Fifty Changemakers Advancing Gender Equality in SA

Want to know how to build a more gender diverse business, organisation or society in South Africa? These are the people to watch, and learn from.

By Charlie Mathews

The requirement for greater gender diversity in South Africa is a no-brainer. There’s more than enough research that shows that gender diversity is not only ethical but makes real business sense.

Gallup research shows that hiring a diverse workforce improves financial performance. The global research company based in the US shows business units that are gender diverse have “better financial outcomes than those dominated by one gender”.

Similarly, studies by McKinsey & Company reveal the business sense of diversity. “Our latest research finds that companies in the top quartile for gender or racial and ethnic diversity are more likely to have financial returns above their national industry medians,” McKinsey & Company reports. “Companies in the bottom quartile in these dimensions are statistically less likely to achieve above-average returns. And diversity is probably a competitive differentiator that shifts market share toward more diverse companies over time,” the worldwide management consulting firm states

In Africa, McKinsey & Company research shows that while there are more women “in
executive committee, CEO, and board roles”, women are underrepresented “at every level
of the corporate ladder”. The study shows that gender representation in politics has improved, but that “representation, however, still needs to double if Africa is to achieve gender equality.” The report also cautions that numbers do not readily translate into real power or influence.

South Africa has a legion of people who are brave, smart and have been working incredibly hard in their respective fields to find ways to promote gender diversity in this country

When the World Economic Forum released its measure of gender based inequality — The Global Gender Gap Report 2016 — local politicians and news media lauded the fact that South Africa ranks 15th out of 142 countries. But in terms of wage inequality SA ranks 83rd out of 142 countries: women earn some 38% less than men. Obviously, what these reports don’t show is the lived experience of women in South Africa.

Given that gender diversity is is not just an ethical goal that South Africa needs to strive toward, but makes real economic sense at a time when this country needs it most, how do we take meaningful steps forward? Which mentors or what intellectual property can businesses engage with to determine how to further gender diversity?

Fortunately South Africa has a legion of people who are brave, smart and have been working incredibly hard in their respective fields to find ways to promote gender diversity in this country.

Here is a list of the Fifty Changemakers Advancing Gender Equality in SA that you should be watching [and following on Twitter]. This list was generated by Treeshake to mark the world’s first 50/50 day.

These are people who’ve won respect for the work that they do, who offer significant insights about how we can become a more gender diverse, and better, country. They  are emerging forces in the world of gender and/or feminism. In some cases these are people working hard to ensure that communities enjoy even the most basic of human rights, because of how interrelated gender, sex, identity, poverty, human rights and race are in this country.

The Fifty Changemakers Advancing Gender Equality in SA is a first take in terms of compiling a comprehensive index of gender changemakers in South Africa, and is arranged in alphabetical order. If you feel that someone needs to be added to this list please email me at Charlie [at] or engage me on Twitter: @charlesleeza

Fifty Changemakers Advancing Gender Equality in SA

Aarti Takoordeen (@Aarti_JSE)

A Chartered Accountant, Takordeen is the Chief Financial Officer of the Johannesburg Stock Exchange. Elected as a World Economic Forum Young Global Leader, Takordeen has won multiple awards for the changemaking approach she brings to being a CFO.

Ameera Patel (@AmeeraPatel)

Patel self identifies as a storyteller, and is at once a poet, novelist, actor and theatre professional. She wrote a play called Whistle Stop, which was awarded the Pansa Best New Writer Award. Patel acted in the play at The National Arts Festival, where it won a Silver Standard Bank Ovation Award.

Athandiwe Saba (@Athi_Saba)

An award-winning writer, Saba has a special interest in data journalism, but has also been noticed because of her writing on Marikana. Saba’s work is featured in We are Going to Kill Each Other Today: The Marikana Story.

Baratang Miya (@baratangmiya)

Baratang is founder and CEO of GirlHYPE Coders that empowers girls to pursue careers in STEM and had been chosen by the US State Dept’s in 2015 TechWomen program as an Emerging Leader. She also serves as head of transformation for Silicon Cape. 

Buhle Ngaba (@buhlengaba)

Ngaba is the author of The Girl Without A Sound, a book that empowers young black girls by helping them [through story] to find their own voice. The founder of KaMatla, Ngaba’s civic organisation helps NPO and young people of colour to write both themselves and their stories into existence.

Bronwyn Pithey (@wlccapetown)

Pithey is an attorney who focuses on gender based violence at the Women’s Legal Centre (WLC), a non-profit law centre that seeks to achieve equality for women, particularly black women, through litigation and free legal advice. WLC supports advocacy campaigns related to the impact of court judgments on women’s rights.

Christi van der Westhuizen (@ChristivdWest)

The author of White Power & the Rise and Fall of the National Party, as well as Working Democracy: Perspectives on South Africa's Parliament at 20 Years, van der Westhuizen is an associate professor at the University of Pretoria. The editor of Gender Instruments in Africa: Critical Perspectives, Future Strategies, van der Westhuizen’s career started as a journalist at Vrye Weekblad.

Claire Martens (@MartensClaire)

Martens is the communications officer for the Legal Resources Centre, which pro­motes jus­tice using the Con­sti­tu­tion, builds respect for the rule of law and con­tributes to socio-economic trans­for­ma­tion in South Africa.

Colleen Lowe Morna (@clowemorna)

The CEO of @GenderLinks, Morna is a respected women's rights advocate, researcher and author. Gender Links is an NGO with a strong practice of researching and promoting gender rights in the media.

Dela Gwala (@indie1activist)

Gwala identifies as a “full-time feminist”. A post-grad student at UCT, Gwala is the head of UCT Survivors [an organisation for students at the university that creates space for conversation and activism around sexual violence].

Demelza Bush (@Demelza_Bush)

Bush is a senior multimedia reporter at Bhekisisa, the Mail & Guardian's health journalism centre, as well as an activist and campaigner for social justice.

Elaine Rumboll (@elainerumboll)‏

MD of The Creative Leadership Consultancy, Rumboll helps leaders and teams achieve next-level thinking using play. Former chairperson for the advisory board of UCT GSB Women in Leadership, Rumboll is also a poet and blues singer.

Emma Dicks (@code4ct)

Dicks is the founder of Code4CT, a programme that introduces Capetonian high school girls to coding, design thinking and Information Technology.

Esley Philander (@EsleyPhilander)

Philander is a filmmaker, a writer and the media and communications manager for the Black Sash, a veteran human rights organisation that champions social justice.

Hanli Prinsloo (@hanliprinsloo)

A Freediver and Ocean Conservationist, Hanli Prinsloo is the founder of the I AM WATER Foundation which focuses on Ocean Conservation through Human Experience.

Indira Govender (@indigoesround)

A medical doctor and an activist, Govender was born to parents who were human rights lawyers. Govender identifies as a black consciousness feminist and is respected for her work in public health.


Jane Duncan (@DuncanJane)

Duncan is a Professor of Journalism at the University of Johannesburg, and was Highway Africa Chair of Media and Information Society, School of Journalism and Media Studies at Rhodes University. Duncan is a prominent media activist and former executive director of the Freedom of Expression Institute, who writes widely on media policy and media freedom issues.

Jasandra Nyker (@BioThermEnergy)

Nyker is the CEO of BioTherm Energy, one of SA’s leading renewable energy developers. A board member of the SA Wind Energy Association, Nyker is also a WEF Young Global Leader.

Jeanne Bodenstein (@jeannebodnstein)

Bodenstein is the Advocacy Coordinator at the Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust and heads the Rape Survivors’ Justice Campaign.

Jen Thorpe (@Jen_Thorpe)

During the day Thorpe works as a researcher focussing on women’s rights and LGBTI in politics, but by night writes fiction. Thorpe’s first novel, The Peculiars, was was longlisted for the Etisalat Prize and the Sunday Times fiction prize.

Kathleen Dey (@kathdey)

Dey is the director of the Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust, which offers free services including face-to-face counselling, a 24-hour helpline and support through court cases and the criminal justice system.

Khadija Patel (@khadijapatel)

Editor in Chief at the Mail & Guardian, Patel co-founded the Daily Vox digital platform to amplify the young voices in South Africa.

Koketso Moeti (@Kmoeti)

A human rights activist, Moeti is the founder of Amandla.Mobi. An independent, community advocacy organisation that seeks to build a more just and people-powered Mzansi, Amandla.Mobi is about turning every mobile phone into a democracy building tool


Kwezilomso Mbandazayo (@KwezilomsoM)

The Women’s Rights and Gender Justice Programme Manager for Oxfam South Africa, Mbandazayo self describes as “a Black, Queer, Feminist thinker and activist.” She has worked with the One in Nine Campaign, the Forum for the Empowerment of Women, The United Front and the Johannesburg People’s Pride.

Lady $kollie (@LadySkollie)

A feminist artist and activist, Lady $kollie [aka Laura Windvogel] has disrupted local and international art circuits with her work, which speaks to gender, sexual politics, consent, lust, identity and stereotypes.

Laurel Oettle (@Laurel_Oettle)

A passionate advocate for equality, human dignity and gender justice, Oettle is the Director of the Association For Rural Advancement.

Lelemba Phiri (@lelemba)

Lelemba is the Chief Marketing Officer for Zoona, one of the fastest growing fin-tech companies in Africa. She has used her position of influence to drive the girl effect and other women's empowerment initiatives at her company. She is an author, and also the co-founder of Africa Trust Academy.

Lindiwe Mazibuko (@LindiMazibuko)

A WEF Young Global Leader and Harvard Institute of Politics Fellow, Mazibuko the first black woman in South African history to be elected Leader of the Opposition in Parliament. Mazibuko describes herself as a “Muscular Feminist” and “Relentless Idealist”.

Louise Meek LeBlanc (@Louise__Meek)

Meek LeBlanc is the founder of The Isabelo™ Smart Bench, a stand-alone, entirely solar-powered free Wi-Fi hotspot for public use.

Mandisa Shandu (@MandiShandu)

Shandu is an activist lawyer and the Co-Director at @NdifunaUkwazi, which provides legal, research and organising support to communities in struggles for urban land justice, affordable housing and tenure security.

Melanie Judge (@Melaniejudge)

A feminist, Judge has a Ph.D in Women's and Gender Studies, and is widely respected for lobbying and advocating for the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people. Judge is an Adjunct Associate Professor at the University of Cape Town.

Mich Atagana (@MichAtagana)

Atagana ‎is the Head of Communications and Public Affairs, South Africa at Google. Before that Atagana edited Memeburn and managed the Burn Media group for four years, launching, and

Naadiya Moosajee (@NaadiyaMoosajee)

Moosajee is co-founder and CEO of WomHub, an international NPO that aims to develop and promote female engineering leaders in Africa.

Nomalanga Mkhize (@NomalangaSA)

Mkhize is an Associate Professor in the Department of Anthropology at The Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University.


Nomboniso Gasa (@nombonisogasa)

Gasa is a researcher and analyst on gender, politics and cultural issues, whose work weaves academic, lived experience and constant engagement with contemporary and historical issues. Gasa is also a Public Speaker on Gender, Politics, Leadership and Cultural Issues

Panashe Chigumadzi (@panashechig)

Chigumadzi is an award-winning writer whose novel Sweet Medicine won the Sello Duiker Award. Published in The New York Times, The Guardian, and Spiegel, Chigumadzi was the founding editor of  Vanguard Magazine. Chigumadzi was the curator of Soweto’s inaugural Abantu Book Festival.

Pippa Tshabalala (@UnexpectedPippa)

Tshabalala is the former presenter of The Verge -- South Africa's first locally produced TV show on video games, gaming and tech. Based in Johannesburg, Tshabalala is currently On Air Manager for Viacom Africa!.

Pontsho Pilane (@pontsho_pilane)

Pilane is a health journalist at the Mail & Guardian, and holds two degrees in media studies from Wits University, whose journalistic career started at The Daily Vox and focused on gender, race and how they intersect.

Pumla Dineo Gqola (@feminist_rogue)

Gqola is Associate Professor in the Department of African Literature at Wits. Previously, Gqola worked as Focus Area Leader: Open Speak at the Meraka Institute, managed by the CSIR. The author of Rape: a SA Nightmare, Gqola also authored What is slavery to me? and A renegade called Simphiwe.


Rapelang Rabana (@rapelangrabana)

Founder and CEO of Rekindle Learning and Executive Director of Nisela Capital, Rabana is a WEF Young Global Leader and serves on the WEF Global Agenda Council for Software and Society. She describes herself as a Technology Entrepreneur. She was one of  Forbes Africa 30 Under 30 Top African Entrepreneurs, and was selected as a Fast Company Maverick.

Rebecca Davis (@becsplanb)

Davis the author of Best White (And Other Anxious Delusions), has a master’s in English Literature from Rhodes and a master’s in Linguistics from Oxford. Davis writes for Daily Maverick.

Regina Kgatle (@RrrEeGina // @67GamesSA)

Kgatle aims to blur the lines between learning and play. Her company, Educade, creates and promotes games that are suitable for the national curriculum. Each game is housed in an Educational Arcade Machine made from e-waste and recycled materials.


Sian Ferguson (@sianfergs)

Sian Ferguson is a writer based in Grahamstown, whose areas of interest include health, social justice and cultural trends.

Sisonke Msimang (@Sisonkemsimang)

Msimang is a writer and whose work has focused on social justice and human rights, including issues like race, gender, democracy and politics. The  former Executive Director of the Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa, Msimang is a regular contributor to The Guardian, The Daily Maverick and The New York Times. Her memoir will be published by Jonathan Ball later this year.

Sydelle Willow Smith (Insta: @sydellewillowsmith)

Willow Smith is a photographer and video director, who focuses on the themes of memory, migration and identity. The first recipient of the Gisele Wulfsohn Mentorship for work on migration, Smith co-founded the solar powered mobile cinema initiative, Sunshine Cinema. Her work has been published in Le Monde, 1843, ADACC, Le Nouvelle Observateur, The Africa Report, Camera Austria, and National Geographic Traveller.

Tlaleng Mofokeng (@drtlaleng)

Dr Mofokeng is a medical doctor, who works with the International SOS. She featured on Al Jazeera’s The Cure and regularly appears as ‘Dr T’ on Kaya FM. Her focus is on reproductive health, sexual health and wellness management. Awards include Destiny Magazines’ Power of 40, Mail and Guardian 200 Young South Africans, 2016 and Winner of 120 Under 40 Award by the Bill & Melinda Gates Institute, 2016.

Screen Shot 2017-05-10 at 7.55.21 PM.png

Thato Kgathlanye (@OfficialRethaka)

Kgathlanye founded Repurpose Schoolbags, which produces a backpack for school goers made from recycled materials. It has a solar panel that charges a battery during the day, which powers a light for studying at night. She has been featured on CNBC Africa and Forbes, and  won the ELLE international Impact2 Award. In 2014 she was runner up at the prestigious Mastercard Anzisha Prize

Thuli Madonsela (@ThuliMadonsela3)

Former Public Protector of South Africa, the much loved and respected Madonsela is a Harvard Advanced Leadership Fellow, and self-describes as a ‘Life activist on Justice, Human Rights, Rule of Law and Governance’.

Zamantungwa Khumalo (Zamantungwa_K

Zamantungwa has a passion for African development, women empowerment and media. Previously Executive Producer at POWER FM, now Supplements & Special Projects Editor @mailandguardian. In 2017 she wrote an essay that had her selected to represent the Global Shapers community at the World Economic Forum in Davos. 

Zukie Siyotula (@ZukieSiyotula)

CEO of Thebe Capital, Siyotula is a Chartered Accountant (SA) and a Chartered Global Management Accountant (UK), who was ranked top student in South Africa on completion. She earned an MBA at GIBS, and is a WEF Young  Global Leader. She is also a founding member of the African Leadership Network (ALN) and Graca Machel’s New Faces New Voices Network (NFNV). Winner of numerous business awards, she was most recently awarded the Fortune Most Powerful Women Global Mentoring Exchange Program in New York and the Vital Voices Global Ambassadors Program. She is part of their Global Leadership Network, and she was also awarded the prestigious International Women’s Forum Leadership Fellowship with Harvard and Insead.

Compiled by Charlie Mathews of Treeshake. Free for use with attribution in terms of Creative Commons.

Charlie Mathews [the writer and former advertising agency owner once known as Mandy de Waal], is a queer and genderfluid writer, cartoonist and business strategist. Mathews works with Treeshake on global change campaigns, and has a special interest in gender equality.

Let’s make SA part of the world’s first 50/50 Day today and every year.