Her new role as the first black woman to head the JCCI is another opportunity to serve her country
Jackie Mpondo-Hendricks, who was recently elected president of the Johannesburg Chamber of Commerce and Industry (JCCI), has lived an eventful life but without the typical black rags-to-riches narrative.
The former model and actor is the first black woman president of the 129-year-old JCCI.
However, Mpondo-Hendricks has had her fair share of firsts and seems ready to conquer her latest “first”.
She was born and raised in the Port Elizabeth township of New Brighton, in the Eastern Cape, the daughter of supermodel Bubbles Mpondo and grandchild of upright church folk.
“I had a sheltered childhood. I was orphaned at 19 when my grandparents passed on and I lost my mother, who was a supermodel in the 1970s, when I was eight,” she tells City Press at the JCCI’s offices in Milpark, Johannesburg.
“I wanted to be an archaeologist. I was fascinated by Egypt. I changed my mind when I realised that it required scratching around for fossils. I had to rethink,” she says.
She points out that having had a child at a very young age, she had to decide early on that survival was a priority.
“A lot of things I did were based on survival instead of purpose. Now that I am older, I do it the other way round,” she says.
Like her mother, Bubbles Mpondo defied apartheid laws by dating an Afrikaner body builder, Jannie Beetge.
The Immorality Act prevented interracial relationships.
Mpondo-Hendricks has also had her own defiance moments which she admits are part of her sometimes “rebellious” character.
“I challenged the concept of beauty and in 1989 I was a finalist with a German cut [hairstyle], which was not normal at the time. I was criticised for not entering Miss Black SA but rather Miss SA and I said I would challenge the concept of beauty. Looking back it seems I was quite a rebel and that has also resulted in me being the ‘first’ black person in a lot of career moves,” she says.
After matriculating she enrolled at the now defunct Vista University for a Bachelor of Commerce degree but had to drop out to find work.
“At the time I wanted to do something in business. I had started a modelling school and really liked being an entrepreneur.
“Unfortunately, I couldn’t finish the degree and had to find work. I ended up working for an oil company and was part of their first call centre,” she says.
She was also freelancing in the film industry as an actor before moving to Cape Town to produce TV dramas when democracy dawned in 1994.
“I produced most of the Xhosa dramas in Cape Town and was one of the founding members of the Independent Producers Organisation SA,” she says.
She says back then she could survive an entire year on the earnings from a single production as there were not many opportunities for producers.
The industry, says Mpondo-Hendricks, was not as open as it is now and that prompted her to look for better opportunities.
This led her to a marketing role in a major black economic empowerment company and many similar jobs followed, including being involved in the country’s bid to host the 2004 Olympics.
“I was involved in the Olympic bid, the 2006 soccer World Cup bid, the Rugby World Cup bid, [the setting up of the] ex-political prisoners fund and other major corporate initiatives in Cape Town. I was there just at the right time and had opportunities.
“Then something started happening. People started calling me to talk about black people and they were paying me for it. It was called the emerging market back then and I got gigs for marketing consulting,” Mpondo-Hendricks says.
With her accumulated experience working on various sporting bids and projects, Cell C came calling in 2004, asking her to join its pre-launch marketing strategy team.
“I was reluctant to relocate to Johannesburg because this is the city my mother returned from in a coffin. For me, Johannesburg was always a place to make money and leave,” Mpondo-Hendricks says.
After the launch of Cell C, she moved to Nigeria for three years and when she returned she was roped into the pre-launch team of iBurst, the first black-owned telecommunications company.
“I was doing the same thing I did for Cell C which was launch to market,” she says.
Her next job was as a consultant in the women abuse activism space, where she worked alongside former deputy president Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka.
“I then returned to corporate and joined Altech as general manager for retail and that’s what I did for three years,” she says.
It was while at Altech that she experienced a defining moment.
“I was on holiday sitting on the banks of the Zambezi River at Victoria Falls and I heard a clarion voice saying ‘leave and resign from your job’.
“This voice was competing with the roar of the waterfall. I asked why and the voice said ‘just do it’. When I returned I did exactly that. Honestly, I was lost and didn’t know what I was going to do, so I left Altech and started with the 16 Days of Activism for no Violence Against Women and Children campaign, and it was only then I realised that the message was that my life was not meant for income but rather for impact and purpose.
“I had a paradigm shift in that time of my life,” she says of that surreal moment by the river.
Mpondo-Hendricks says that experience also made her discover a lot of things about herself, including getting involved in more social impact initiatives.
“There’s something that humbles you when you go from a multimillionaire to a ‘zeronaire’ – it’s an Aha! moment and I realised it was that experience that propelled me to join JCCI three years ago and be where I am now,” she says.
As president of the 2 000-member JCCI, Mpondo-Hendricks says she wants the chamber to be more inclusive and financially stable as well as begin to make the various bilateral agreements it has signed with other chambers across the world operational.
She’s hopeful this will make it an effective gateway for trade access.
She also says there needs to be a balancing act between dealing with the many challenges the country is facing and being ready to embrace the fourth industrial revolution.
“I don’t think we are ready. Because we are a developing country and a young democracy, I don’t think we are ready for the fourth industrial revolution. So before we jump on that bandwagon, we have critical challenges that we need to deal with first,” she adds.
She says that the organisation’s 129-year legacy is not something she wants to change but rather the chamber should evolve, as this comes with a lot of advantages.
“Sometimes you find the organisation’s own environment forces it to have a sense of agility to reposition itself to serve the needs of its current constituency,” Mpondo-Hendricks says.