Zanele Mbeki 2020


Zanele Mbeki was born in Alexandra, Gauteng. She studied Social Work at Wits University and postgraduate studies in Social Policy and Administration at the London School of Economics and held a Social Work Fellowship at The London Institute for Social Work Training. She completed her residency for a doctoral degree at the Brandeis University, Heller School for Social Policy and Management in the USA.

She has social work-related field experience in Africa (Zambia, Kenya and Malawi), the UK, Pakistan, India and the USA. Under the employ of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, she has had field experience in Southern and East Africa as well as in India and Pakistan.

Mrs Mbeki is Founder of the WDB Group. The WDBTrust is the sole shareholder in a Women’s Investment Company WDB-IH whose role is to promote women business leaders and to create revenue streams in support of the WDBTrust programmes.  Trust funds support principally capacity building for development microfinance for women who live in under resourced rural areas as well as link them to development Resources; provides them with socio-economic linkages and Training.  It upscales micro enterprises; supports computer-based preschool literacy and adult literacy in own languages.  

In addition to being founder/patron of the WDB Trust and its investment arm WDBIH, she is also the founder/patron of SAWID (South African Women in Dialogue) which is now an independent public benefit trust pursuing advocacy, healing and dialogue among South African women from all walks of life. She is a retired trustee and patron of the Kagiso Trust as well as the WEF/Hilde and Klaus Schwab Board for Social Entrepreneurship. She is a life-member of the IWFsa - a USA founded organisation that she facilitated to bring to South Africa.

After 25 years of driving women’s rural programmes and establishing a successful investment company to finance development activities, she recently set up the Zanele Mbeki Development Trust (ZMDT) which aims to anchor and host annual dialogues of African women in South Africa. The objective is to create a platform for African women of diverse backgrounds to meet and deliberate on common challenges and map out strategies for addressing them, regionally as well as around the continent.  ZMDT also promotes a Young Women’s Feminist Fellowship Programme as well as gender research and publications.

Until 2015 WDB delivered services directly as programmes of the Trust. On the realisation that after 25 years of democracy, very few services directed at the rural poor had been created, the WDB trustees decided to elevate the programmes into Trusts so that they could grow into independent institutions to serve under-resourced communities with appropriate services tailored to their levels and needs.

Mrs Mbeki also facilitated the founding of SAMAF (the South African Microfinance Apex Fund) by the Department of Trade and Industry, a facility to fund micro finance institutions, as well as the (AMFISA) Association of Microfinance Institutions of South Africa, a lobbying platform for the not-for-profit microfinance sector (renamed as Development Microfinance Institutions of South Africa) in which she still actively participates.

Outside of the WDB Group Zanele Mbeki founded the Thabo Mbeki Institute for African Leadership, the Thabo Mbeki Foundation and the Thabo Mbeki Presidential Library.

From 2006 to 2011 Mrs Mbeki became Chancellor of CiDA City Campus, a free university catering mainly for students living in under resourced communities. In its short life, the University graduated over 2500 students of which more than 90% found employment before graduating.  The University closed after the founder moved on.

In 2014, she was recipient of the International Women’s Forum (IWF) ‘Women Who Make a Difference’ Award; and the University of Johannesburg Ellen Khuzwayo Council Award for her contributions to the social upliftment and development of the poor and the marginalised especially women. In 2016, she received The Kagiso Trust Lifetime Achievement Award as well as the WDB Investment Holdings Lifetime Achievement Award. In 2017 she received the World Economic Forum (WEF) Crystal Award for Social Entrepreneurship.  In 2018 she became the Standard Bank Top Woman Lifetime Achiever Awardee and the HSRC Women’s Empowerment and Women’s Peace and Security Honouree shared with (the late) Mrs Albertina Sisulu and the late Honourable Emma Rene (Rhodes) Gresham of the USA.

For dedicating decades of her life in supporting and participating in initiatives that speak to the upliftment of women and visibility of gender issues and her passionate advocacy for women’s rights, it is an honour for Nelson Mandela University to confer the degree of Doctor of Philosophy (honoris causa) to Zanele Dlamini Mbeki