The incredible role that South Africa has played on a global scale is undeniable. From politics, to the arts, South Africans have a long history of being movers and shakers. In August we’re celebrating Women’s Month by taking a look at past, present and future icons. These women are truly iconic, not only because of who they are, but because of the contributions they have made to their respective fields.
1. Miriam Tlali – Although her name might not be as familiar as some of the other women in this list, Miriam Tlali had a huge impact on the country’s literary heritage. She was the very first black woman to publish a book, and her books always reflected the times and the spaces she occupied. She was also one of the first people to write about Soweto and the Uprising of 1976. It was themes in her work like this that would see her books being banned for many years during apartheid. But she continued to write and grow her body of work. She passed away earlier this year in February 2017, and is today hailed as one of the most important writers that our country has produced.
2. Winnie Mandela – Winnie is one of the women on this list that needs very little introduction. She played a major role in shaping South Africa’s democracy during the struggle for democracy. Although she has had a controversial political career at times, her heroic acts during apartheid made her a struggle icon revered to this day. In the August edition of Marie Claire, we featured an exciting new book about her, available from Jacana Books.
3. Penelope Heyns – Anyone old enough to remember the major sporting events of the 90s would remember Penelope Heyns. She was absolutely unreal once she dove into the water, moving at unbelievable speeds and breaking record after record. As South Africa was re-emerging onto the international sporting stage in the early 90s, Penelope Heyns took part in the Summer Olympics of 1992, the Commonwealth Games of 1994, and countless other games, proudly representing the country as a superb athlete.
4.Miriam Makeba – Mama Africa is the embodiment of South African music. But her music touched more than just South Africans, it saw her perform on all the world’s major stages and she truly became a citizen of the world. She used her voice and music to raise awareness about the horrific situation in South Africa during apartheid. Miriam Makeba passed away in 2008 at a golden age of 78 and is today remembered as one of the greatest South African musicians of all time.
5. Mamphela Ramphele – She has so many accomplishments under her belt that it’s hard to believe one person could have achieved all that. She’s a medical doctor, a prominent academic, a businesswoman and a politician of note. She was born in 1947, and from a very young age, she was interested in politics and the world around her. It was this interest that would later see her forming a part of organisations like the South African Student’s Association (SASO). She has been celebrated by universities and institutions all around the world and remains as one of the most prominent figures of our time.
6. Zanele Muholi – Arguably one of the most prominent photographers alive today, Zanele Muholi’s body of work explores themes like sexuality, gender and race. The impact of her work is unquestionable as she currently has her work exhibited around the world, including the prestigious Art/Afrique: Le nouvel atelier exhibition in Paris held by Fondation Louis Vuitton.
This list forms only a tiny fraction of the remarkable women from our beautiful country; and it’s impossible to choose just a few. That’s why we want to hear from you, which South African women do you think are iconic? And why do you think so? During the month of August we’ll add the submissions to this list, so keep your eyes on the post as we celebrate South Africa’s powerful women. Let us know on Twitter or email.
This August we celebrate women, both the icons in the media, but also every iconic mother, daughter, sister and friend in our lives. Grab your copy of the August edition of Marie Claire to read more about the incredible women in our Future Shapers feature.