Woman On Top – Trudy Makhanya

As the Pres­i­dent’s eco­nomic ad­vi­sor, TRUDI MAKHAYA is en­trusted with rais­ing bil­lions in in­vest­ments over the next five years. We learnt she isn’t just a num­ber cruncher but is a cre­ative at heart

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Trudi Makhaya dom­i­nated head­lines in April this year with her ap­point­ment as Pres­i­dent Cyril Ramaphosa’s eco­nomic ad­vi­sor. Nat­u­rally, many took to Google to find out more about the woman spear­head­ing the coun­try’s eco­nomic changes. Makhaya’s role comes with the colos­sal re­spon­si­bil­ity of gen­er­at­ing $100 bil­lion (over R1,4 tril­lion) in new in­vest­ments, a task that does not seem to faze the Ham­man­skraal-born econ­o­mist.

On how it felt to re­ceive a call from the Pres­i­dent pre­sent­ing her with pos­si­bly one of the big­gest (and most stress­ful) roles in his of­fice, an un­con­cerned Makhaya says she still has no clue what cri­te­ria was used in iden­ti­fy­ing her as the best per­son for the job. Prior to this ap­point­ment, Makhaya had never worked in pol­i­tics be­fore, mak­ing her ap­point­ment a re­fresh­ing one. “When I got the phone call, I was ex­cited and ready to take on the job. But dur­ing my first week in the job, I re­alised the mere thought of my re­spon­si­bil­i­ties was ac­tu­ally over­whelm­ing. I had to think long and hard about how I was go­ing to tackle this role,” she ex­plains.

Makhaya ad­mits the past few months haven’t been as daunt­ing as she had an­tic­i­pated, thanks to a few women who have pre­vi­ously held sim­i­lar roles. She says her first instinct was to reach out to these women but some took ini­tia­tive and made con­tact with her — some­thing that was a pleas­ant sur­prise. “Their coun­sel is com­ing in quite handy espe­cially be­cause they taught me how to think strate­gi­cally in this role. The sup­port

has been amaz­ing, to say the least,” she says.

US tele­vi­sion se­ries like West Wing and Scan­dal of­ten present work­ing in the Pres­i­dency as a thrilling ex­pe­ri­ence rid­dled with twists, turns and the most sleep-dis­cour­ag­ing pres­sure. But this de­pic­tion couldn’t be fur­ther from the truth, ac­cord­ing to Makhaya’s anec­dotes. “We sit in a lot of en­gage­ment meet­ings espe­cially for our new in­vest­ment drive. I’ve been in this po­si­tion for five months and I’ve al­ready had over 50 en­gage­ments with both lo­cal and in­ter­na­tional in­vestors,” she says.


Makhaya at­tributes her pas­sion and views on wealth and the econ­omy on her mod­est up­bring­ing in Le­bo­neng, Ham­man­skraal, an ex­pe­ri­ence she de­scribes as “grow­ing up in the bub­ble of a close knit com­mu­nity”. Dur­ing the ‘80s, her home­town was a home­land un­der Bo­phuthatswana. “There was an in­dus­trial area nearby where most mem­bers of the com­mu­nity worked. Peo­ple were cre­at­ing wealth and were good role mod­els. The com­mu­nity was build­ing its own schools and clin­ics. It was here where I saw the im­por­tance of cre­at­ing a sus­tain­able hub in a com­mu­nity,” Makhaya says.

An only child, Makhaya was raised by her grand­mother and mother. Her mother was a re­spected teacher in their com­mu­nity, who of­ten spread the ed­u­ca­tion gospel. “My mother went back to var­sity when I was in pri­mary school, an ex­pe­ri­ence and les­son that’s stood me in good stead through­out my ca­reer. She paused her ed­u­ca­tion at the Univer­sity of Zu­l­u­land in the ‘80s due to vi­o­lent protests but she per­se­vered and grad­u­ated nonethe­less,” Makhaya re­calls.

As an ar­dent de­bater in school, she as­sumed she’d end up in law, yet stud­ied a BCom in Law and Eco­nom­ics in­stead. Her then newly dis­cov­ered pas­sion for eco­nom­ics led her to study to­wards a Mas­ters de­gree at the Univer­sity of the Wit­wa­ter­srand. She then re­ceived a Rhodes Schol­ar­ship and com­pleted an MBA and MSc in De­vel­op­ment Eco­nom­ics from Ox­ford Univer­sity. “Ox­ford was an eye-opener and some­what of a chal­lenge for me. It was an en­rich­ing ex­pe­ri­ence, one that changed my sense of be­ing in the world. It also helped me see South Africa in a dif­fer­ent light,” she says.


When it comes to her ca­reer his­tory, Makhaya says her mother’s own choices in­flu­enced her to never be afraid of putting her life on hold while pur­su­ing her dreams. She ad­mits to be­ing fairly ex­per­i­men­tal when it comes to her past job choices and tak­ing a dif­fer­ent path as and when the need arises. For in­stance, would you ever have thought she is a fic­tion au­thor with work pub­lished in New Con­trast and the Sol Plaatje Euro­pean Union Po­etry An­thol­ogy Vol IV?

Upon her re­turn from Ox­ford Univer­sity, Makhaya kick­started her ca­reer at An­gloGold Ashanti. “Be­cause I needed to gain ex­pe­ri­ence be­fore my MBA, I worked in a project man­age­ment role in the min­ing and min­eral re­sources sec­tor. It was a very dif­fi­cult and hos­tile en­vi­ron­ment to ex­ist in, espe­cially as a ju­nior. But de­spite all that, I still went in and used every op­por­tu­nity ef­fec­tively,” she re­calls.

She then went on to work as an eco­nom­ics con­sul­tant at Ge­n­e­sis An­a­lyt­ics, fol­lowed by a ten­ure as a man­age­ment con­sul­tant at Deloitte. There­after, Makhaya joined the Com­pe­ti­tion Com­mis­sion as a key fig­ure from 2010 to 2014, an ex­pe­ri­ence she de­scribes as re­fresh­ing. “It was a new govern­ment in­sti­tu­tional struc­ture run by young peo­ple — and that was in­vig­o­rat­ing. There were no legacy, nor racial is­sues. It was a fun place to work in and we were fairly suc­cess­ful com­pared to other com­pe­ti­tion agen­cies around the world,” she says.

But, en­trepreneur­ship beck­oned in 2015, lead­ing Makhaya to leave the Com­pe­ti­tion Com­mis­sion to set up her own startup, Makhaya Ad­vi­sory. For now, she’s given her­self a sab­bat­i­cal from the busi­ness to give her Pres­i­den­tial ad­vi­sory role the at­ten­tion it de­serves. “I’d al­ways dreamt of hav­ing a strong ser­vice of­fer­ing rooted in eco­nom­ics to help or­gan­i­sa­tions and businesses align with eco­nomic pol­icy. For­tu­nately, I had part­ners in the busi­ness and hadn’t hired any em­ploy­ees which made it eas­ier to moth­ball my busi­ness and hand over,” she ex­plains. Among some of the other many re­spon­si­bil­i­ties she had to re­lin­quish were her Busi­ness Day col­umn as well as her non-ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor­ship at MTN South Africa. She still sits on the board of Vume­lana Ad­vi­sory, a com­pany that works in land re­form. “They help com­mu­ni­ties get their land back, pair them with op­er­a­tional part­ners and find sus­tain­able ways of us­ing the land wisely. We won’t be an­other Zim­babwe be­cause this model’s about find­ing the per­fect part­ner­ships,” she ex­plains, sound­ing like she has found an­other pas­sion project in land re­form. She con­tin­ues, “I think we have what it takes to make land re­form a suc­cess. We just need good gov­er­nance and good sup­port struc­tures. We also need to get it into peo­ple’s heads that black peo­ple can farm, and they can run suc­cess­ful farms,” she con­cludes.

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