A tribute to Dr Vuyo Mahlati, an entrepreneur and champion for equality

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Dr Vuyo Mahlati, who passed away this week, was an entrepreneur, a champion for equality, a mentor and an inspiration to many. Picture: Felix Dlangamandla
Dr Vuyo Mahlati, who passed away this week, was an entrepreneur, a champion for equality, a mentor and an inspiration to many. Picture: Felix Dlangamandla

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Dr Vuyo Mahlati, who passed away this week, was an entrepreneur, a champion for equality, a mentor and an inspiration to many. She was passionate about women’s issues and leadership development.

When International Women’s Forum SA was founded 19 years ago –when its patron, Zanele Mbeki and a group of women leaders set up a South African chapter of the IWF – Mahlati was determined to work with her forum sisters to make it a success.

She remained true to the forum’s mission throughout her life. She was an inspiring and unifying force and her impact on the forum will be felt for many years to come.

Mahlati’s passion was helping emerging women leaders. At the global level, she contributed in many ways, including serving a second term as the president of the IWFSA (2011-2015), was appointed in 2013 as global director for the Leadership Foundation Board, and co-chair of the IWF Cornerstone Conference 2015 in Johannesburg. She also served on the IWF presidents’ council, a body of more than 70 presidents of the IWF forums across six continents. She was recently nominated unopposed as the 2021-2023 IWF global president. Her two-year term was due to start at the end of this month.

Mahlati’s influence and passion was recognised on many levels. In May 2010 she was appointed by the deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa to serve as one of the inaugural members of South Africa’s national planning commission for five years responsible for crafting the National Development Plan.

As the commissioner, she chaired the working group on the capable and developmental state as well as spatial transformation. She was also the deputy chairperson of the panel of experts tasked with developing the Integrated Urban Development Framework for South Africa.

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Mahlati, born and bred in Grahamstown in the Eastern Cape, obtained her PhD at Stellenbosch University. Her thesis, focusing on the role of value chains in mainstreaming rural entrepreneurs into global markets, was the only one selected by the faculty of economic and management sciences to be presented at the university’s New Voices in Science Colloquium.

Mahlati’s leadership drew from her vast experience as a policy specialist trained in the UK at the London School of Economics as well as her corporate leadership and entrepreneurship. In September 2013 she was appointed to serve as the deputy chair of the State Information Technology Agency. She was also the non-executive director of Lion of Africa Insurance Company, a subsidiary of the JSE-listed Brimstone Investment Company.

She served two terms as the chairperson of the SA Post Office board. She led the corporatisation strategy from traditional to digital business in mail, logistics and banking. She also served two terms on the Financial Markets Advisory Board and was a member of the Financial Services Board licencing committee and a director of Alexkor Mining board and fund manager at Umbono Capital (now One Stone).

As an entrepreneur Mahlati participated in major business ventures that include the listed Sasol Oil and Tongaat Hullet. As the principal consultant and co-owner of African Financial Group, her investments were in financial services and resource-based industries in emerging markets.

As a recognised global thought leader, Mahlati participated in global think tanks on corporate diversity leadership and inclusive development. She served as a member of the Global Advisory Council of Corporate Women Directors International based in Washington DC, US. Mahlati was also a member of Impact Hub Global Advisory Council, an entrepreneurial network with headquarters in Vienna, Austria. In 2011 she participated in the 2011 Aspen Seminar in Colorado, US as well as the Kiel Institute for the World Economy. She was the committee member that produced the 25-year Gauteng integrated transport strategy (Africa’s gateway).

Mahlati was the recipient of the 2008 Black Management Forum Presidential Award for Transformational Leadership as well as the Black Business Executive/Absa Kaelo (Guidance and wisdom) Award. In 2012 she was the finalist for the 11th Van Ryn’s BBQ Public Visionary Award.

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Mahlati was consistently recognised for her work in community development and was regarded as a pioneer in transformation and change management. She was a generous contributor of ideas, advice and resources to advance the IWF mission. The founder of Africa’s first indigenous wool processing plant in Butterworth, in the Eastern Cape also founded the Ivilli and Dedani brand. She was principal consultant and co-owner of the African Financial Group with her husband Dr Gil Mahlati, they were responsible for Pan African and Emerging Markets Innovative Financial Solutions.

Our deepest condolences go out to her husband Gil, their children Siseko and Lilitha, family, friends and the IWF sisters.

We deeply appreciate everything you did for the IWF SA, IWF Global, the world and the next generation of women leaders.

The authors are president, vice president and board of directors of IWF South Africa – Irene Charnley, Nolitha Fakude, Judith Sennelo, Dot Field, June Crawford, Nomonde Mabuya, Precious Moloi-Motsepe, Futhi Mtoba and Tryphosa Ramano


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