When Daphne Mashile-Nkosi, fresh from collecting the 2015 Africa Female Business Leader of the Year Award, says she believes that being a woman is still an impediment to raising business finance, alarm bells should ring.
Mashile-Nkosi is known as the “iron lady” of South African mining more for her achievements in establishing the Kalagadi Manganese mine and sinter plant in the Northern Cape – the latest in a long line of mines that started with Eyesizwe Mining, one of the founding elements of the giant Exxaro – than for the awards she has received in the past few years.
Last year, it was the Africa CEO of the Year Award. In 2013, it was the International Star for Leadership in Quality Award and the Institute of People Management CEO of the Year Award. This year, she was recognised with a special commendation from the Georgia Legislative Black Caucus in the US.
At her office in Rivonia, Mashile-Nkosi explains why she arrives a little late: “I heard that Nkosazana [Dlamini-Zuma, the chairperson of the African Union Commission] was in town and I just had to tell her about the award.”
And the award was not mentioned again. Instead, she launched into a long and impassioned plea for a greater and deeper understanding of her constant and apparently never-ending struggle for women’s rights.
“Of course, you can say we are very far along the road now and we must celebrate the progress that has been made,” she says, claiming that almost 42% representation of women in Parliament and the small but increasing number of women on boards are victories.
She welcomes the increasingly broad support for women, especially in Women’s Month, but she says there is still a long way to go before there is real equality in both boardrooms and everyday life.
“You are at the mercy of those who actually fund you,” she says.
“If I can’t raise R1 billion to start a mine after taking all kinds of steps to prove its viability, what chance then for a poor woman in Pofadder who needs help?
“I am sure it is because credit committees are usually white men and men with black skins who worry more about their bosses than about what their clients need.
“Development institutions are competing with commercial banks and most of them are more worried about risk than they are about opportunity. If you look at opportunities in business, I am still discussing the same things that we were doing 21 years ago about the inclusion of women.”
When asked whether she gets tired of banging the drum, Mashile-Nkosi does not miss a beat: “I am a broken record, but I don’t care. It has to be said.
“I do get tired of making the same points, but as long as the problems are there, we have to keep working to transform what is plainly unjust. Too many women in our country are still hopeless and helpless for anyone to stop trying.
“I know that with Kalagadi Manganese I have helped to build a R7 billion business from nothing and we have created 3 000 jobs in the Northern Cape, where there was nothing, not even hope.
“We have proved that women can achieve if they are given the opportunity by putting them into the most senior positions, and we have watched them succeed.”