TRIBUTE | Honouring the life of Dr Vuyo Mahlati

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Dr Vuyo Mahlati has died.
Dr Vuyo Mahlati has died.
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Dr Vuyokazi Felicity Mahlati was a brave and powerful woman who spoke the truth in the face of injustice. She was a fighter for justice, writes Dr Anna Mokgokong.


Some people join organisations, companies and serve communities and their nation, looking for something for themselves. They look for inspiration, leadership ideas, day-to-day advice, seek reflection on the more intellectual and entrepreneurial benefits for their personal benefit. 

Some members recognise that an organisation and a nation can only offer what is put into it in the first place. They do stellar work. They stand out. They are the ones whose input is so significant that the organisation, community and nation could not be what it is without their specific and immeasurable contribution. These are the passionate nation builders. On this list you will find Dr Vuyokazi Felicity Mahlati. 

A life of service

She was committed to the notion that an organisation and nation itself is more powerful and useful to its members and society as a result of the contribution made to it by dedicated professionals.

The litany of characteristics that Vuyo came to be appreciated for, is very long and varied. She was a wonderful person, selfless, caring, giving, a mentor, an outstanding businesswoman, executive director, entrepreneur, a superb farmer, manufacturer, a gifted mentor, a devoted family woman, an inquisitive adventurer, an avid reader, a sharp intellectual and a daring innovator.

READ | The next move for woman empowerment is innovation

Vuyo was a fearless social entrepreneur and gender activist, who was always at the forefront of women entrepreneurship and made deliberate decisions and influenced policies that affected the rural economies in South Africa.

These are only some of the exemplary qualities I observed in her over the many years of our association and friendship which included our time spent serving various organisations and her becoming President of the International Women's Forum South Africa (IWFSA), an organisation I also served as President.

Here are just a few of the bountiful, God-given gifts she shared with her family, friends, business associates, communities, nation, and also with the many and varied satellite institutions orbiting the professional universe:

  • Former chairperson of Land Reform and Agriculture Advisory panel;
  • Former member of the National Planning Commission. As the Commissioner she chaired the working group on the Capable and Development State, as well as Spatial Transformation;
  • Deputy Chairperson of the Panel of Experts tasked with developing the Integrated Urban Development Framework for South Africa;
  • Founder of Ivili Loboya which led to the birth of the Dedani Collection – Africa’s first indigenous wool processing plant in Butterworth in the Eastern Cape;
  • Former President of the International Women Forum South Africa;
  • Global Director of the International Women’s Forum;
  • President of the African Farmers Association of South Africa and well-known public policy and development planning specialist; and
  • President Elect of the Global Chapter of the International Women's Forum, a position she failed to fulfil due to the calling of God.

The eclectic and highly selective range of Vuyo's talents, interests and accomplishments is testimony that she was an astoundingly wide-ranging lady. She was truly a woman for all seasons with a renaissance spirit. 

Her energy was boundless and generous. In addition, the IWFSA and other organisations benefited enormously from her talents and selfless spirit of service and availability. She gave extensive time and leadership talent to this important institution.

As a friend, neighbour and fellow member of the IWFSA, I was particularly impressed and inspired by her unquenchable and high-spirited enthusiasm for people. She exhibited a laser focus for the impact on people in everything from events and decisions.

What we will all miss is her unwavering support she conveyed to all of us. When one of our IWFSA members lost her father a week ago, she supported tremendously. She is now inconsolable with Vuyo's passing. So are all of us.

Her intellect was fertile and her energy was of supernova dimension. Her initiatives overflowed into wonderful community and national projects, large and small, directed towards people. Her accomplishments will live on in countless memories of people she helped and served well. Let this be the legacy for all of us.

Speaking truth to power 

Her loss to the fight for black women empowerment is profound. The loss to her beautiful family cannot be described. Sadly too, the IWFSA, her communities of Makhanda (Grahamstown), Butterworth and the world over, have also been suddenly left bereft of the smile, the laugh, and the extra effort that would mark her every enterprise. 

Vuyo was a brave and powerful woman who spoke the truth in the face of injustice. She was a fighter for justice. She taught women how to organise, how to treat people with respect and listen to them and how to lift up the youth.

READ | OPINION | If we are going to survive the new normal, we need more women leaders at the table

The whole structure of her life was about helping others. The work she did was a fundamental part of her life.

What does her departure mean for women empowerment? The grace and blessing are that Vuyo used the time given to her so well and so fully, so in a sense it is hard for us who remain behind to complain that the legacy is now determined and the future is less bright without her. 

The saying goes "it is not how long you have lived on this earth that matters, but rather how impactful you have been". Vuyo was impactful.

Through her courage, talent or altruism, she has shown us what selfless servant leadership can look like in reality. 

Vuyo represented everything that was good, wholesome and lovely. She had so much ability, energy and charisma. May God rest her gentle soul.

- Dr Anna Mokgokong is the chairperson of AfroCentric Health Group, which owns Medscheme and other health care providers, and is the former President of the International Women’s Forum South Africa.

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