Over the years, many South African women have taken over the task to change the narrative, take up space and become successful entrepreneurs. From business owners expanding their companies in the townships to company directors working in South Africa’s biggest cosmopolitan hubs, more and more of South Africa’s women are leaning into the world of business.
To attest to this truth, recently, champagne brand Veuve Clicquot hosted a morning of crucial conversations with women to inspire and embolden successive generations of audacious female leaders in the country.
At the event, the Veuve Clicquot 2020 Barometer (second edition): International Women’s Entrepreneurship Barometer study was unveiled. The survey showed that of the 17 countries measured, South Africa has the highest percentage of women entrepreneurs. The survey found that 54% of South African women consider themselves entrepreneurs first and foremost – the highest level of women entrepreneurship amongst countries such as France, the United Kingdom, Japan, and Hong Kong that were measured.
Ninety percent of South African women entrepreneurs believe that to succeed they need the support of a network of women entrepreneurs. This is a definite positive for my young cousin as the future is strongly supported by other women. South Africa has an abundance of its own successful businesswomen that will leave a legacy for many young girls as a point of reference to be proud of.
Successful Female entrepreneurs
1. Basetsana Kumalo
Basetsana Kumalo, also known as Bassie, was part of the beauty pageant circuit since the age of 16, where she has crowned Miss Black South Africa and Miss Soweto. Four years later, she has crowned Miss South Africa. While still having the crown, she shifted her career by starting to work for the TV program Top Billing. From here, Kumalo’s impressive successful businesswomen story began to emerge.
She became a 50% partner of Tswelopele Productions, the company which produces top billing, and executive chairperson of Tswelopele Group and Tswelopele Publishing. This partnership alone was enough to prove Basetsana Kumalo’s merit as one of the most successful South African female entrepreneurs. Her pivot into the media industry is nothing if not impressive. But that’s not all; since then, she has developed a clothing line, sits on the boards of five companies, and endorses a Revlon Hair Product. With all of these impressive achievements—and her tireless dedication to helping to improve the economy – Basetsana Kumalo is not only one of the most well-known South African entrepreneurs, but she is also one of the most influential female entrepreneurs in South Africa.
2. Khanyi Dhlomo
Khanyi first started gracing magazine covers by the age of 15; she went on to be a radio newsreader at 18, television newsreader at 20, and editor of True Love at 22. After this short rise to the top and eight years at True Love, she decided to move to Paris to run a South African touring campaign, before studying at Harvard. For many, this would have been more than enough to make a successful businesswoman story, but Khanyi Dhlomo was only beginning her career as a successful businesswoman in South Africa.
While at Harvard, she struck up a plan to publish her own magazine. After returning to South Africa, she launched Destiny, a magazine that combined business content and lifestyle. Since then she became a director of the Foschini Retail Group and CEO of Ndalo Media. Dhlomo has also launched her magazine into the digital space—leading the industry by example and continuing her impressive record of innovation as one of the most successful South African entrepreneurs. Dhlomo is now recognized globally for her efforts and achievements—serving as a wonderful example of what is possible for SA entrepreneurs if they continue to work hard and follow their dreams.
3. Wendy Luhabe
Wendy is a South African businesswoman that has pioneered many initiatives in attempts to provide economic empowerment to women. Wendy got her first exercise in social entrepreneurship in 1995 after she founded Bridging the Gap. An impressive start to her successful businesswoman story—but it isn’t even close to being the end of Luhabe’s wonderful endeavors and achievements as a successful businesswoman in South Africa. Since then, she went on to find the Women Investment Portfolio Holdings (Wiphold) and was listed as one of the 50 Leading Women Entrepreneurs of the World.
She is now the Chair in the Women Private Equity Fund and on the board of the IMD Business School. Recently she was also appointed by the US Secretary of State to the Council on Women’s Business Leadership. Wendy Luhabe has already achieved so many incredible accomplishments as one of the top South African female entrepreneurs—primarily due to her innovation and tireless efforts. Although she has already done enough work for a lifetime to stand among the well-known South African entrepreneurs, Luhabe continues to strive towards greatness – leaving us excited to see what we’ll see next.
4. Felicia Mabuza-Suttle
Known as the South African Oprah, Felicia started by being born into an entrepreneurial family in Sophiatown. Although this factor alone would have been enough for many pursuing a successful businesswoman story, Mabuza-Suttle wasn’t satisfied with good fortune alone. She was determined to make her name as one of the successful South African female entrepreneurs by working hard and dedicating countless hours towards her dream. After studying at a University in America, she entered the television industry, working her way up to an executive position at Houston Public Television. It was during her time with the Huston Public Television that she honed her skills and took notice of practices that she would use in her later successes. Mabuza-Suttle started working on ideas that would later go on to become loved by many in South Africa when she concluded that she had spent enough time studying the industry in America. She then returned to South Africa in 1994 where she landed on the TV show on SABC, The Felicia Show.
She went onto become the executive producer of the Africa Channel and a founding member and non-executive director of Pamodzi Investment Holdings Ltd. She also owns a successful restaurant and is a bestselling author of the book Dare to Dream. With so many amazing accomplishments, Felicia Mabuza-Suttle is a fantastic example of what it means to be a successful businesswoman in South Africa. Moreover, Mabuza-Suttle has helped to redefine industry standards in South Africa—helping her to stand out even more among well-known South African entrepreneurs.
So next time you’re struggling to get through a day of running your business, why not look through this list for some inspiration.
5. Siphesihle Katana
She didn’t have any intention of starting her own business in agriculture, but a chance encounter and hard work put the wheels of destiny in motion. In 2014 she started the Siphe Development and Capacitation Agency which she co-owns with her husband. They supply local supermarkets with vegetables.
“You need to trust yourself if you want to make it in this field of work. You need to tell yourself that everything is going to work out no matter how many times you’re told it’s not going to.”
Siphesihle Kwetana co-owns the Siphe Development and Capacitation Agency.
6. What it takes to start your own law firm, according to a 25-year-old KZN woman who did it.
Born and raised in the small town of Eshowe in KwaZulu-Natal, 25-year-old Sne Mthembu was admitted as an attorney of the high court a few months ago. She leaped faith shortly thereafter: she left her job and started her own firm. She’s even added the word “partners” to her firm’s name because she’s open to working with other people.
“My ultimate goal is to inspire young, black women and show them it’s possible to do your own thing.”
One Mthembu started her own law firm.
7. From a career in the SANDF to styling for Forbes Woman Africa – Free State woman’s dream come true
From serving 10 years in the SANDF to styling magazine covers, Bontle Mogoye is going places. She styled the cover stars for an issue of Forbes Woman Africa, which featured 50 successful African businesswomen, including media personality Bonang Matheba and businesswoman Irene Charnley.
“Coming from a small town, Kroonstad in the Free State, they’d say I can’t be a fashion designer [but] I could be a doctor.”
8. Nomfundo McCoy
How my divorce turned me into a successful businesswoman.
Nomfundo Mcoyi lost everything to her first husband following their divorce in 2009. She had to start over from scratch. In that moment of need and despair, Icebolethu Funeral Group was born. She left her job as a teacher to venture into business. Today her business, based in KwaZulu-Natal, employs over 300 people.
“God has blessed me with a very dedicated team, which understands my vision. I couldn’t have done it on my own. It took teamwork and dedication to get where we are today.”
Nomfundo Mcoyi of Icebolethu Funeral Group.
9. Soweto’s celebrity nail technician on how she built her empire: ‘I’ve learned to rely solely on my skills’
Instead of attending her own matric dance 15 years ago, Phiwe Mngadi was busy doing the nails and eyelashes of her ball-going friends and fellow schoolmates. In 2015, having worked at beauty salons in and around Joburg to gain experience, she decided she was done being just another employee. She knew she had plenty to offer as a business owner, so she opened Plush Nail Art Studio in Soweto.
“Beauty has always been my passion and it’s something I’m lucky enough to have done every day since leaving school.”
Phiwe Mngadi of Plush Nail Art Studio in Soweto
10. I quit my job to start my own practice – now I enjoy my 12-hour shifts.
For Veronica Shabalala it started as a dream based on a desire to do more. Telling her nursing peers she wanted to set her own schedule one day was something they laughed about together. Now, draining 12-hour shifts are a thing of the past. Even though Veronica often works longer hours these days, being her own boss and a wound-care specialist gives her energy.
“I remember dreading the 12-hour shifts I used to work at the hospital, but now I find I can do more. You do not get fatigued when it is your own baby you are working on.”
11. Yolanda Yawa-Donkers
Guguletu woman makes dark skin doll collection to celebrate African beauty after she felt underrepresented
She’d always been resourceful. Growing up in Guguletu, Cape Town, she didn’t like to play with dolls because she couldn’t relate to the fair-skinned blonde-haired variety found in toy stores. So she set about scouring flea markets in search of second-hand dolls to experiment on. Now Yolanda Yawa-Donkers is the proud owner of Luvuthando Dolls, a black doll brand that promotes diversity and aims to instill confidence in young children.
“I am passionate about the black child and wanted to create a product that will be fun and inspiring.”
12. Maria Ramos
Maria Ramos is a Portuguese South African businesswoman who today is the CEO of the ABSA group. She first moved to South Africa from Portugal with her parents, where she later became a citizen. After university, she primarily worked in finance and banking, taught economics, and served as an economist, which is just the beginning of this successful businesswoman story. Maria would go on to become one of the most successful businesswomen in South Africa.
She was appointed the country’s director of general finance, from which she moved to the position of CEO of Transnet in 2004. There she began to transform the country’s economy by reorganizing the debt-ridden company. As a result, she was ranked by Fortune magazine as one of the most powerful women in international business for four years in a row. It’s no wonder that Maria Ramos tops our list of female entrepreneurs in South Africa and well-known South African entrepreneurs in general! As one of the most successful businesswomen in South Africa, it was essential to mention Ramos’ many impressive accomplishments. As a learned economist, innovative businesswoman, and dedicated leader, Ramos is a perfect example of a successful businesswoman in South Africa.