“These Stories Have to be Shared” – In Conversation with Dr Judy Dlamini on her trail-blazing book Equal but Different

by Tinyiko Maluleke, Vice-Chancellor and Principal

20 October 2023

Dr Judy Dlamini, Equal but Different: Women Leaders’ Life Stories. Overcoming Race, Gender and Social Class, Johannesburg: Sifiso Publishers, 2016.

Prof Tinyiko Maluleke, Vice-Chancellor and Principal with Dr Judy Dlamini, the author of Equal But Different.

“This book was born out of the realization that these stories have to be shared for the benefit of those who come after us”. 

This line, right at the end of the book, sums up the ‘what’ the ‘how’ and the ‘why’ of this powerful book of 223 pages. 

The fascinating stories of fourteen plus one South African women leaders constitute the ‘what’ of the book.  

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, currently the Chancellor of UJ, former Chancellor of TUT, former Deputy President of South Africa and former United Nations Under Secretary and Executive Director of UN Women. Maria Ramos is the former CEO of Transnet, Barclays Africa, and ABSA Bank. 

Philisiwe Mthethwa has been CEO of the National Empowerment Fund until recently. Gloria Tomatoe Serobe is the former executive director and co-founder of WIPHOLD – a black women-owned investment company. 

The late Vuyo Mahlati is the former trustee of the South African Women in Dialogue (SAWID) and former president of the International Women’s Forum (IWF). Siza Mzimela, is the first CEO of SA Express and SAA as well as the first black woman to own a private airline – Fly Blue Crane. Cora Fernandez, long-time head of Sanlam Investment Management.

Phuti Mahanyele is the current CEO of Naspers, former CEO of Shanduka and executive chairman of Sigma Capital. Coco Cachalia is the CEO of Grounded Media. Lulu Gwagwa is the CEO of Lereko Investments. Sindi Zilwa, the second South African black woman to qualify as a chartered accountant, co-founder and CEO of Nkoki Audit firm.  

Anne Stevens, an American, is a non-executive director at Anglo American, XL-Catlin and Lockheed Martin. Nancy Coldham, is Canadian and she is a founding partner of The CC Group, a group focused on combating the problem of human trafficking. Sisonke Msimang is writer and former executive director of Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa (OSISA). 

Equal But Different - Women Leader's Life Stories, Overcoming Race, Gender and Social Class by Dr Judy Dlamini.

In this book, Dlamini assembles a truly stellar cast of fourteen exceptional women leaders, with each of whom she had a sit-down interview. Since the book was born out of a completed PhD thesis, it is founded on strong and complex theoretical foundations about gender and its intersections with race and class.  Each of the stories on individual women, could be developed into a stand-alone book, easily.. 

It is amazing how Dlamini manages to pack into each story, as much critical and unique data, analyzed from a variety of interesting angles, with the barest minimum of jargon and academese. Dlamini has produced a highly readable book that is as inspirational as it is thought-provoking. She includes two men in the cast, namely, Cyril Ramaphosa then the Deputy President of South Africa and Sir Philip Ray Hampton of GlaxoSmithKline, UK. 

Dlamini does not explicitly or deliberately include herself among the women whose “stories have to be shared”. However, as the story-teller, she has to frame the book, explain its genesis and outline its overall logic. In the process, Dlamini is unable to completely exclude her own story – and what an amazing story hers is! She points out, with thanks, that her hard-working parents brought her up in a home where she was not only constantly affirmed, but also a home where the philosophy of “equal but different” reigned supreme. 

The inclusion of family photos right at the beginning of the book draws the reader into a sacred space and turns the book into a very personalised reflection. Here is a book about a woman who, having been born into an ordinary black family, rose to become a medical doctor, later completed a PhD in business management as well as becoming a business woman in her own right. Dr Judy Dlamini is the current Chancellor of WITS University and has been a non-executive director of a dozen corporate entities.

A critical point that may however not be overdone is that whereas Dlamini has mainly chosen black women CEOs for analysis, one wonders what would happen to her theses and her findings, were she to interview ordinary working-class black women instead. What might happen if she chose to focus on women who have not only been victimized by racism, patriarchy and classism but women who have struggled and found it hard to rise out of these conditions. In choosing female CEOs, remarkable as they are and exemplary as they are; the stories of Dlamini might have looked very different and may have yielded different, perhaps more unseemly, but equally instructive insights and results; had she focused on or included some black women who are located lower down the ranks than CEOs.

That said, there is no gainsaying that in this great monograph, Dlamini has bequeathed the next generation not only with “stories that have to be shared”, including her own remarkable story, but she gives us a profile of what it may take for a woman, particularly a black South African woman, to succeed in the patriarchal and racialised corporate world and society. 

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