DNA linked Oprah Winfrey’s maternal ancestry to Liberia, Cameroon and Zambia. While any one of those African countries could be her native homeland — her heart belongs to South Africa.
Winfrey’s love affair with the country began during her first trip in 1995 – a year after the first democratically-elected government came to power with Nelson Mandela as president of the ‘Rainbow Nation’.
“It was a gift from Stedman [Graham],” she shares for the first time in an exclusive interview with FORBES WOMAN AFRICA. Graham is an American businessman and educator known to be very close to Winfrey.
His activism with Nelson Mandela and the late president’s former wife Winnie is what first interested her in the country.
“After Nelson Mandela was out of prison and became president, Stedman wanted to show me the country. While doing the touristy thing, I became enamored with the women, particularly in the rural areas. They would be the ones in the fields working and carrying the water and baskets of wood on their heads. ‘Wow’, I said to him. There seemed to be a culture of women who felt like they were under the power of patriarchy.”
Those images along with the overwhelming poverty she witnessed in the rural areas – especially among the children – stuck with her.
“I could relate,” she shares.
“I grew up poor. When I was 12 years old living on welfare with my mother on North Ninth Street in Milwaukee, she told me, ‘There’ll be no Christmas this year. No Christmas presents. No Santa Claus. We barely have enough to eat’. I was okay with the whole Santa Claus thing but otherwise shocked and embarrassed.”
“What am I going to say when I go back to school? How am I going to be able to tell people I had no Christmas when everybody’s showing their stuff? What’s going to be my story?” she thought.
When the 12-year-old was to be in bed that night, there was a knock on her door. She peered through the keyhole and saw three nuns with baskets of food: canned yams, potatoes, turkey, toys, and other gifts.
“I remember being relieved!” Winfrey recalls. “It became my best Christmas ever.”
That is until decades late r – the year 2000, to be exact.
Winfrey prepared to move into her sprawling new Santa Barbara, California home, then learned it wouldn’t be completed in time for Christmas. She’d have to make alternate plans.
“Whatever happened to those nuns?” she wondered. “How could I be a nun to someone else – to kids who absolutely have no expectation; who have resolved within themselves there is not going to be a Christmas; not enough food; no money or gifts. How can I do that?”
South Africa immediately sprung into her mind.
Back to Africa
Winfrey took 50 of her employees from the United States (US) and hired another 50 in South Africa to join her on a mission she dubbed, Christmas Kindness.
“I went on the search for the prettiest black dolls I could find. I bought hundreds of thousands of them, plus soccer balls, books, school supplies and toys.”
She traveled from village to village – in the impoverished rural areas – where as many as 3,000 kids showed up each day for 10 days to collect Christmas gifts.
“Their story was my story,” Winfrey said. “It was one of the greatest, most rewarding experiences I’ve had.”
Having used Mandela’s home as the base camp where she spent 10 days and shared 29 meals with the elder statesman, Winfrey recalls she was surprisingly comfortable sitting with him in silence.
While sharing a newspaper over tea, they came upon an article about a young girl trying to get into school but not having the tuition fees.
“One day I want to build a school in Africa,” she blurted matter-of-factly.
Without hesitation, Madiba, as Mandela is fondly known, got up and called Kader Asmal, the Minister of Education at the time.
“I didn’t mean that day!” she quipped.
Asmal was forced to leave his vacation to meet with her about the prospects of building a school.
“For a long time, I’d been thinking about how I wanted to use my charitable efforts. The question I always asked myself is, ‘How can I best be used? What resonates with my spirit’? ”
A leadership academy for girls was the answer – one that would target South African girls from the same kind of background she was from: challenged, poor, dysfunctional, unloved, and lonely – but had a sense of resilience and hope.
It was imperative to Winfrey that through the school, each girl develops their sense of worthiness and be provided with a quality education that would not only compete with other top institutions in the country – but also in the world.
On 6 December 2002, after much planning, Mandela and Asmal joined Winfrey to break ground on 52 acres of land – located in Henley on Klip, 30 minutes south of Johannesburg – that would house her dream: the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy For Girls (OWLAG).
Winfrey made many trips to South Africa in preparation for the grand opening. During such time she ended up with who she refers to as her “little stray cubs” – 10 kids not associated with the school – that had no one, and nowhere to go. They needed a home and hope.
“No one knew about them,” she shares publicly for the first time. “I couldn’t get them to the US without passports. I knew that it would be unmanageable for me to try to have 10 kids at home in my apartment in Chicago, and help them adjust to life in the United States. So, I put all of these children into an orphanage in KwaZulu-Natal and built another wing for that orphanage just for my kids. When that started to cause problems for them because they were then known as the ‘Oprah Kids’, I placed them and one of the caretakers in a former Bed & Breakfast I purchased just for them.”
Now adults, all but one of the ‘Oprah Kids’ has finished college.
Finding diamonds in the rough
Nearly 10,000 applications were received for the first year of OWLAG from across all nine South African provinces.
In addition to having good grades and meeting economic threshold limits – a household income of R10,000 ($1,400 at the time) or less – the girls needed what Winfrey called the ‘It Factor’.
“I’m looking for quality of leadership, and a light that I can see – a spark!” Winfrey told the 500 candidates she handpicked for the interview process.
With all the girls on the same playing field, whittling the number down further proved to be tough.
“I’d become too emotional. Some stories were so heartbreaking I was thinking, ‘Oh God, please have the grades’. It was hard to come from a house where nine people are sleeping in the same room – six in one bed – and my school is this girl’s only chance.”
Finding the right teachers was also tricky. Winfrey admits more attention should have been made in the vetting process.
“I made a lot of mistakes that first year. First of all, I was thinking primarily about the girls. If I had it to do over, I would think primarily about infrastructure: who’s going to run it, and who’s going to teach it? It took me a while to get to the point where I had the right kind of leadership. The teachers were post-apartheid South Africa but were raised during apartheid. So, 10 years ago when I said, ‘there is no bar’, a lot of the teachers looked at me cross-eyed.”
“What do you mean there is no bar?” they asked. “Yeah, there’s a bar.”
“No, there is no bar,” Winfrey explained to them. “We’re going to raise these girls to know for themselves there isn’t a bar. The bar is as limited as they are willing to see. I want them to not just reach for the ceiling, but reach for what’s beyond.”
2 January 2007, with a full staff in place and celebrities in attendance, the ribbon was cut, and the boarding school officially opened. It had been five years with more than $40 million spent since Winfrey had made her life-changing promise to Mandela.
“It is my hope that this school will become the dream of every South African girl,” Mandela said at the ceremony. “And they will study hard and qualify for the school one day.”
The 152 girls accepted into the school in its first year – most of whom had already suffered at least six major traumatic events like the loss of a parent or close family member; had been involved in a violent act; been physically or sexually abused; or whose family had been ravaged by AIDS – came with different histories, languages, religions, and purpose.
Twelve-year-old Nompumelelo ‘Mpumi’ Nobiva, whose name means ‘success’ in the Zulu language, was among them.
Born into abject poverty, she lost her mother at age nine to HIV/Aids.
AIDS was raging in Africa at the time. It had infected 5.4 million of South Africa’s 48 million population and hit women disproportionately hard.
Winfrey started an antiretroviral program for family members.
“I’m setting up this clinic because I want you to be alive to see your daughters graduate.”
“What I learned from that,” Winfrey explains, “is you can’t build a clinic or have an offering or a place where people have to come to get the drugs. You have to go to them. So we lost a lot of moms that we shouldn’t have lost, even with me setting that up.”
Mpumi’s 25-year-old mother didn’t survive. In her last days, she made her daughter promise she wouldn’t cry, she’d work hard in school, and never stop believing in God.
Mpumi’s world changed overnight once thrust into her new environment her first year at the Academy.
“I didn’t really understand what a leader was. I had to learn that,” she recalls. “I didn’t understand that you had to create the life that you live. But first, I had to unpack the tragedy of poverty, the devastation of watching my mother die, and the loneliness of not knowing my father. The school provided therapy and a safe place to ask questions and just be.”
“You are here because of your story. There’s no shame in it,” Winfrey shared with Mpumi and the other girls during one of many fireside chats the first year.
“Everything that ever happened to you and how you managed it is your story. You’ve already won. You refused to be shut down. You kept going – in the first grade, in the second grade, and by the time you were in the fourth and the fifth grade, your teachers noticed that there was something about you that wouldn’t give up in spite of everything that’s happened to you. That is why you’re here. And we are here to help you build on that story, to share that story in a way that everybody else can be inspired by your resilience, by your strength, by your courage, and by your bravery because you already have the qualities of leadership.”
Critics and naysayers
Of course, with success, came detractors who were not just critical of Winfrey’s efforts to help South African girls, but also for seemingly neglecting kids in the impoverished areas in the US.
“On what planet is it a good idea to build a school 9,000 miles from your hometown before you build one in Chicago where nearly 50 percent of public school kids don’t graduate?” one critic blasted.
In truth, Winfrey never turned her back on her community.
She’d tried other avenues of giving like the Cabrini-Green Big Sister Project where she took girls from low-income housing apartments in Chicago, Illinois, on outings to give them access to a world different from inner city project life. It failed.
“What I discovered in that process,” she admits, “was that it doesn’t work unless you can change the mind of the child. So unless you have enough time to change someone’s trajectory, giving them hope and letting them see a different world, it can make life worse not better.”
She then focused on low-income families – buying them homes to give them a better life and a better opportunity. That didn’t work.
“If you don’t give people the tools and the skills to take care of themselves,” she says, “and you don’t fundamentally change the way they think about what is possible for themselves, you become another form of welfare.”
Her efforts working with delinquent kids also failed.
“I lasted about two days with that. I didn’t have the patience or temperament to deal with kids who were breaking the law.”
Her OWLAG worked because it was close to her heart and could bring hope to girls who were just like her. More than a gift to Mandela, it became her calling.
Tackling challenges and setbacks
Over the years, there were many changes made and lessons learned at the OWLAG – mostly during the early years: teacher selection was more guarded following an alleged misconduct incident the first year when a matron was charged with molesting several girls; by year two, the school no longer accepted seventh graders because the younger girls experienced prolonged bouts of homesickness; and in 2009, four girls were expelled and three suspended for alleged “inappropriate behavior”. In each instance, Winfrey acted swiftly and “cleaned house” as necessary.
Eventually, she also removed herself from the selection process.
“I knew that no matter what happened, we’d continue to have a 100 percent graduation rate – and we have!”
According to Melvin King, the school’s current headmaster, the school is outperforming some of the best in the country.
“Because we’re not just presenting ourselves as an educational institution,” he states.
“Our work is far more focused on the fact that we have a social justice component, and we have a deep commitment to understanding the issues of Africa. We see ourselves positioned in playing a key role in Africa once our girls are qualified.”
To date, 393 girls have graduated from the school and gone on to attend college or university.
Winfrey made a promise to Mandela 10 years ago that she’d attend every college graduation of her first group of girls.
This year, nine of her girls received college degrees in the US. She attended events to support each one, and served as the guest commencement speaker at three of those colleges: Agnes Scott, Smith and Skidmore.
“I’ve had no regrets about not having children of my own. These are my girls, and I watch like a proud mother when they cross that stage.”
Mpumi, who graduated at the top of OWLAG’s 2011 inaugural class, went on to attend the historically Black U.S. Johnson C. Smith University in Charlotte (JCSU), North Carolina, where she majored in interdisciplinary studies with a focus on global outreach.
Winfrey was overcome with emotion when she read an email from Mpumi, days before her JCSU graduation.
“She graduated top of her class,” Winfrey boasts, “and she’s studying now for her Master’s at High Point University. She’s going to be a powerhouse. I expect that she’ll end up being in a major political role in South Africa in the years to come, or even president!”
For every Mpumi that walks across the stage of a university or college, Winfrey sees it as a victory.
“It’s a victory for the school, for her family, and country. And that her family entrusted her life to the school is a victory for me! When I look at my girls, I see their future so bright. It burns my eyes. Whew!”
Winfrey once said to the acclaimed poet, Dr. Maya Angelou: “I’m leaving the school as my legacy.” Angelou reminded her: “The school is not your legacy. Your legacy lives in the life of every life that you touched.”
Now that she’s reached a landmark 10-year anniversary for OWLAG, what’s next?
“My greatest goal,” Winfrey says, “is to have one of the girls become president and I attend the inauguration. There you go!”
– Written by Shirley Neal
In First Person: Noxolo Ntaka On Oprah
Studying at the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls was an experience that went beyond my expectations.
I was in the sixth grade when my mother and I had started worrying about where I wonuld go for high school. That year, I received applications from my sixth-grade teacher who told me about a school for girls that Ms. Winfrey was building in Gauteng, South Africa. When I got home that day I immediately ran to my mother to tell her the good news. This was truly the beginning of what would be an opportunity of a lifetime. Not having to worry about school fees and receiving a world class education, is the greatest gift a girl-child can ever receive.
The Academy has played a crucial role in grooming me into an all-rounded young black woman. Its emphasis on the principle of Ubuntu and the ideals of humanity, compassion and service have propelled me towards leading a life of purpose and striving towards making an impactful difference in the near future. I was constantly pushed to beyond my comfort zone and that was a cultivating experience that reminded me that I should always seek to live out the highest expression of myself. I am thankful for the Academy because it has prepared to face the future with excitement as a young black woman in South Africa with dreams of becoming a policy maker and an aspiring scholar.
I first met Ms. Winfrey in 2006 when she interviewed me for the Academy. I had made it to the final round of interviews and had the privilege of being interviewed by Ms. Winfrey and Gayle King, alongside a panel that would be observing. Throughout my primary school years, I grew up watching the Oprah show every day when I came back from school. Never did I ever think that I would finally meet the woman I had admired for all those years and that she would come into my life, to literally change my trajectory. Here was a woman who was building a school for girls like myself in South Africa expecting nothing in return, except the development of the next generation of women who would strive to make a difference in their country and continent. With a focus on philanthropy, volunteerism, and making an in the world, Ms. Winfrey has truly demonstrated just how much power one has to truly make a difference. She has inspired me to have bigger dreams for myself and to continuously strive for excellence in everything that I invest my energy in. She is a role model for young women like myself throughout the continent, a refreshing reminder that it is possible to defy the odds. Now that she has paved the way it is only reasonable that we pay it forward too and create opportunities and access to other young women as well.
– An Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls alumnus, Ntaka is part of the #BeSomebody campaign, an initiative developed by Student Village, featuring 25 young South Africans making an extraordinary impact on their campus, business or society. She is her family’s first graduate and was raised by a mother who was a domestic worker. Currently registered as a Master’s student at the University of the Witwatersrand in the department of Political Studies, she is heading to Oxford to read for an MSc in African Studies.
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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