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5 trailblazing South African women you need to know

By M Kumona

In a world that at times systematically either puts women in boxes, at times misrepresents us and wants us to not take a stand, here are five women we applaud for breaking the mould.

Pamela Mabini

Pic: Rnews

Before we could hear the powerful statements of warrior sister Cheryl Zondi and other brave women in the Omotoso trial, it was gender activist Pamela Mabini, who was one of the instrumental people to blow the whistle on the church leader.

Mabini used her own resources when she initially found out the alleged abuse to try help the girls. It through her efforts that this story was brought to the attention of South Africans through television shows Cutting Edge and Special Assignment. She has never missed a day since the trial started. Her life has been threatened many times by people who support Omotoso and she has remained steadfast.

Zanele Muholi

Award-winning visual artist Zanele Muholi’s work as an activist highlighting the dangers and challenges of South Africa’s LGBTQ community deserves great praise. Her work educates us of what is happening in the community and spearheads a change of mindset. In a world where patriarchy has a stronghold on most of us, Muholi’s work is changing perceptions.

‘I am producing this photographic document to encourage individuals in my community to be brave enough to occupy public spaces, brave enough to create without fear of being vilified, brave enough to teach people about our history and to rethink what history is all about; to reclaim it for ourselves, to encourage people to use artistic tools such as cameras as weapons to fight back,” she said in a recent interview with Financial Times.

Zulaikha Patel

It’s one thing to stand up for ourselves as full-grown women, and it’s another to do that just at 13. That is exactly what Zulaikha Patel did in 2016 when she took a stand against systematic racism at her school, Pretoria High School.

Patel led a protest at her school and trended on social media for speaking up against discrimination because of her hair. Her stance has not only helped break barriers in systematic racism, but it has also inspired pride in natural hair.


Tony Gum

Even though she says her Black Coca series came by ‘accident’ , the series of pictures  Tony Gum took representing black people in her own curated Coca-Cola adverts, made a name for the young visual artist. Her work had her dubbed ‘The coolest girl in Cape Town’ by Vogue magazine. Through her work, she shows how we as Africans can embrace western culture and yet stay true to our own heritage.


Kiara Nirghin


She is only 18 and yet she is already changing the world in a huge way. Kiara developed a unique biodegradable, inexpensive super-absorbent polymer that holds hundreds of times its weight in water when stored in the soil. It’s free of harmful chemicals. Kiara’s invention is crucial in helping to protect the environment and curb some of the hectic effects of droughts. Kiara who won the Grand Prize at the Google Science Fair in 2017, has been invited by Forbes and TED to speak about her work.

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