Judy Dlamini is a suc­cess story

She cred­its her par­ents and their work ethic for the per­son she has be­come and she en­cour­ages oth­ers to fol­low suit

Mail & Guardian - - News - Heather Dug­more

‘In busi­ness and life you have to work hard, you have to have in­tegrity and you have to choose your part­ners care­fully,” says Judy Dlamini, med­i­cal doc­tor, MBA, doc­tor of busi­ness lead­er­ship, Uni­ver­sity of the Wit­wa­ter­srand chan­cel­lor and one of South Africa’s most suc­cess­ful en­trepreneurs.

On De­cem­ber 12, the Nel­son Man­dela Uni­ver­sity’s fac­ulty of busi­ness and eco­nomic sciences awarded her with an honorary doc­tor­ate at its un­der­grad­u­ate, mas­ter and doc­toral grad­u­a­tion cer­e­mony.

“I am most grate­ful to Nel­son Man­dela Uni­ver­sity, the only uni­ver­sity to­tally led by women,” Dlamini says. “I have never re­ceived any honorary recog­ni­tion. I worked for my doc­tor­ate and there is some­thing es­pe­cially sig­nif­i­cant to be awarded this honorary doc­tor­ate in Nel­son Man­dela’s cen­te­nary year.”

She prac­tised as a med­i­cal doc­tor for sev­eral years be­fore pur­su­ing a busi­ness ca­reer as the founder and chair­per­son of the Mbekani Group, which she launched 22 years ago. To­day, it in­cludes a range of com­pa­nies, in­clud­ing sur­gi­cal equip­ment, fa­cil­i­ties man­age­ment, se­cu­rity, com­mer­cial prop­erty and lux­ury fash­ion re­tail. She has served on many boards and is ac­tively in­volved in women’s em­pow­er­ment and ed­u­ca­tion im­prove­ment ini­tia­tives.

Her mes­sage to all grad­u­ates is: “We find our­selves in an en­vi­ron­ment where too many peo­ple are lack­ing in­tegrity and who are only about serv­ing them­selves. If you op­er­ate like this, sooner or later, things will go bad and you will have to ac­count for what you have done.

“Rather con­duct your­self with in­tegrity from the out­set and treat your­self and oth­ers with re­spect, be­cause then there can be no skele­tons and no risk of de­stroy­ing your rep­u­ta­tion and legacy.”

She says this phi­los­o­phy also ap­plies to the peo­ple with whom you do busi­ness.

“Choose your part­ners care­fully. I say this with ex­pe­ri­ence af­ter hav­ing made a bad in­vest­ment a while ago by part­ner­ing with peo­ple who turned out not to be clean busi­ness peo­ple.

“When I dis­cov­ered this, I had to get out of that busi­ness be­cause my name was go­ing to be com­pro­mised. De­tan­gling my­self from this part­ner­ship was dif­fi­cult and I had to go the lit­i­ga­tion route, which was ex­pen­sive, both emo­tion­ally and fi­nan­cially.”

She adds that there is al­ways an el­e­ment of fear about start­ing any­thing new be­cause it re­quires strength and re­silience. But, she says, this is healthy fear, as op­posed to a crip­pling fear born out of a lack of self-be­lief.

Self-be­lief is a ma­jor theme in Dlamini’s life. “I grew up in Westville near Dur­ban, at a time when it was a crime to have my com­plex­ion. Yet I was raised by par­ents who en­cour­aged me to pur­sue my ed­u­ca­tion and who told me I could be any­thing I chose to be.”

Dlamini’s par­ents, Rita (born Ng­wane) and Thomas Dlamini, re­fused to be bro­ken by the apartheid sys­tem. Their strength, re­silience and en­tre­pre­neur­ial spirit led to their daugh­ter’s suc­cess.

“My mother was a pri­mary school teacher and my fa­ther was an en­tre­pre­neur. My mother would run night schools at no charge to em­power do­mes­tic work­ers. To sup­ple­ment her teacher’s salary, she sold snacks at school and made chil­dren’s clothes, pet­ti­coats and jer­seys, which she sold on week­ends.

“My fa­ther started his own paint­ing busi­ness and bought land where African peo­ple could in those days. He then built and rented out apart­ments, or ‘flats’ as we called them back then. He had en­tre­pre­neur­ial flair, which apartheid er­ased in many peo­ple.”

But not in her fa­ther and mother. “That is why I am so re­silient; I never give up and I have been like that from birth. I had no choice; it was how I grew up.”

Her fa­ther died while she was wait­ing for her ma­tric re­sults. He never got to see his daugh­ter grad­u­ate as a med­i­cal doc­tor, con­tinue in his en­tre­pre­neur­ial foot­steps and be­come the suc­cess she is to­day.

What is so im­por­tant for her is to con­vey to all African chil­dren is that they, too, “can be any­thing they choose to be, which is why I am where I am to­day”.

“A lot of pos­i­tive sto­ries, sto­ries of suc­cess­ful peo­ple, don’t have an African face. We need pos­i­tive African sto­ries to build a pos­i­tive mind-set in the African child. Nei­ther do most or­di­nary peo­ple have a sense of how im­por­tant their con­tri­bu­tion is.”

She pur­sues this in her lat­est book, The Other Story, which is com­ing out in Fe­bru­ary.

“So many peo­ple have given back to their com­mu­ni­ties and in this book I tell a range of sto­ries, mainly sto­ries of South Africans but also from other parts of the con­ti­nent, about or­di­nary peo­ple, men and women who con­sis­tently do what is right for their em­ploy­ees, fam­i­lies and their com­mu­ni­ties, but about whom we never hear in the me­dia … I don’t be­lieve in big names; I be­lieve in or­di­nary peo­ple do­ing what is right. And there are a lot of those,” Dlamini says, adding that Pres­i­dent Cyril Ramaphosa’s Thuma Mina (Send Me) cam­paign is all about this, as it high­lights self-sac­ri­fice, in­di­vid­ual re­spon­si­bil­ity and the im­por­tance of pos­i­tively chang­ing mind-sets.

She re­peat­edly em­pha­sises the need for hard work. “Whether you are an em­ployee or en­tre­pre­neur, the hard work never stops if you want to be suc­cess­ful. You also might not get the job that you are qual­i­fied for at first, but you need to ap­ply your­self as if it is the best job in the world. This cre­ates suc­cess and char­ac­ter, and you can ad­vance from here.”

She is also a strong pro­po­nent of em­pow­er­ing women, which, she says, starts with a qual­ity ed­u­ca­tion from the ear­li­est age and goes all the way through to chal­leng­ing stereo­types and prej­u­dices about women lead­ers. “If you stick to stereo­types about who can lead, you will have a very medi­ocre lead­er­ship.”

Dlamini’s first book, Equal But Dif fer­ent: Women Lead­ers’ Life Sto­ries, Over­com­ing Race, Gen­der and So­cial Class, based on her re­search for her doc­tor­ate, ex­plores the in­ter­sec­tion of race, gen­der and so­cial class and its ef­fect on women lead­ers’ ca­reer pro­gres­sion.

On the ed­u­ca­tion front, Dlamini is the co-founder with her hus­band, Sizwe Nx­as­ana, of the Si­fiso Learn­ing Group. He is a lead­ing busi­nessper­son and was one of the first black char­tered ac­coun­tants in South Africa. This group in­cludes Fu­ture Na­tion Schools, Si­fiso Pub­lish­ers, Si­fiso Ed­u­ca­tion Prop­er­ties and Si­fiso Edtech, all of which pro­vide ed­u­ca­tion, con­tent, tools and places of learn­ing to help pupils and stu­dents to ful­fil their po­ten­tial. The group is named in hon­our of their late son, Si­fiso Nx­as­ana, who re­ceived a Bcom hon­ours de­gree from Wits in 2008.

The Si­fiso Learn­ing Group pro­motes gen­der equal­ity from the youngest age and opened its first Fu­ture Na­tion Schools in 2017. It now has three preschools and two high schools in Gaut­eng.

“We start from 18 months and go through to grade 10 at present, with the aim of adding grade 11 and 12, and ex­pand­ing to other prov­inces,” says Dlamini. Each child who en­ters their schools is treated as a val­ued be­ing with great cre­ative and think­ing abil­ity, she says.

Dlamini was in­stalled as chan­cel­lor of Wits at the be­gin­ning of De­cem­ber and says she is “very en­cour­aged about how Wits has trans­formed de­mo­graph­i­cally and at the same time aca­demic ex­cel­lence has con­tin­ued and ad­vanced”.

She adds that ter­tiary ed­u­ca­tion should not only be about uni­ver­sity. “It needs to em­pha­sise the im­por­tance and el­e­vate the stature of our tech­ni­cal and vo­ca­tional ed­u­ca­tion and train­ing col­leges, and cre­ate a de­sire in young peo­ple to be­come ar­ti­sans, in­clud­ing elec­tri­cians, me­chan­ics, plumbers, car­pen­ters, sound and in­stru­ment tech­ni­cians.

“We need all sorts of di­verse, skilled, qual­i­fied peo­ple to grow the econ­omy and ad­dress poverty.

“The only way out of poverty is through qual­ity ed­u­ca­tion. Any sel­f­re­spect­ing coun­try has to be able to ed­u­cate its poor, and this in­cludes com­pre­hen­sive free higher ed­u­ca­tion for aca­dem­i­cally de­serv­ing stu­dents.”

As a re­flec­tion of this, one of her com­pa­nies, Lu­mi­nance, a lux­ury fash­ion chain, of­fers South Africano­ri­gin la­bels such as Max­hosa, David Tlale and Clad Chic along­side renowned in­ter­na­tional brands. Her in-store mag­a­zine, Lu­mi­nance, show­cases high fash­ion along­side press­ing health is­sues, such as the dan­gers of skin light­en­ers and black hair prod­ucts that lead to a loss of hair.

“With my back­ground as a med­i­cal doc­tor, I am very in­vested in th­ese is­sues and what con­cerns me is that most of the phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals come from First World coun­tries and pre­dom­i­nantly ad­dress First World prob­lems. I am driv­ing for African so­lu­tions for African prob­lems.”

She says it’s crit­i­cal to change the idea that our knowl­edge and in­no­va­tions are in­fe­rior to those of the Global North. “We need to cel­e­brate our African­ness and our in­tel­lec­tual con­tri­bu­tion to the world. We need to cel­e­brate the beauty and di­ver­sity of our looks, com­plex­ions and be­ings. The process has started but I be­lieve I will see this sig­nif­i­cantly ad­vance in my life­time.”

“We need pos­i­tive

African sto­ries to build a pos­i­tive mind-set in the African child”

Pow­er­house: Judy Dlamini has a string of de­grees be­hind her name, as well as a num­ber of com­pa­nies. But it is ed­u­ca­tion, school and ter­tiary, that is very im­por­tant to her. Photo: Sup­plied by Judy Dlamini

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