: Your Traumatic Past May Just Be the Fuel You Need to Soar, chronicles her journey from humble beginnings to today as CEO of Uyandiswa Project Management Services, a company which provides services to some of the biggest corporates in the country. She also currently sits on the boards of some listed companies as well as several private companies.

Dambuza’s company employs 90 people and has incubated several professional businesses at the company’s Bryanston offices as part of her mentorship programme.

She continues to be an inspiration to many and is currently on the cover of the November/ December issue of Destiny magazine.

7. Nosipho Siwisa-Damasane

Damasane was the first woman COO at Transnet Port Terminals in 2009. This year she was appointed Bombela Operating Company CEO. Bombela was appointed by the Gauteng Provincial Government to design, build, operate, maintain and partially finance the Gautrain project.

She completed her articles at Ernst & Young and spent the first ten years of her career working for audit firms. She became the first woman Port Manager in the country in 1998 at the Port of East London.

She is also the author of Finding the Woman Within–How to Thrive in a Male-Dominated Society.

8. Basetsana “Bassie” Kumalo

Businesswoman, executive chairman and CEO of  the Basetsana Woman Investment Holdings, finally shared her story in her book, Bassie – My Journey of Hope, which recounts her life journey, including her relationships with mentors like Nelson Mandela.

Kumalo was crowned Miss South Africa in 1994 and was the first black presenter of magazine TV programme, Top Billing. Together with husband, Romeo Kumalo, she established the Romeo and Basetsana Kumalo Family Foundation.

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Mogau Seshoene

9. Precious Moloi-Motsepe

Moloi-Motsepe was elected the new chancellor of the University of Cape Town (UCT) this year. She is expected to occupy her new office in January 2020.

The businesswoman and philanthropist is taking over from Graça Machel who was first elected in 1999 – her second term concludes at the end of 2019. Moloi-Motsepe, who is married to mining magnate and billionaire Patrice Motsepe, together with her husband, founded the Motsepe Foundation in 1999 and became the first couple from Africa to join The Giving Pledge, a commitment by the world’s wealthiest individuals and families to dedicate the majority of their wealth to giving, in 2013.

10. Phuthi Mahanyele-Dabengwa

Mahanyele-Dabengwa made big news when she become the first black woman to be appointed Naspers South Africa’s CEO. She is to lead the group’s day-to-day business in South Africa and represent its interests in-country. Mahanyele-Dabengwa will also be responsible for Naspers’ recently announced units, Naspers Foundry and Naspers Labs, which are designed to help stimulate the South African tech sector and tackle youth unemployment, respectively.

Mahanyele-Dabengwa was previously executive chairperson at Sigma Capital, a privately held, majority-black owned investment group based in South Africa. She is also on the board of the Cyril Ramaphosa Foundation, according to online news platform Fin24.

11. Penny Streeter

The owner of Benguela Cove Lagoon Wine Estate, Penny Streeter OBE, received yet another accolade this year. She is one of the most successful women entrepreneurs in South Africa and the United Kingdom.

In May this year, the South African Chamber of Commerce Awards, announced her as its Business Woman of the Year. Streeter OBE is CEO of the A24 Group and the Benguela Collection.

In 2006, Penny was honoured by the Queen of England, with the title of Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (OBE) for “Services to Enterprise”.

12. Lauren Dallas

Dallas and her co-founder, Cerina Bezuidenhout, had a good year with their initiative Future Females. They recently announced a partnership with First National Bank, the bank became the main sponsor of all the organisation’s South African chapters in a bid to accelerate the pace of developing women entrepreneurship.

According to a press release, Future Females and FNB will host monthly, regional events focusing on specific themes in business and personal development. Future Females has over 13,000 members, with a digital reach of 85,000. It holds monthly events in 10 chapters across South Africa, namely Cape Town, Durban, Johannesburg, Khayelitsha, Limpopo, Mahikeng, Port Elizabeth, Pretoria, Paarl and Stellenbosch.

13. Shaney Vijendranath

Vijendranath made waves in the tech industry when she launched her data analytics platform, MomSays, in May this year. The platform is the first of its kind in the country and helps brands engage with new moms, who make up a very influential demographic. This platform utilises the collective knowledge of thousands of experienced moms in the country.

Recently Vijendranath, a mom of three, announced in 2018 that Momsays secured a R1-million investment from the I’M IN Accelerator program which is part of IDF Capital. Another win for Vijendranath, who is the Chapter Lead for SoGal Johannesburg, was being chosen as one of Forbes Africa’s 30 Under 30 List in 2019.

14. Nureshka Viranna

Viranna founded her second business, Lit Academy, this year. The academy offers online courses and uses video and study guides to help learners improve their marks.

“Lit Academy has given us the opportunity to make quality education available to learners, at a fraction of the cost of tuition.

“Our aim is to disrupt the education system in South Africa,” she says. Viranna was chosen for the Forbes Africa’s 30 Under 30 List in 2019.

Viranna is also the co-founder of the e-commerce company, ShopLi which designs and develops online stores and catalogues for businesses that can’t afford high rentals or to additional staff.

15. Shirley Machaba

Earlier this year PwC Southern Africa made history when it announced Machaba as its CEO for Southern Africa, the first black woman to take up this position. Machaba took over from Dion Shango, who had held this position since 2015.

Machaba’s career history includes serving as a member of the PwC Africa Governance Board and also as Chairperson of the PwC South Africa Governing Board from October 2012 to June 2018. She was the PwC Africa’s Governance, Risk and Internal Audit Leader, and Diversity & Inclusion Leader for PwC Southern Africa.

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Mbali Sebapu

16. Lindiwe Matlali

Earlier this year, Queen Elizabeth II recognised Matlali at the 86th Commonwealth Point of Light for her exceptional voluntary service in South Africa providing technology education to youngsters. Matlali was also appointed as a member of the Presidential Commission on the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR).

Matlali is a social entrepreneur and founder of her own VR studio, Apodytes. She is behind Africa Teen Geeks (ATG), which she founded in 2014. The non-profit organisation provides coding lessons to school children and unemployed youth.

Africa Teen Geeks signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Department of Education in 2018 to develop and implement the coding and robotics curriculum for grade R-9.

17. Olwethu Leshabane

Media entrepreneur, blogger and podcaster, Leshabane recently landed a television presenting gig as the host of the TV show “Oh Baby”, which is screened on 1Magic on DStv. The show is about pregnant women’s experiences and baby showers.

Leshabane also launched and hosts the podcast, The Sit Down with Olwethu Leshabane, which unpacks everything that affects women, from career development and relationships to parenthood and marriage. Leshabane is also founder of the Red Wings Project, a NPO aimed at highlighting the lack of sanitation and misery of disadvantaged women unable to access adequate sanitary products and care.

19. Mihlali Ndamase

This year Ndamase confirmed herself to be one of South Africa’s top influencers. UK-based media company Hopper HQ revealed that the South African beauty and lifestyle vlogger was among the highest-paid Instagram users from all over the world. She made the list with businesswoman and reality TV star, Kylie Jenner, who appeared at the top as the highest paid Instagram user, making R16.6 million per post. Ndamase reportedly makes $1,800 (R25,000) per post.

20. Mbali Sebapu

Sebapu is a former SA Navy employee who took a big leap of faith when she quit her job this year to follow her passion. The fitness fanatic and social media influencer is co-founder of Lesedi Influencer Marketing, a company that helps brands with social media strategies and digital campaigns.

Recently she launched her cosmetics brand named Hermosa Flor. Hermosa Flor means beautiful flower in Spanish.

Dr Thandi Ndlovu

This year we mourned the death of Dr Thandi Ndlovu, a ground breaker in South Africa’s construction industry. Ndlovu was on her way to a funeral in Rustenburg when she was involved in a car accident. She had launched Motheo Construction in 1999, the company acquired a grade 9 certificate level from the Construction Industry Development Board. She also served as the president of the Black Business Council for the Built Environment.

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