Vuyo Mahlati 2019


Born in the Eastern Cape, Vuyo Mahlati started her education at a farm school where her mother taught, and later went to a missionary boarding school for her higher education. This is  where her passion for seeking alternatives to the oppressive education system of the time began, choosing to be an agent of change.

Vuyo obtained her PhD from the University of Stellenbosch with her thesis focusing on the role of value chains in mainstreaming rural entrepreneurs into global markets. She later trained as a policy specialist at the London School of Economics in the UK.

Her life as an activist was enabled by education, commencing her career as a young researcher in disability, children and women issues and later as a business linkage mentor at the Small Business Development Agency (SBDA). This led to her participation in South Africa’s Constitution-making research process after the release of former President Nelson Mandela from prison. Dr Mahlati was also involved in the first UNICEF Status on Women and Children report in South Africa.

During this period, and as part of her research, she  visited Zimbabwe, received by Joshua Malinga, disability activist and then mayor of Bulawayo, interviewing other leaders who exposed her to Zimbabwe’s change agenda and indigenisation. Seeing the possibility of redress, gave her new insights and inspiration and she returned home to register her own consultancy, allowing her to frame and drive the change agenda.

In the mid-2000’s, Dr Mahlati convened the technical team that facilitated the launch of the India Brazil South Africa (IBSA) Women's Forum, premised on the call for "an inclusive macroeconomic framework". This culminated in the signing of the Memorandum of Understanding in India in October 2008, by the three heads of state.

In March 2009, she was a South African delegate and Technical Advisor for the Presidency to the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women, where she presented on the financial crisis theme. This enhanced South Africa's contribution to bringing urgency and intensifying the global call for inclusive economic growth and development.

In May 2010 Dr Mahlati was appointed by the President to serve for a period of five years, as one of the inaugural members of South Africa's National Planning Commission. In September 2018 she was appointed by the President to Chair the Advisory Panel on Land Reform and Agriculture.

Her directorships are many and include previously chairing the South African Post Office (including the Postbank) membership of the Financial Markets Advisory Board and Financial Services Board Licensing Committee. She previously served two terms as President of the International Women’s Forum (IWF) South Africa, and is currently the global director of the IWF Board and Co-Chair of the IWF Presidents’ Council.

Dr Mahlati’s entrepreneurial experience includes participation in major business ventures that include the listed Sasol Oil. As a social entrepreneur, she owns Africa’s first indigenous goats cashmere processing plant in Butterworth, Eastern Cape, and through this initiative has helped revive the clothing and textile industry using inclusive rural value chains. She serves as President of the African Farmers Association of South Africa (AFASA) and is a member of the IDC Agroprocessing Competitiveness Fund.

She has been a recipient of the Black Management Forum Presidential Award, as well as the Black Business Executive/ABSA Kaelo (guidance and wisdom) Award and in 2014, received the Mail and Guardian, Southern Africa Trust Individual Award for Drivers of Change.

For her contribution to bringing urgency and intensifying the global call for inclusive economic growth and development, and to her scholarship and praxis of entrepreneurship and economic development, particularly in marginal rural economies, it is an honour for Nelson Mandela University to confer the degree of Doctor of Philosophy (honoris causa) on Dr Vuyo Mahlati.

Dr Mahlati subsequently passed away on 12 October 2020.