On Wednesday, 18 July 2018, power women from a diverse range of backgrounds and industries met at The Lyric at Gold Reef City to attend the first-ever Marie Claire Power Summit, progressed by Audi and in partnership with the Nelson Mandela Foundation. The Summit coincided with and marked the centenary of Nelson Mandela’s birth, and the day was a testament to the power of bringing trailblazing women together and foregrounding their expertise and narratives.

Although the Power Summit covered just one day, the packed programme included keynote speakers, one-on-one interviews and panel discussions. The event brought together some of the most inspiring leaders and game-changers in South Africa, including Nomzamo Mbatha and Lindiwe Mazibuko, and the magic in the air was tangible.

Here are the top 11 lessons we learned during the summit:

1. Create ‘teachable’ moments 

Incredible author, columnist and former TV and radio presenter, Redi Tlhabi, was our MC for the day. She kicked off the summit with an important lesson for us all: continuously look for ‘teachable moments’. Instead of getting angry or shouting louder to make our point, we should take the time to reflect on what unites us, as well as that which divides us. The audience was also encouraged to take action into their own hands. Tlhabi suggested we ask ourselves, ‘how can I be a positive influence in my society? How can I constantly get out of my comfort zone to make a difference in whichever small way, with whatever small resources I have?’ Tlhabi certainly provided us with more than one ‘teachable moment’!

2. Never give up and never stop asking ‘why not?’

Our very own Jane Raphaely, Chairman of Associated Media Publishing, gave the first keynote address. She spoke about the power of the female economy and encouraged us all to never stop asking, ‘why not?’ Whether it’s where to shop, what to shop or how to shop; if there is a way to make things easier for women, ask ‘why not?’ Raphaely also motivated the audience to ‘never ever give up’. ‘I am the proof that it works,’ she told us, ‘because what I have discovered in the various places I’ve worked is that time is the most precious thing that a woman has; you have to do in your time twice that which somebody whom you may be married to has to do’. Raphaely reminded us that while yesterday was a man’s world, today is a woman’s world, and left us to think about her burning question,’ what are you going to do with it?’

3. Dreaming is a verb

Nomzamo Mbatha reminded us that we are all in charge of our own destinies and that we have to set our own compasses. Mbatha shared how every single time, she knew she had ‘no choice but to persevere. I had no choice but to “zama zama”‘. Mbatha also reminded us of the importance of hard work and going after what you believe in. ‘Dreaming has always been a verb to me, a doing word,’ she told us. ‘I’m only obsessed with the appointment I’ve set with the universe, not with what the world thinks of me.’ 

4. It’s up to us to design the world we want to live in

Redi Tlhabi was joined onstage by Suhana Gordhan, Creative Director at FCB Africa and Chairperson of the Loeries, and Phuti Mahanyele, Executive Chairperson of Sigma Capital. Together, these three powerhouses led the business panel at the Power Summit. They reflected on the concept of ‘a man’s world’ in the fields of advertising and business and spoke about the need to create a place for woman leadership in society. Tlhabi made the vital point that ‘women are the largest economic force and yet we seldom have a say in decisions,’ with Gordhan adding that, ‘it’s up to women to design the world they want to live in and to empower one another,’ before  suggesting that, ‘if there isn’t a chair at the table, bring your own.’ Yes!  That we can do!

5. Do not underestimate Gen Z!

Busi Mkhumbuzi, Director at Tshimong, a for-profit organisation striving to get the voices of young people heard, spoke on the youth panel alongside two of her teenage colleagues from Tshimong; Thea Ernest and Madzanga Ramabulana. The trio discussed how to help South Africa’s Generation Z shape our national policies and have their say on the way these policies affect their daily lives and futures. The youth panel blew the audience away with their articulate speeches and heartening views on our country, with Ernest pointing out that ‘we need to understand our history to interrogate why discrimination and oppression happen in the present, and to interrogate the histories of struggle heroes.’

6. Empowered women should empower women 

Co-founder and executive director of the Apolitical Academy, Lindiwe Mazibuko delivered an inspiring and thought-provoking speech on being in power in politics. She touched on the tendency of South African women political leaders to undermine and push each other down, rather than build each other up. Addressing this crucial point, she insisted that, ‘this narrative that we must be threatened by each other or hold each other back is one of the greatest threats to success for women, particularly in public office.’

7. Be significant online 

Nomzamo Mbatha was joined by poet and theatre practitioner Koleka Putuma, radio personality Tumi Voster and actress Terry Pheto for an eye-opening panel discussion on ‘Safeguarding Ourselves From Hate and Bullying’. The women spoke about how they, themselves, deal with cyberbullying, reflecting on their own experiences. Pheto advised guests to protect their space online. ‘Don’t allow negativity. In my case, if we are not aligned, I mute, unfollow or block.’ She also reminded us that we are responsible for what we post, and encouraged everyone to make conscious choices, ensuring that whatever we post is ‘not only relevant, but significant.’

8. Listen to the silences

Award-winning novelist and essayist, Panashe Chigumadzi, gave a sobering talk on ‘Hearing the Silences’ with respect to the conversations we have regarding sexual violence. Chigumadzi reminded us that what is not said is as important as what is being said. ‘Listen better to the women around us when they can only be silent,’ she said, adding that as we press for more women to speak out, we need to learn to listen better to the silence that acts as a refuge for many who are the most vulnerable. ‘Silence does not represent a dead end or a black spot,’ she pointed out, before reminding us that ‘we do not lose our legitimacy just because we have chosen to be silent.’

9. Environmental responsibility starts with us

‘Plastics don’t litter, people do.’ These were the wise words of South African environmentalist, social entrepreneur, activist and human rights defender, Catherine Constantinides. Speaking alongside Fumani Mthembi, co-founder of the Pele Energy Group and Caradee Wright, Senior Specialist Scientist at the South African Medical Research Council, Constantinides believes in inspiring the next generation to have a connection with the environment. The audience was encouraged to emulate the excellent example provided by Rwanda, the ‘cleanest country in Africa’. Not only has this forward-thinking country banned plastic bags, but, as we learnt from Constantinides, on the last Saturday of every month, ‘they shut down and clean their communities’. We were reminded by this acutely socially aware woman that ‘the responsibility lies with us,’ and that ‘we only have one home; we only have one place to live in, and we have to safeguard and protect it.’

10. Luxury is embedded in African culture

CEO of Luxe Corp and Founder of Luxury Connect Africa, Uche Pézard, received a standing ovation for her rousing speech, ‘Can Africa Redefine Luxury to the World?’. She pointed out that the wealthiest individual in recorded history is African and that Africa currently has the highest number of raw materials for luxury products across all categories, in the form of natural and human resources. Yet, Pézard told us, people continue to laugh in her face when she speaks of luxury in Africa. ‘Luxury is African and embedded in African culture,’ she stated, ‘but why don’t we talk about this?’ Pézard questioned why Africa is not benefitting from its own products and why we, as Africans, have been silent on the riches of our heritage. As she so rightly pointed out, ‘when you buy a brand, you’re buying into a heritage.’ In Pézard’s words, ‘we as Africans need to promote our rich culture’.

11. Decoding tech’s ability to change the world 

The day rounded off with a science and tech panel discussion featuring the co-founder of online home cleaning service, SweepSouth, Aisha Pandor and Bathabile Mpofu, co-founder of Nkazimulo Applied Sciences. ‘If you’re in science, contribute by doing something consistently!’ advised Mpofu. ‘Even if it’s monthly. It can’t just be retweeting!’

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