The interview is at State House, the office of the President.
We drive past the armed guards and the imposing gate bearing Mauritius’ coat of arms emblem and enter a world far away from the azure waters and sandy beaches this African island-nation with a little over a million people is known for.
On the grounds of the State House or ‘Le Château du Réduit’, is the country’s most prized attraction that tourists don’t get to see – a lush roughly 100-acre tropical garden in every shade of green.
The State House itself is one of Mauritius’ most iconic buildings, conceived as an impregnable fortress surrounded by large expanses of landscape in the interior of the island, and built during the French colonial period. It has served as the official residence of governors, now Presidents and was even at one time used by the military.
Famed for its gardens with its old camphor trees, rose bushes, bamboo, fountains, ponds, even a peacock pen and turtle pen, it is an environmentalist’s dream, with an ecosystem reflective of rare flora and fauna found only on the island.
It’s the perfect setting for a President who has in her previous role as a biodiversity scientist spent all her time around plants, experimenting with them.
By the formidable fortress that is the State House, we are greeted by a swarm of men in black suits from her security team.
Back from the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Durban, South Africa, only a week ago, Ameenah Gurib-Fakim, President of the Republic of Mauritius – also the country’s first elected female President – is seated on a leather sofa in her stately office, a temporary one we are told as the main building is undergoing renovation.
It’s no surprise she has chosen a lime-green blazer and an emerald bracelet – green is an all-pervasive color in Mauritius.
The conversation revolves around “the three lives” she has led, the first as a scientist, then as an entrepreneur, and now as an African President for the last two years.
“I hope I have more lives,” she laughs in the end. “I think I would really like to keep on operating in that space where you can touch the lives of your people.”
The President grew up in a modest home in a small village in Mauritius located next to the airport. Except for the Roman Catholic school she and her brother attended, the village had few facilities or amenities.
“There was not that much in terms of leisure so the only thing we did was watch planes land and fly,” says Gurib-Fakim. Her father, a school teacher, and her mother, a housewife, insisted she read. A lot.
“They knew the power of education and were determined both my brother and I would have equal opportunities. It’s also worth pointing out at the time when they took that decision, education was not yet free.”
Education became free in Mauritius in 1976. Luckily, Gurib-Fakim had teachers who “demystified science”.
“When I was in secondary school, I had fantastic teachers and they in fact, infected me with the virus for science. As young kids, you would have all these silly questions as to ‘why plants are green, why are flowers this color, why is the sky blue?’ There was hardly any infrastructure for science [at school], so what the teacher used to do was to take us to the field.”
This was a time when knowledge about ecosystems and biodiversity was also just beginning to unravel.
By the time she finished secondary education, Gurib-Fakim’s father said to her: “What do you want to do? Do want to stay here in Mauritius and get a job?”
He gave her the option of either working or going abroad for higher studies, and despatched her to meet the career guidance officer.
“So the career guidance officer looked at me and said ‘what do you want to study’ and I said ‘chemistry’, and he said ‘why do you want to study science, because first of all, that’s a job for boys’. I listened politely and went home. My father said ‘so what are you going to do’? And I said ‘I am going to study chemistry, because that’s where my heart is’.”
She listened to her heart, and opted for a chemistry course at the University of Surrey in the United Kingdom (UK). Her father, her “biggest cheerleader”, accompanied her on her first voyage outside of Mauritius.
“It was one of the most daunting moments of my life. Because there I was growing up in a cocoon in a small village in Mauritius and was [now] left in the big white world with a completely new language, new food, new lifestyle… But I was determined that I will not sink, I will rather swim.”
She subsequently did industrial training with a big American organization, which is where she says she got “bitten with another virus – research”.
She signed up for a PhD in organic chemistry.
“Then I went to the University of Exeter and this is when I learned how important the link with industry was.”
Back home, she applied for a lecturer’s position at the University of Mauritius, and was appointed in 1987.
“You know the motto in academia is ‘publish or perish’. This is when I started thinking the only way I could survive in an academic environment was to try to carve out a niche in the world of chemistry which was my passion and still is. Then I started looking and got training in synthetic organic chemistry.
“I went into the chemistry of plants because I knew we were in a biodiversity hotspot – unique plants, and unique molecules not found anywhere else in the world,” says the scientist-President.
As luck would have it, there was a project being funded by the European Development Fund in 1989 on the study of aromatic and medicinal plants in the Indian Ocean.
“So because I was dabbling with plants at the time and I had a background in chemistry, the government and the university had signed this MoU, so I got involved with that project.
Between 1990 and 1995, I documented and studied the medicinal and aromatic plants of Mauritius, and that was a fantastic journey.”
In 1992, Gurib-Fakim set up the very first laboratory to look into the anti-infective potential of plants. She traveled to villages, interviewed people on symptoms and the plants they were using, and developed the very first database, as there was no documentation of herbal medicine at the time.
“I thought the best way to add value to that piece of research was to bring in that component of validation… This is when we set up the laboratory for testing for anti-infectives because we are in the tropics and of course infectious disease is a very important component.”
By 1997, she had published the entire database of the traditional knowledge of plants. The four books are in the public domain and she also set up the very first publication of the medicinal plants of Rodrigues Island, part of Mauritius.
By 2001, she was promoted as professor of chemistry at the University of Mauritius, “the very first time a woman became a professor”. By 2004, she was appointed dean of faculty, and by 2006, deputy vice chancellor of the university.
In 2007, Gurib-Fakim received the L’Oréal-UNESCO Award for Women in Science.
“That was a very important moment because it added a lot of credibility, as people were still looking down on herbal knowledge; they called it witchcraft… so that was very important also in opening doors for more research grants. That really put the spotlight on Mauritius.”
But what was more important for Gurib-Fakim was a meeting before that with a French gentleman who had incorporated a company in Mauritius to do clinical trials.
“He said to me the area I was working in was very important for him because he was going to be able to use this or we could do it together to bring in innovative ingredients for these very important sectors, be it cosmetics, pharma, especially in the light of resistance to antibiotics and all that… That got me thinking that maybe there is something to do in that space as I didn’t know how to do it.”
Gurib-Fakim decided to take the plunge.
In 2010, with a consortium of colleagues, she had published the very first African Herbal Pharmacopoeia, which provides botanical, commercial and phytochemical information on important African medicinal plants.
She applied for a leave of absence at the University of Mauritius and by 2011, turned entrepreneur.
“I decided to put in my money, my ideas and my heart and joined the company. It was interesting as at the time people thought it was academic suicide because nobody had done it before. No project in fact had really crossed the valley of death, as we call it, to get to the other side. So I thought you know you live once; at least one day, I will know I tried and it didn’t work; so be it because I have tried,” says Gurib-Fakim.
The business started creating a buzz. Initially called CEPHYR, it pioneered cosmetic and pharma research and development, and in 2014, went in for rebranding when it moved into a bio-park, the very first in Mauritius.
It’s now called CIDP (Centre International de Développement Pharmaceutique), a state-of-the-art facility with sophisticated labs. Gurib-Fakim is not part of the business anymore, but Claire Blazy-Jauzac, Group Managing Director of CIDP, says about her: “I have known Ameenah closely for years. She has a vision for the country; she promotes research and she pushes for women and young people to innovate and believe in their potential.”
Life in politics
The next phase of Gurib-Fakim’s life was when the elections were coming up in 2014 in Mauritius. She received news of her Presidency from a reporter. With virtually no political experience on her CV, she was selected to be the Presidential candidate of the Alliance Lepep.
“I remember coming back from a global TED Talk in 2014 in Brazil and one journalist came up to me and said ‘you know ma’am, your name has been cited for Presidency in Mauritius’. I said ‘no ma’am, I think you must be mistaken, because I have no political ambition’. The very next day, I see my picture in the daily [and next to it] ‘Ameenah Gurib-Fakim for Presidency’ with a very small interrogation mark. I didn’t know. I was shocked,” she says.
“They came to me and said we need a neutral person with some credibility and we are going to run.
“So I said ok if I can serve my country at the highest level, why not?”
It was a “risk”, but she decided to take it.
“The one thing I have to say to young people is embrace the idea that you have to take risks because no business school will teach you to take personal risks.”
The party won with a landslide victory, and she had a week to prepare for the Presidential post. Gurib-Fakim was sworn in on June 5, 2015.
“This is when you realize you are in a position where you can make a difference. You can be the voice for so many things.”
She decided to push for sustainable development, women in science and the diversity of Mauritius.
“We are a country which is a microcosm of the world. We have shown to the world that we have diversity but we have managed to live with each other… we have again taken a pledge to advance the cause of science, because science, technology and innovation will be the tools we have to embrace to face climate change, to face job creation, to face the youth bulge, and women, because women feed Africa.”
Gurib-Fakim has reiterated the issues of climate change, global warming and innovation on global forums, and says building collaborations and partnerships is the way forward.
“At WEF in Davos in January, we launched the Coalition for African Research and Innovation [CARI] and this has been done with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, with the Wellcome Trust, NEPAD, so all these agencies are coming together recognizing the potential that the youth has, and more importantly, the need to create the ecosystem to leverage diaspora as well.”
Speaking of diaspora, Gurib-Fakim says her family goes back four generations to a village called Mirzapur in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh. She travels to India often, and says is currently in talks to get India’s biotech pioneer Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw to Mauritius in July for a forum connecting art and science.
“There is plenty to do,” says Gurib-Fakim, who is also working towards promoting sustainable conservation of germplasm for food, especially in light of climate change.
She is also pushing for Africa’s scientific independence.
“Africa should own her agenda in terms of generating Africa-centric data, Africa-centric projects but we need to leverage collaborations and partnerships with institutions where these things are already happening,” she says, adding that the youth needs to be empowered through education in science-technology-innovation.
“The youth is our biggest asset and the sooner we add value to that asset the better it is going to be for the continent… This is something I keep saying all the time. If you index your dollar to raw material it will go down. If you index your dollar to knowledge, the growth will be exponential…
“My biggest success will be if I have touched the lives of so many youth to make them successful,” says Gurib-Fakim, a mother of two. Her son, 25, and daughter, 19, are both at university in the UK. Her husband Anwar is a surgeon, who specializes in general surgery and urology.
“I say he’s a plumber,” laughs Gurib-Fakim, who says he supports her in her work by “being indifferent”.
“He doesn’t meddle with what I do and by being busy himself, he’s left me plenty of space to do what I want to do.”
One of only two female African presidents on the continent (the other being Liberia’s Ellen Johnson Sirleaf who is retiring later this year), in 2016, FORBES listed Gurib-Fakim one of the 100 most powerful women in the world.
You can tell her staff enjoy working with her. Her head of security says she has “an infectious positive disposition”.
Rachna Seenauth, the State House’s Assistant Maintenance Officer, who has worked with Gurib-Fakim long enough to know her well, says: “She is a great mentor and most helpful. She makes you dream and brings out the best in people. Being a person of science, she does things differently. She is putting the country on the international map.” But praise apart, like any African President, Gurib-Fakim has had her share of ups and downs and political trouble and controversies at home. More excerpts from the interview with her:
Mauritius has a 3.8% growth rate, which is fairly good…?
Growth matters but the quality of the growth matters more. Because we can have jobless growth as well, this is where developing the medium for entrepreneurship is very important.
What are the new pillars of growth?
Now, we are going into the high end of the financial services… We are looking at the high end of education; we are starting to build an education hub. And then go into the ocean economy, which should not be perceived as fisheries alone even though it is an important component.
For me, the ocean economy is renewable energy; it’s exploration of the fauna and flora of the marine environment.
And then, bio-tech. Again, the pilot we did with the bio-park is proving to be very interesting, capitalizing on our diversity because we have a diverse population.
There is the perceived threat of rising sea-level in Mauritius…
We are number 13 on the world’s risk report, but we are working quite a bit. If you look at the hotel sector, we have to be ISO-certified, it gives a lot of plus… When we try and build for example, we are now mindful of the fact that the sea or ocean might rise. In fact, it’s already happening in the Pacific; if you look at some of the countries, they are already under water. And you are talking about climate refugees, and that is already happening on land.
Most people think Mauritius is not Africa… why?
Some people have called us ‘outliers’ (laughs). We are very much a part of the community, we belong to the Indian Ocean Commission, we belong to SADC, we belong to COMESA, we are very active in the African Union.
But you know we are very important as well. We straddle two continents. This is where we are also using our strategic positioning to build the infrastructure, for example, for financial services, because we would really like to see Mauritius being the bridge between Asia and Africa. And if Asia can go through Mauritius to Africa and vice versa, it is going to be very important for us and for both continents.
Do you aspire to be a Singapore?
We aspire to be a small country of high earners and improve the lives of our people. And I still think we have a good quality of life here in Mauritius. Everything to me is work in progress; we can’t afford to sit down on our laurels because the day you sit still is the day you’re going back.
You have said before you have never worked a day in your life…
I thought I was being original and realized it was Confucius who said it before me. But I will say it until my last breath – always be passionate about what you do. There is nothing worse than coming to a job you don’t like. In fact, this has been the way I have run my life. People say to me ‘how do you manage your time being a mother, being a career woman’… You have to have priorities and I decided from a very young age that I will have a career and a family.
How did you do it?
Just stay focused; being a woman is not easy in that space, that’s for sure. As women, we like to do everything, but in one day, there is only 24 hours, so you have to make choices. You can’t do it all.
And in politics, as President…?
Stay focused, and know what you want to do. I identified a few pillars I would like to do at the beginning of my mandate and I will do it; I will keep on doing it even after I finish my mandate as President. That’s in three years. I think it’s still long enough to be able to do many things. But again, it’s a question of staying focused and knowing what you want.
Can you apply for a second term?
Constitutionally, you can get renewed one more time, but we’ll see. Right now, I am enjoying the ride of doing things.
Do you think it’s difficult for a woman in politics?
It’s not easy for women; there is a lot of misogyny.
In politics, you have had a lot of trouble coming your way… do you think it is because you are a woman?
It can be attributed to being a woman.
How have you handled it?
You just stay focused and have to look at yourself and your conscience and say to yourself, ‘have I done anything that is wrong, which is not proper?’ And if you have done nothing wrong, then you have nothing to worry about.
Mauritius is a conservative country, but has a female President, and this is unprecedented…
Again, this is a paradox, because when people voted, I was the only President whose name was flagged before the elections. Because usually, it’s a parliamentary election, and after the elections, they propose a name. But when they voted, the people voted for a package, they voted for a woman President and that’s maturity.
What do you envisage doing once your term ends?
To be honest, I have no idea. Just like I came into this post having no idea at all what to expect, here I am. My life has changed but I think it’s a very powerful position to make a difference and that’s what I want to do.
Feisty And Fearless Pioneers Thandi Ndlovu & Nonkululeko Gobodo
Thandi Ndlovu and Nonkululeko Gobodo, moulded by South Africa’s apartheid past, tore their way into male-dominated sectors , leading them boldly through a quarter century of democracy. Failure was never an option.
On a sunny winter’s afternoon in a quiet suburb of Randburg in greater Johannesburg, a second white Mercedes-Benz pulls up in the driveway of a photographic studio, and finds a shady spot to park.
Already seated next to a pool glinting blue in the sunlight, an elegant woman dressed in black and white sips green tea and talks about her early life growing up in the former Bantustan of Transkei in South Africa.
Absorbed in recounting her story, she looks up as a tall, slender woman, also in a chic black and white ensemble, walks towards her. The two women beam in recognition. They are here to be photographed by FORBES AFRICA and to share their unique stories as businesswomen in two traditionally white male-dominated sectors – auditing and construction.
This year, South Africa celebrates 25 years of democracy. As the country started shaking off the shackles of oppression in the 1990s, both these women embarked on their paths to greatness. Both had been moulded by the harsh final years of apartheid, gaining the strength and conviction to fight for what they believed in.
In the process, they built successful businesses, changed perceptions and became role models.
And as with all stories of achievement, their journeys came with times of adversity.
Nonkululeko Gobodo: The visionary in auditing
As a young girl, Nonkululeko Gobodo had very low self-esteem. She was shy and quiet and as the middle child in a family of five children, she felt overshadowed by her very outgoing older siblings. Her mother made it clear that she thought Gobodo wasn’t “going to amount to anything”.
Yet, there were factors in her upbringing, at home and in her community, which shaped her and prepared her for a future as a captain of industry.
Her mother was very hard on her. “I’m someone who needs affirmation and she did the opposite of what I needed. Fortunately, my father was doing that, he was doing the affirmative things.”
As an educator, her father was excited when she achieved “goodish” results at school, even slaughtering a sheep in celebration.
“When my parents were running shops, I used to be the one who would help in running the shops during the holidays. And I was quite young to be given the responsibility. My mother was literally taking a holiday, and I would run the shop perfectly, no shortage or anything like that. So, in spite of the fact that she was too hard on me, she must have thought she was nurturing this talent and making me strong.”
Growing up in the then independent Transkei (now the Eastern Cape province of South Africa), Gobodo was largely sheltered from the impact of apartheid in other parts of the country.
“I lived in this world where you were sort of cushioned from what was happening in South Africa. So you were socialized to be a fighter, to be strong. My parents used to say that we should never allow anybody to tell us there were things we cannot do,” she elucidates.
It was an everyday thing to see black people running a variety of formal businesses like hotels, garages and wholesalers.
“I suppose I was very fortunate in that I was raised by these parents who were in business, who were working very hard during those times and with very strong personalities, both of them. Within the Xhosa tribe itself, although there is patriarchy and all that, Xhosa women are very strong and they are sort of equal partners with their husbands.”
Still very young, Gobodo fell pregnant. Her parents insisted on marriage. The marriage would end several years later, after the birth of three children, when she was 34 years old.
While taking a gap year working at her father’s panel-beating shop in Mthatha (then Umtata), during her first pregnancy, Gobodo discovered her calling. While her parents thought she would be well-suited to a career in medicine, she found joy in accountancy.
The gap year also revealed her innate strength to stand up for what she believed in. For the first time, she encountered racism. White managers remained in place when her father bought the business from the Transkei Development Corporation (TDC).
“They were really so upset by these black people who had taken over this business, and they were just bullying everyone. So I was able to stand up to them and then I realized I’m actually smart, I’m actually not this thing that my mother was saying, that I’m not just smart, but I’m strong, I’m tough, I can stand up to these men during apartheid years and it was not because my father owned the shop, but it was this thing of suddenly discovering who you are for the first time and just waking up to who you are and suddenly knowing what you wanted to do. Oh wow, accountancy, I didn’t know about that,” she smiles.
She was also inspired by the fact that black auditors did the books for her father’s business. They were WL Nkuhlu & Co, owned by Professor Wiseman Nkuhlu. Her father supported her decision to study BCom and she enrolled at the University of Transkei (now Walter Sisulu University).
Gobodo became a star performer at university and her confidence grew. After qualifying, the university offered her a junior lectureship. While there was no racism in the academic environment, it was here that she had her first taste of gender discrimination. A male colleague instructed her to do filing. She thought this was ridiculous considering her position, and she refused. He treated her as an equal from then on.
“I made a decision to fight the system differently,” she says. “I was sure there was no system that would determine who I am and how far I can go. I used to say this mantra to myself: ‘Your opinions of me do not define me. You don’t even know who I am’. So I never allowed those things to get to me.”
Early on, she already had a vision to have her own practice, so she was not distracted by her peers complaining while doing their articles. She was determined to take advantage of the opportunity to get the best training she could get. “Those guys never became chartered accountants, so it was a wise thing not to join them,” she smiles.
In 1987, she made history when she became South Africa’s first black female chartered accountant.
Working at KPMG, she grew to rapidly build her own portfolio of challenging assignments.
“It was my driving force right through life to prove to myself and others that there was nothing I couldn’t do. And for me, being black really gave me purpose. I can imagine that if I was living in a world that was readymade for me, life would have been very boring,” she says.
She was offered a partnership eight months after her articles. She would be the first black partner, and the first woman. It was very tempting. But she remembered her vision to start her own practice and taking the partnership would be “the easy way out”.
So she moved on to the TDC, where at the age of 29, she was promoted from internal audit manager to Chief Financial Officer within three months. Again in 1992, she decided to break “the golden chains” of the TDC to pursue her destiny. But first, she restructured her department and empowered five managers; thoroughly enjoying the work of developing leaders, and setting the tone for the business she runs now – Nkululeko Leadership Consulting.
At the time, her father questioned her decision to leave such a lucrative position to take the risk of starting a business. “Everybody was so scared for me and was discouraging me. I realized these people were expressing their own fears. I have no such fears. And it’s not saying I’m not fearful of the step I am taking, but I’m going into this business to succeed.”
The best way to do that was to step into the void without a safety net. So, no part-time lecturing job to distract her from her vision. “If I had listened to them, how would I have known that I could take my business this far?”
She describes herself as a natural entrepreneur. Yet, the responsibility of leading a business is not a joke.
“It sobers you up,” she says. “You realize you have to make this work, otherwise you’re going to fail a whole lot of people. But when you have the courage to pursue your dream, things sort of work out. Things fall into place.”
Eighteen months into the practice, she took on a partner and felt an “agitation for growth”. It came with a “massive job” from the Transkei Auditor General, and things changed overnight. With only four people in their office, they now needed 30 to complete the assignment and they hired second and third year students who attended night lectures at the university.
“At that time, as a black and a woman, you had to define your own image of yourself, and have the right attitude to fight for your place in the sun. And I can’t take for granted the way I was socialized and raised by my parents. My father was such a fighter. And he shared all his stories at the dinner table. He used to say in Xhosa: ‘who can stand in front of a bus?’, so you just have those pictures of yourself as a bus. Who can stand in front of me and my ambitions in life,” she laughs.
This self-confidence, belief in herself, direction, purpose and her clear vision steered her ever further.
“Unfortunately, I had a fallout with my partner Sindi Zilwa [co-founder of Nkonki Inc, a registered firm of auditors, consultants and advisors], and that was a hard one, a very difficult one. I used to say it was more difficult than my divorce, because that happened almost at the same time. First, the divorce started and a few months later, I divorced with my partner,” she says.
“It was a lonely time. It is amazing that out of hardship, we find an opportunity to grow and move to the next level.”
She went on a five -week program with Merrill Lynch in New York in 1994. On her return, she saw herself being cut out of negotiations to establish a medium-sized black accounting firm. While these plans were scuppered now, her vision still survived and no one could take that away from her.
She approached young professionals who were managers at the big accounting firms in Johannesburg to join her. “But you can imagine, they were young, they were fearful. It took about eight months to persuade and convince them.”
Gobodo understood their fears as she herself had to overcome her doubts about moving from a small community in the Transkei to the big city. But the visit to New York had helped her overcome her fear. If she could make it there, she could make it anywhere.
Gobodo Incorporated was established in 1996. It was the third medium-sized black accounting firm.
The others were Nkonki Sizwe Ntsaluba and KMMT Brey.
She believes that providence has always sent “angels” to her at the right time in her life. Peter Moyo, a partner at Ernst & Young at the time, gave his time and invaluable experience leading to the establishment of Gobodo Incorporated. Chris Stephens, who was the former head of consulting for KPMG, facilitated bringing a fully-fledged forensics unit to the firm. They took up a whole floor at their new Parktown, Johannesburg offices instead of the planned half-floor.
From a small practice in Mthatha, Gobodo Inc. grew to a medium-sized company with 10 partners, 200 staff and three offices – in Durban, Cape Town and Johannesburg. It was an exciting time.
Gobodo firmly believes that visions are not static. Once a summit is conquered, there will always be another one waiting for you.
The next summit beckoned her 15 years later. Black Economic Empowerment (BEE), a program launched by the South African government to redress the inequalities of apartheid, was firmly established and accounting firms were compliant, and Gobodo Inc. started losing out on opportunities as previous joint-audits done in partnership with the big accounting firms fell away.
She started talks with Victor Sekese of Sizwe Ntsaluba to merge the two medium-sized firms.
Again, people questioned the wisdom of the move. What if the market was not ready for a large black accounting firm?
There was somewhat of a culture clash when the “somewhat older, disciplined, bottom-line” Gobodo Inc. and the “younger, more creative” Sizwe Ntsaluba teams came together. A new culture combining the best of both emerged. Ironically, while no people were lost during the merger, some were uncomfortable with the culture change and left.
In the beginning, “a lot of sacrifices had to be made to make this thing work. Like the name. My partners were saying Nonkululeko’s name should be in front because she’s the only remaining founder,” explains Gobodo.
Sizwe Ntsaluba wanted their name up front, and it was a deal-breaker. She decided the vision was bigger than her and she wouldn’t allow anything to jeopardize it. The company name was agreed on: SizweNtsalubaGobodo. The business grew to 55 partners and over 1,000 staff.
“I think we underestimated how hard it would be,” she says. “Mergers are difficult in themselves, around 70% of mergers fail. People were laughing at us saying ‘ah, black people, they’re going to fight amongst each other and fail’, so we were determined not to fail. Failure was not an option.”
When they did their first sole tender, “you could smell the fear in the passages. There was so much fear”. Then the call came from the chair of the audit committee of Transnet to say the board had decided to appoint SizweNtsalubaGobodo as the sole auditors.
Gobodo had led the way to the establishment of the fifth largest accounting firm in South Africa. Her vision had been realized.
“It was just so fulfilling, really so fulfilling,” says the grandmother-of-three. “So it was time to move this thing forward.”
She was the Executive Chairperson and Sekese was the CEO. She commissioned partners to find the best governance structure for the firm. Their recommendation was for one leader to lead the firm forward, and a non-executive chair.
“That was going to be boring for me. If I was not going to be part of driving this vision forward, it was time for me to leave,” Gobodo says. “There comes a time that the founders must leave and hand over to the next generation.”
Although she had achieved her dream, it was not easy to let go. The separation took three months.
“I learned a lot about letting go at that time. We have to let go layer by layer. I had to accept that they would do what they had to with the legacy. And here they are now, having merged with Grant Thornton. The dream was to be a true international firm, and now with SNG Grant Thornton, it is still basically a black firm going into the continent. The dream does not die. This is still a black firm taking over an international brand.”
Gobodo now heads Nkululeko Leadership Consulting, a boutique, black-owned and managed leadership consulting firm. Here, she can live her passion for developing leaders. She also sits on the boards of PPC and Clicks. The future awaits her with more promise.
Side bar: ‘The World Is Not Kind To Strong Women Leaders’
What were the greatest challenges she faced during her career?
“Making a success of your life in the South Africa of the past. As a black person, you always started from a place of being dismissed, as a woman, you always started from a place of being dismissed. So you had to be true to yourself and find yourself for you to be able to succeed. And that was hard. I don’t want to make it as if it was easy.
“The second thing was being a strong woman leader. The world is not kind to strong women leaders. And for me, being a strong woman leader was the hardest thing because both men and women don’t accept a strong woman leader. So you have this big vision, you are driven, you have to move things forward and if you’re a strong man, you’re accepted.
“But if you’re a strong woman, you are not. So you had to grow up and mature and try to find that balance of still moving people forward to achieve your vision, because I realized early that I would not get to the finish line without them. I could not leave them behind. So I always had to find that balance and sometimes, I didn’t do it well.
“Because there was this urgency of moving forward and you have to drag people with you. And they didn’t take kindly to that. Do I regret it? No, not really. I don’t think I would have achieved what I had. I had been given these gifts as a strong woman for a reason. I just feel sorry for strong women leaders, because it is still not easy for them today.”
Forbes Africa #30Under30 list: Business, Technology, Creatives and Sport
THE FORBES AFRICA 30 UNDER 30 LIST IS THE most-anticipated list of game-changers on the continent and this year, we bring you 120 of Africa’s brightest achievers under the age of 30 and for the first time, four categories featuring 30 in each: Business, Technology, Creatives and Sport.
From elevator manufacturing, solar energy design, to under-30s conquering the Alps and selling out the Apollo Theatre, this year’s list demonstrates how enterprising and extraordinary the African youth is.
This list celebrates these pioneers who are building brands, creating jobs, and innovating, leading, transforming and contributing to new industries, in turn, changing the continent.
“The future belongs to Africa and the future belongs to its youth,” says Jason Pau, Chief of Staff for International to billionaire Jack Ma, co-founder of Alibaba. He says the journey for young entrepreneurs, especially in Africa, is not always easy. Many startups fall by the wayside due to a lack of resources. In South Africa, it is estimated that the small enterprise failure rate is at almost 80% within the first three years.
Chances at success are very slim, yet Africans continue to see opportunity where many do not. The select few celebrated in this list represent those individuals who continue to persevere against the odds. It also serves as a reminder that it is possible.
“People don’t really give enough time or spend enough time in providing the right environment for entrepreneurs to grow,” Pau tells FORBES AFRICA.
So if entrepreneurship is the answer, ensuring that an environment is conducive for business sustainability is imperative.
Together with our audit partner for this list, SNG Grant Thornton, the senior editorial team worked night and day scrutinizing each candidate. For entrepreneurs, we delved into how profitable their businesses were and if they showed signs of potential growth and sustainability.
However, not only does the list look at the financial impact of each candidate, but also their reputation, resilience and ability to be role models to other young Africans.
For FORBES AFRICA, this meant endless background checks, fact-checks, emails, phone calls and research, sifting through over 1,000 nominations that poured in over the last few months. Lastly, the one factor that also played a role in the determination of the candidates was their online presence. Followers are a valuable new currency, and today’s achievers have found a way to leverage off them. This year, when FORBES named Kylie Jenner the world’s youngest self-made billionaire, it observed that her business was built mainly because of her social media and fan following. Many on our list have also been able to build on this in their own way. The creatives and sport stars lead in this regard.
This year, Sport is the newest category, opening up the list to the game-changers who are also Africa’s next generation of leaders. They have won awards, broken records, made social investments and pushed the boundaries by challenging the status quo on policies in sports. However, some of the challenges they still face include lack of resources, a gender pay gap, and an immense pool of untapped talent not yet given a chance to be in the limelight.
But no matter where they are from, these 120 list-makers share one common goal, and that is to build a better Africa.
Being an under-30 myself, I am proud to have curated the FORBES AFRICA 30 Under 30 class of 2019. At the time of going to press, all facts on the following pages were verified to be correct.
The list is in no particular order:
This year marks the fifth milestone annual FORBES AFRICA 30 under 30 list, and we have introduced a new category of game-changers. Together, they are 120 in total across four sectors: business, technology, creatives and sport. Meet the class of 2019, a stellar collection of entrepreneurs and innovators rewriting rules and taking bold new risks to take Africa to the future.
- Words: Karen Mwendera
- Edited by: Unathi Shologu
- Assistant: Garreth Mtuwa
- Creative direction by: Lucy Nkosi
- Lead photography by: Motlabana Monnakgotla
- Co-photography by: Gypseenia Lion
Judges of the 30 Under 30 class of 2019
The category experts whose role it was to survey all finalists of the 2019 30 Under 30 list, rank them and provide commentary on each candidate:
- Business: Anthea Gardner, Founder and Managing Partner at Cartesian Capital
- Technology: Professor Tshilidzi Marwala, Vice-Chancellor and Principal at University of Johannesburg; he also deputises President Cyril Ramaphosa on the South African Presidential Commission on the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
- Creatives: Yasmin Furmie, creative and business partner of fashion brand SiSi The Collection, South Africa
- Sport: Nick Said, the Africa sports correspondent for Thomson Reuters
- Audit partner: SNG Grant Thornton
#30Under30: Sport Category 2019
This year marks the fifth milestone annual FORBES AFRICA 30 under 30 list, and we have introduced a new category of game-changers. Together, they are 120 in total across four sectors: business, technology, creatives and sport. Meet the class of 2019, a stellar collection of entrepreneurs and innovators rewriting rules and taking bold new risks to take Africa to the future.
The list is in no particular order:
1. Clarence Munyai, 21, South Africa
Track and Field Athlete
Clarence Munyai is right on track to becoming one of the world’s greatest athletes as he shatters more records.
Munyai is the third-fastest all-time junior in the 100 meters-race.
He currently holds the South African record of 19.69 in the 200 meters right under Usain Bolt who holds the record for 19:19.
Munyai also holds the Junior World Record of the 300 meters.
“I have been blessed with a talent to run fast and become a professional athlete, and am thankful every day for the opportunity to pursue my dreams and make a better life for myself and my family,” he tells FORBES AFRICA.
He made his mark in the 200 meters World Junior ranking in 2017 and 13th in the 200 meters world senior ranking the same year.
Last year, he smashed the 200 meters record in a time of 19.69 seconds, making him the 10th fastest in the world ever, as he knocked off Wayde van Niekerk’s mark of 19.84.
Munyai is one of the youngest South African Olympians of all time and has always remained modest on and off the track.
Kim Collins, 2003 world champion in the 100 meters, once told Munyai to ‘always stay humble’ as he was.
Despite his global achievements, he says there is no better feeling than wearing the country’s green and gold colors.
“My immediate plans are to win gold at the World Championships in Doha later this year, and then, of course, focus on Tokyo 2020. Apart from that, I know there is life after athletics and so am looking into various business opportunities,” he says.
2.Jean Sseninde, 26, Uganda
Footballer and CEO
Jean Sseninde is one to watch on and off the pitch.
When she was eight years old, she began playing football with her brother in her home in Kasangati village in Uganda. That experience got the ball rolling.
She currently plays for the Ugandan national team.
Internationally, she plays for Queens Park Rangers W.F.C in the FA Women’s National League South in England, making her the first Ugandan female to sign with the team. Sseninde also previously played for the AFC Phoenix Women’s Football Club and the Charlton Athletic Women’s Football Club.
Although she enjoys an international career in football, her biggest highlight remains playing for her national team.
In 2016, the Uganda women’s National football team qualified to play in the semi-finals of the Council of East and Central Africa Football Association (CECAFA) Women Championships against Burundi.
“The only goal that was scored was from my assist,” she tells FORBES AFRICA.
Sseninde is the founder and CEO of the Sseninde Women’s Development Cup and the founder of the Jean Sseninde Foundation, which sponsors the annual Jean Sseninde Women Football Development Tournament, aimed at discovering and mentoring female soccer talent in Uganda.
Sseninde is also the first African and sole female player from the continent to join the Common Goal initiative an organization whose members pledge to give away at least 1% of their annual salary to charity.
Last year, she scooped an award for her philanthropic work at the Best Of Africa Awards event at the Rosewood in London.
3. Mohamed Salah, 27, Egypt
On June 1, 2019, the world watched as Liverpool made history, beating Tottenham Hotspur in the UEFA Champions League final as Egyptian-born Mohamed Salah led the team to victory.
Salah scored the first goal of the match and in the end, the team had a 2-0 victory. Dressed in the team’s shirt, red as his blood, and with curly locks, Salah raised the trophy with pride in celebration while immersed in a sea of red on the pitch.
He was this year’s only footballer on the list of Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential that called him “one of the best football players in the world”.
The iconic figure started his professional career nine years ago playing for the Egyptian Premier League.
Thereafter, his career went international when he played for Basel, a team in Switzerland and then Chelsea.
In 2017, he then signed with Liverpool at a club-record fee of £36.9 million ($46.6 million).
He has since won numerous awards and accolades such as the PFA Players’ Player of the Year, the Football Writers’ Association Footballer of the Year and the PFA Fans’ Player of the Year. His next goal is to conquer the next season of the Premier League.
He is currently sponsored by Adidas and has appeared on Adidas commercials alongside David Beckham, Lionel Messi and Paul Pogba, and singer Pharrell Williams.
With a total of 148 goals scored in his professional clubs’ career, Salah is a name that will definitely go down in history books. He is one of the highest-earning sport stars in the world.
4. Wayde van Niekerk, 26, South Africa
Track and Field Athlete
The man currently holding the world and Olympic record in the 400 metres was born in a small town in Kraaifontein, in Cape Town.
As a child, Wayde van Niekerk dreamed of being the fastest man in the world and he is evidence that dreams do, in fact, come true. The world took notice of him when he won gold at the World Championships in 2016.
Since then, he has shown no signs of slowing down.
He came first in the 2016 Olympic Games in the 400 meters in Rio de Janeiro, and again in the 2017 World Championships in London.
However, due to a knee injury, Van Niekerk was unable to participate in any games last year and he is still on his road to recovery.
After the long and painful wait, he returns to the track and is set to compete in the IAAF World Championships in Doha in September, alongside many other world stars. Usain Bolt, world record holder in the 100 metres and now Van Niekerk’s good friend, told FORBES AFRICA, when he visited South Africa this year, about what advice he gave the South African athlete.
“I always tell Wayde, ‘it is good to be fast and to be great, but if you want to build your brand you have to show your personality’. People will want you to be a part of their brand’,” Bolt said.
After news that he had temporarily withdrawn from athletics due to his injury, he showed love to his fans by tweeting that he was determined to race again. Many look forward to his return this month and, perhaps, more records to be broken.
“The race itself is a blank experience, I only remember the end. All stresses disappear right there. It’s about me giving my everything and leaving it all there on the track,” he told FORBES AFRICA after his 2016 win.
5. Chad le Clos, 27, South Africa
“Seas the day”, are words multiple Olympic medallist Chad le Clos lives by.
His claim to fame is being an Olympic, World and Commonwealth Games swimming champion.
He is also the record holder in the 50-meter and 100-meter butterfly.
Born in Durban, South Africa, Le Clos began swimming competitively from the age of 10.
By the time he was 20, he beat his hero, Michael Phelps, by 0.05 seconds at the London 2012 Summer Olympics in the men’s 200 meters butterfly, and the world stood still.
Phelps had held that record and the arrival of a young South African caused a huge splash.
History was made and Le Clos continues to do so today.
On top of the many accolades, last year, he was named FINA Male Swimmer of the Year 2018.
He is currently doing plenty of swimming drills in preparation for Tokyo 2020.
The proud South African swimmer goes to show that where there’s a will, there’s a wave.
6. Genzebe Dibaba, 28, Ethiopia
Track and Field Athlete
Genzebe Dibaba is a woman always gunning for gold.
With 10 gold medals already to her name, she continues to run the distance and surpass many alongside her. She currently holds five world records; for the indoor and outdoor 1,500 meters, the indoor 300 meters, the indoor 500 meters and the indoor mile.
This makes her one of the best female track mile runners in history. The last two gold medals she won for Ethiopia were at the 2018 World Indoor Championships in Birmingham for the 1,500 meters and 3,000 meters.
The 28-year-old’s talents, however, run in the family. She has three siblings who are also gold and silver medal athlete winners.
The Ethiopian world record holder continues to run for her life as she remains unbeaten in the 1,500 meters since the European Championships in Berlin in 2015.
Since then, she has received a number of accolades, including the Laureus Sportswoman of the Year in 2015, and IAAF Athlete of the Year 2015.
7. Jacob Kiplimo, 18, Uganda
Track and field athlete
Jacob Kiplimo can run for miles. At only 18, Kiplimo is a World Cross Country silver medallist.
He grew up in Bukwo on Mount Elgon in Uganda.
Making his debut internationally, he did what many 15-year-olds could only dream of.
He won the 10,000 meters bronze medal at the 2016 IAAF World U20 Championships.
His achievements put him in the running to be selected as part of Uganda’s Olympic team, making him one of the country’s youngest Olympians.
In 2017, he came first at the World Cross Country Championships in the junior men’s race.
Even when playing among the seniors, Kiplimo is still a top athlete.
This year, he was second at the World Cross Country Championships in Denmark.
According to the IAAF, he currently ranks fourth in the world for the men’s 10,000 meters.
As he continues to make a run for the top spot, he shows no signs of letting the dust settle.
Watch this space for more.
8. Sara Ahmed, 21, Egypt
Sara Ahmed is living proof that women can do absolutely anything and be great at it.
At only 21, she is the first Egyptian woman to receive an Olympic weightlifting medal.
Once, she had to miss her high school exams to compete at the 2016 Summer Olympics.
Through the sacrifice, she has a great support system lifting her every step of the way.
Ahmed’s passion for weightlifting comes from her father and older brother who were national competitors in weightlifting.
Among some of her accolades are nine international gold medals, including two golds won at the 2012 Junior African Championships and Youth African Championships.
Her most recent gold medal was last year at the World Junior Championships for 71kg.
9. Luvo Manyonga, 28, South Africa
Track and Field Athlete
Luvo Manyonga did not grow up with much but he had plenty to look forward to. When he started doing long jump in school, he fell in love with it instantly.
“Ever since, I wanted to break the world record,” he tells FORBES AFRICA.
And in 2017, he did just that, becoming the world champion as well as holding the first place in the world rankings.
The same year, he won South African Sportsperson of the Year and South African Sports Star of the Year. His goals this year are to defend the world championship title in Doha, break the nine-meter barrier and defend the Diamond League title.
“There is always life after sport and I am looking at various business opportunities because I know that it’s so important for an athlete to plan for post-career while still competing,” he says.
10. Giana Lofty, 24, Egypt
Martial Arts practitioner
Giana Lofty started practising karate when she was only six years old.
Now, she practises it internationally, representing her country.
Lofty is the current world title-holder and the 2014 continental title-holder, making the 24-year-old a certified two-time champion.
She won gold last year at the 2018 African Karate Championships in Kigali.
This year, she won silver at the Karate1 Premier League in Rabat, Morocco.
In an interview with Olympic Channel, she said, “I encourage girls to start practising karate or any martial arts for self-defence”.
She is one of over 1.5 million Egyptians doing so and one of the very few women dominating it. “Girls are not allowed to practise any kind of sport, not only karate. So, sometimes they say that what I’m doing is something useless which is against our beliefs. But I don’t think that, so I don’t care what they say,” she said.
It was a milestone for Lofty when in 2013, women were allowed to fight wearing a hijab, allowing her to do what she loves while still staying true to who she is.
11. Beatrice Chepkoech, 24, Kenya
Track and Field Athlete
She’s fast, tall and currently holds the world record for the 3,000 meters steeplechase, and her name is Beatrice Chepkoech.
After clocking a running time of 8:44.32 in 2018, the Kenyan became the first woman to break 8:50 and 8:45.
Her career started in 2014 as a road runner. She later switched to track and field in 2015, making that one of the best decisions she ever made.
Among some of the medals she bagged are the two gold medals she received last year; one at the 2018 Ostrava IAAF Continental Cup and the other at the 2018 Asaba Nigeria African Championships.
She is ahead of the pack and shows no signs of looking back.
12. Patricia Apolot, 28, Uganda
Patricia Apolot is not one to mess with. She once punched a fraudster and he landed in a drain.
With agility, grace and the heart of a lioness, Apolot’s fighting spirit has seen her winning world titles and putting Uganda on the map through kickboxing. Also known as the ‘Black Pearl’, Apolot started her career in 2014.
She grew up in Ngora, Uganda; her family was barely able to afford three meals a day or give her clothes to wear.
Enduring a disadvantaged life, there was only one thing on her mind as a child, to be ‘the world’s best’ and that’s exactly who she’s become, in her chosen field.
She is currently the reigning Ugandan female kickboxing champion and holds the International Kickboxing Federation title for lightweight.
She earned her title after beating Ivana Mirkov of Serbia in Dunaújváros, Hungary, in 2015.
This made her the first female Ugandan kickboxer to win this title.
She still holds the title and has been defending it for three years now, making her undoubtedly the queen of kickboxing.
Apolot shares her skills and talent training youngsters in kickboxing in her hometown in Uganda.
“I want to believe that a world or a sport without boundaries is a country or a sport well-spoken,” she says.
13. Caster Semenya, 28, South Africa
Track and field athlete
Caster Semenya is the name of the 800 meters queen dominating headlines in the sporting world.
She has won over 15 international gold medals and the South African golden girl has no intentions of stopping any time soon.
In a recent controversy (where the IAAF wants female athletes with high testosterone levels to take testosterone blockers), the Swiss Supreme Court denied the IAAF’s request to immediately reimpose the regulation on Semenya.
This means Semenya is free to compete without restriction in the female category until the IAAF and Athletics South Africa make submissions to the Supreme Court on her request that the IAAF regulations be suspended throughout the entire appeal process.
But Semenya is not moved and she continues to hold her head high. To many, she remains a champion winning on and off the field.
In an interview with FORBES WOMAN AFRICA late last year, she said: “I like to be myself, I am true to myself. I just like myself the way I am and I don’t want anything to change in me.
“When I walk onto that track, I perform. So, when I perform, I expect people to recognize my work but not just because I am me, but for the work that I do.”
Semenya has plans to continue racing, winning more golds and flying the South African flag high.
“I don’t see myself stepping down; until I’m 40, that’s when I’ll be satisfied,” she said. Some of her accolades include awards at the South African Sport Awards; the People’s Choice Sports Star of the Year, Sports Woman Of The Year, and the Sports Star Of The Year.
She was also nominated for the 2018 Female World Athlete of the Year at the IAAF Athletics Awards.
You cannot put a price tag on an athlete like Semenya. She describes herself as just being “priceless”.
14. Emmanuel Korir, 24, Kenya
Track and Field Athlete
As the sixth ranked fastest athlete in the men’s 800 meters, of all time, Emmanuel Korir keeps flying Kenya’s flag high.
According to the IAAF, last year, he won all but one of his races.
He holds the record for the fastest outdoor time of the year, winning at the IAAF Diamond League meeting in London last year.
He clocked 1:42.05, making it the world’s fastest 800 meters performance since 2012.
He was nominated for the Male Athlete of the Year award in 2018 by the IAAF and won two gold medals at the African Championships, as well as the Continental Cup.
His current world ranking, according to the IAAF, is first place in the 800 meters.
He plans to set records at the World Championships in Doha this year.
“I can’t go and sleep even after the season ends. I have to work harder to be ready for Doha. It is a title that I long for in between now and then,” Korir told Capital Sports last year. He is also signed to Nike.
15. Faith Kipyegon, 25, Kenya
Track and field athlete
It is said that when Faith Kipyegon was a baby, she completely skipped the crawling stage and went straight to walking. She certainly has not stopped since.
Speaking to NTV Kenya, Mzee Kipyegon revealed that his daughter was extraordinary growing up.
As an adult, she is one of Kenya’s long-distance trailblazers.
Her last international race saw her winning gold and beating one of the world’s best, Caster Semenya, at the World Championships in London in 2017.
She recently returned to the track from maternity leave making her first return to action in two years, and is currently training for the next big race at the 2020 Olympics.
Kipyegon also won gold at the 2016 Summer Olympics and gold at the 2014 Commonwealth Games.
She has stood on pedestals with the world’s best, and will continue to stand tall.
16. Francine Niyonsaba, 26, Burundi
Track and Field athlete
Francine Niyonsaba made history in 2016 when she won Burundi’s first Olympic medal in 10 years.
She won a silver medal, finishing second in the 800 meters Rio de Janeiro Olympics race.
She came second to her rival on the track and friend off the track, Caster Semenya.
Since then, she has gained speed at earning the gold medals at the 800 meters at the 2016 World Indoor Championships in Portland, and last year, at the World Indoor Championships in Birmingham.
For Niyonsaba, running had always been in her blood.
When speaking to FORBES AFRICA last year, she said that the challenge women face in Burundi is that they feel they can’t achieve anything elsewhere in the world.
“In Burundi, in our culture, women believe they cannot do something special in the world, but it is just a mentality,” she said. “A woman can do everything!”
This year, Niyonsaba revealed that she would be affected by the IAAF ruling on Semenya.
In an interview with Olympic Channel, she openly discussed her hyperandrogenism and the difficulties she has faced in becoming a top-level athlete.
“For sure, I didn’t choose to be born like this, what am I?…I love myself, I will still be Francine. I will not change,” she told them.
The 26-year-old is passionate about inspiring other women in sport and putting Africa on the map.
She ranks third in the Women’s 800m in the IAAF world rankings.
17. Kagiso Rabada, 24, South Africa
Kagiso Rabada’s bowling style is nothing short of a visual treat as he has been known to make many seasoned cricketers feel rather googly as his balls approach them.
Last year, he became the youngest bowler to take 150 test wickets, and Wisden named him the Best Young Player In The World.
His rise to fame in the cricket world was as fast as the balls he delivers.
He had his biggest year in 2016 as he went home with six awards at Cricket South Africa’s annual dinner, including the prize for Cricketer of the Year.
He currently is a fast bowler for the Highveld Lions, a South African cricket team, as well as the national team, the Proteas.
Off the field, Rabada, known as KG, is humble and grounded.
The cricket star founded an initiative called Inspire and Ignite under his foundation, the Kagiso Rabada Foundation. It was reported that early this year he sponsored 2,500 youth under the age of 25 with sports equipment to advance their talent and skills.
It’s best not to take your eyes off him.
18. Ruhan van Rooyen, 24, South Africa
Paralympic track and Field Athlete
Ruhan van Rooyen was born with cerebral palsy in his lower left arm and foot.
But that has not stopped him from representing his country internationally in track and field.
Van Rooyen is a Paralympics athlete from the Western Cape in South Africa specializing in the 100 meters and 200 meters T37.
He made his debut in 2013 when he was named Junior Athlete of the Year by the South African Sports Association for the Physically Disabled.
One of his biggest achievements was being selected to compete at the 2017 World Championships in London, England.
He ranked sixth in the World Championships at the 200 meters T37 and 100 meters T37, while locally, he ranked second in both events.
Next on his agenda is to compete at the 2020 Paralympic Games in Tokyo.
When he isn’t on the track, he doubles up as a YouTuber, enjoys cycling and is also pursuing a career as a chartered accountant.
His coach said in one of his YouTube videos that “Ruhan is a very dedicated athlete”.
“I really believe Ruhan has what it takes to, not only be top three in the world, but to be the best in his events which is the 100 and 200 meter sprints,” he said.
19. Sadio Mane, 27, Senegal
Sadio Mané comes from Bambali, a village in Senegal where boys play street football until sunset with red earth clinging on to their clothes.
Now, Mané currently captains the Senegal National Team and is a winger for Premier League club Liverpool.
He started his career at a Senegalese football academy, then made his international debut for Metz, a French football team in 2012. He played for FC Red Bull Salzburg and Southampton before moving on to Liverpool in 2016 for a fee of £34 million ($43 million), making him the most expensive African player in history, at that time.
Last year, he scored a hat-trick for the club and overtook fellow countryman Demba Ba’s record of 43, to become the highest-scoring Senegalese in Premier League history.
Since then, he has become one of the top performers in the team.
He was joint recipient of the Premier League Golden Boot with 22 goals, and was part of the Liverpool team that won the 2019 UEFA Champions League Final.
With his impressive record in the Premier League, the Senegalese won Premier League Player of the Month in August 2017 and March 2019. He was also awarded the Premier League Golden Boot 2018 and 2019. On the continent, he has represented the Senegal national team at the 2012 Olympics, 2015 and 2017 Africa Cup of Nations, and the 2018 FIFA World Cup.
Speaking to BBC, Fodé Boucar Dahaba, the President of the Regional League, says that whenever Mané returns home, he remains humble and dressed in shorts like everyone else in the village.
20. Sabrina Simader, 21, Kenya
Sabrina Wanjiku Simader was born in Kilifi, a small town on the coastal city of Mombasa, Kenya, unaware that one day she would be conquering winter slopes in the alpine ski world.
Today, the 21-year-old Kenyan is a world-renowned ski racer.
But she is as humble as her early days on the mountain slopes.
She learned to ski in Hansberg, a small mountain in Austria. “Even as a little girl, I was fascinated by the white sparkling snow and the wonderful feeling of riding down the slopes,” she says. With some encouragement from her step-dad, a passionate skier at one time, she decided to pursue skiing. Her biggest achievement was when she became a triple Styrian champion in the Super G, giant slalom, combination and second in the Slalom in 2012.
“He was always proud of me and took a lot of time to train and support me in all races. Unfortunately, in June 2012, he died too early. For my mum and I, things became very difficult,” she says.
Her ski coach Christian Reif, coach of the Kenya National Ski Team, took on the ropes to groom her in the winter sport.
“Sabrina is for Kenya and for the whole world an inspiration, as a real Kenyan not from an alpine nation. And she shows that nothing is impossible, and you can reach anything with intensive work, effort and discipline,” he tells FORBES AFRICA.
Simader represented Kenya at the Winter Youth Olympics in 2016 in Lillehammer, Norway.
She was nominated for the Sports Woman of the Year and the Youth of the Year awards in the African Women in Europe organization 2017.
She plans to conquer the Winter Olympic Games in 2022 in China and the Alpine Ski World Championships in Italy in 2021, making her the second Kenyan after Philip Boit to represent the East African nation at the Winter Games.
She founded the Kenya Ski Association to groom other young Kenyans in the sport.
21. Gerson Domingos,23, Angola
Gerson Domingos is one of the youngest players in the Angolan national basketball team and he plays a very important position, point guard.
He was named Most Valuable Player at The International Basketball Federation (FIBA) Africa U18 Championship 2014, and he is part of the new generation of Angola’s young talent.
He made his debut for the senior team in 2016 at the Belgrade FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament 2016. He wears Angola on his heart and hopes to go down in their history books.
In an interview with FIBA, he said: “I have always dreamed of playing against the best teams in the world, and if I am healthy, I will do everything to keep the Angolan flag flying high. We have a history of playing at big basketball events and I hope to be part of Angola’s successful history.”
Angola is ranked in the top 50 national teams according to FIBA world rankings.
22. Siya Kolisi, 28, South Africa
Siya Kolisi stands as a dream fulfilled for the South African nation when he became the first-ever black captain of the Springboks.
It was exactly a year ago when he first captained South Africa’s national rugby team, the Springboks, on home turf against England while donning the number 6 jersey, the number famously worn by Nelson Mandela at the 1995 Rugby World Cup.
It was a step in the right direction, echoing Mandela’s vision which sought to unite a racially divided South Africa through rugby that year.
“Sport has the power to change the world… It has the power to inspire,” he said to the thousands.
Twenty-four years later, Kolisi has inspired many as well.
“I’ve learned that no matter where you come from, or what your background is, you can aspire to be whatever you want to be,” he said in an Instagram post.
Weighing 102kg, just shy of the average rugby player’s weight estimated to be 105.1kg, he carries the hopes of many on his shoulders.
He also captains the Stormers, a team which is part of the South African Rugby Union, and is based in the Western Cape province.
Despite his knee injury preventing him from playing, many hope for his return this month in a shortened Rugby Championship against Australia at Ellis Park in Johannesburg.
This year, Kolisi was nominated for a prestigious Laureus Sports Award under the category of Sporting Moment of the Year for his role in ‘uniting the rainbow nation’.
23. Thembi Kgatlana, 23, South Africa
The dusty grounds of Mohlakeng, a township west of Johannesburg, is where Thembi Kgatlana honed her talents.
Yet, on some of the world’s greenest international pitches is where she won her awards.
Whenever she gets the ball, she displays sophisticated athleticism, making it difficult to take your eyes off her as she leverages speed, agility and impressive dribbling skills to get the ball behind the net.
Kgatlana is a product of South Africa’s Banyana Banyana women’s football team, and she also plays for the Beijing BG Phoenix FC in the Chinese Women’s Super League.
She also previously played for Houston Dash in Texas, US.
When speaking to FORBES WOMAN AFRICA late last year, she said her goal had always been to play abroad and make a living out of her passion.
“It’s a dream I have been working towards for the whole of my life, since I started playing as an eight-year-old, working my way through the junior national teams, then to the senior national team. It’s been a long and hard road, but I’m here now,” Kgatlana said. After representing South Africa at the 2018 Africa Women Cup of Nations, she was named Player of the Tournament and was the highest goal scorer.
24. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, 29, Gabon
If there’s one person who loves the biggest blockbuster movie of 2018, Black Panther, it is Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. After scoring two goals for Arsenal against Rennes earlier this year, the footballer celebrated by wearing a Black Panther mask and did the signature pose with his two arms crossed over his chest
It was a true ‘Wakanda Forever’ moment.
When interviewed after the match by BT Sport, he said: “I needed a mask [which would] represent me so it’s Black Panther and in Gabon, we call the national team the panthers of Gabon, so it represents me.”
Loved by many back home, Aubameyang is a superhero in his own right. He has previously won African Footballer of the Year, Top Scorer and the French League Cup.
This year, he received the Golden Boot.
The 29-year-old Gabonese professional footballer plays for the Arsenal in the Premier League and is the captain of the Gabon national team.
It seems the apple has not fallen far from the tree as, Aubameyang’s father, Pierre-François Aubameyang “Yaya”, is a retired Gabonese international and national footballer.
25. Aphiwe Dyantyi, 24, South Africa
Last year, Aphiwe Dyantyi won the Breakthrough Player Year Award at the World Rugby Awards for his outstanding performance on the field.
An emotional Dyantyi accepted his award in Monte Carlo, Monaco.
“It’s been a blessing. I have been truly blessed in so many ways and the people that I have had around me, people that have helped me in the last few years have truly been amazing,” he said as part of his acceptance speech.
Dyantyi has been described as a natural-born player and his skills on the field can attest to that.
Coming from humble beginnings, he was born in Ngcobo in the Eastern Cape province of South Africa.
He plays for the South African national team, the Springboks.
He also plays for the Lions in Super Rugby, the Golden Lions in the Currie Cup and the Golden Lions XV in the Rugby Challenge.
He started his career in rugby while he was studying at the University of Johannesburg (UJ).
There, he played for the UJ senior team in the Varsity Cup before moving to play in the provincial championships.
Dyantyi not only strives to make a difference for his country but also for those around him.
26. Percy Tau, 25, South Africa
He plays for the Union SG and Premier League club Brighton & Hove Albion, and the South African national team, Bafana Bafana.
His football career started in 2013 when he played for Mamelodi Sundowns in the Premier Soccer League.
Since then, he has kicked it up a notch and has been climbing the football ladder. He made his debut with English Premier League club Brighton & Hove Albion last year, signing a four-year contract.
However, Tau experienced issues obtaining a UK work permit and was loaned out to join Union SG, a Belgium football club.
The loan was a blessing in disguise for Tau as he went on to score four goals for the team in six appearances, helping the club reach the semi-finals.
He then won the Player of the Season award and was in the league’s team of the season.
Last year, he was one of South Africa’s goal scorers as the nation recorded its largest-ever victory with a 6-0 win over Seychelles in an Africa Cup of Nations qualifier.
He won Premier Soccer League’s Player of the Season for 2017 to 2018.
But what makes this Mpumalanga-born South African one of the most talked-about footballers in the country?
When speaking to local publication Sport24, Tau expressed his love for football no matter where he plays.
“I think everyone is happy when they’re playing football, so, yeah… football is football. Regardless of where you play, if you focus on the football, then everything else becomes easier,” he said.
27. Quinton de Kock, 26, South Africa
This Johannesburg-born 26-year-old is a wicketkeeper and batsman known for his fearless striking and handy glove work.
Early in his career, he has been compared to some of the greats in cricket like Adam Gilchrist and Mark Boucher.
Cricket experts have considered him to be one of the most promising young wicketkeepers of this decade.
He plays for the South African national team, the Proteas, a local team called the Titans and internationally, for the Mumbai Indians in the Indian Premier League.
He made his debut for the national T20 team against New Zealand in 2012, scoring 28 off 23 balls while chasing.
Since then, he has been making quite an impression in the sport.
He was named Cricketer of the Year at Cricket South Africa’s 2017 Annual Awards.
One of his other milestones is being the fastest South African to reach 1,000 ODI runs.
28. Alex Iwobi, 23, Nigeria
If your uncle is award-winning Nigerian professional footballer, Jay-Jay Okocha, it is possible those good genes would place you at the top tier of the football ladder.
Alex Iwobi is blessed to live up to his uncle’s legacy.
Iwobi has been described as smooth and dangerous with the ball.
At only 23, he is skilled on the pitch and shows promise as he is one of Africa’s rising football stars.
Iwobi currently plays for Premier League club Arsenal and the Nigerian national team, the Super Eagles.
He was born in Lagos, Nigeria, and left his home country at the age of four.
He joined Arsenal in 2004, however, started playing with the senior team in 2015.
In that same year, he started playing for Nigeria, making his debut at the 2016 Summer Olympics when he was selected for their 35-man provisional squad.
The following year, he scored for Nigeria in a 1-0 win over Zambia.
This secured the Super Eagles a spot at the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia.
Speaking to BBC Sport earlier this year, he said he was proud to be related to Okocha.
“I can never get tired of people comparing us. I see my uncle as an idol, someone I have always looked up to as a footballer,” he said.
“I still have a long way to go, maybe one day, I can be on his level or greater.”
29. Akani Simbine, 25, South Africa
Track and Field Athlete
Akani Simbine was born a winner.
Born in Kempton Park, South Africa, Simbine has lifted the coveted crown as the country’s fastest man.
He broke the South African record in the 100 meters with a time of 9.89 seconds in 2016, which became one of his personal bests. He further sped on to win more accolades.
His current world ranking position, according to the IAAF, is sixth on the men’s 100 meters.
Among the 10 international medals he has, five of them are gold.
Simbine has been nothing short of consistent; he remains one of South Africa’s best track and field champions. He currently has deals with Mercedes-Benz and Adidas.
30. Margaret Nyairera Wambui, 23, Kenya
Track and Field Athlete
Margaret Wambui won her first international gold medal when she was only 19, at the World Junior Championships in the US.
She went from running in a small town in Nyeri County, Kenya, to some of the world’s largest arenas.
Today, she has over four more international accolades, including a bronze medal from the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games.
By then, she had her signature celebration style ready, placing one hand on the hip and the other in the air with a triumphant beaming smile.
Last year, she earned herself a second spot at the Commonwealth Games in Australia, receiving the silver medal, after Caster Semenya.
Like Semenya, Wambui has also been faced with questions regarding her testosterone levels.
However, according to reports, she has not been forced to undergo tests for hyperandrogenism.
Her current world ranking, according to the IAAF, in the Women’s 800 meters is 15.
At only 23, Wambui has achieved only what some of her peers dream of.
Imagine what the next seven years have in store for her. A gold medal for Kenya is closer than we think.
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