7 Times South African Women Have Made History This Century

As Women’s Month comes to a close, we look back at just a few of the glass ceilings shattered in South Africa since the 1956 Women's March.

Throughout August, South Africa celebrated 60 years since Charlotte Maxeke, Helen Joseph, Rahima Moosa and many other fierce activists led a march of over 20 000 women to the Union Buildings in protest against the use of passes by women. Here at Okayafrica, we've been reflecting on the achievements of phenomenal black women, like these eight writers who changed South Africa's literary game.

As Women’s Month comes to a close, we look back at just a few more of the glass ceilings shattered since the 1956 Women's March. Below, we reflect on seven times South African women have already made history this century.

Ferial Haffajee Becomes the First Woman to Edit a Major South African Newspaper

Year: 2004

South Africa’s print media, as with many other industries, has long been dominated by men. The 2004 appointment of Ferial Haffajee, then 36, as the first woman to edit a major South African newspaper was a tremendous milestone for women in the newsroom.

“As a female editor, in South Africa, I will bring a different touch to the M&G. I will want to use our investigative resources to look at some pretty serious gender problems we have - like the rate of rape and the rate of sexual violence,” Haffajee told AllAfrica at the time of her appointment as the editorial head of Mail and Guardian. “I hope that we will be able to profile the many young, black or coloured women who are coming up through the ranks, be able to show a different form of leadership in the way that I represent, I think, a different shape of leadership.”

After leaving Mail and Guardian in 2009, Haffajee joined City Press as Editor-in-Chief. She resigned from the post in July. Next up for Haffajee? She'll join the business news publisher Bloomberg as a writer beginning in September.

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka Becomes South Africa's First Female Deputy President

Year: 2005

After being implicated in corruption with his financial advisor, Schabir Shaik, Jacob Zuma was axed as the deputy president by former president, Thabo Mbeki, in 2005. It came as a welcomed surprise when Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, then 50, was appointed as the country's first female deputy president.

Although women had been an integral part to the struggle, Mlambo-Ngcuka’s appointment marked the first time a woman had come to occupy such a high position in government. With the dawn of a female deputy president came the hope that South Africa can one day elect a woman president. During her tenure, she oversaw programmes which were centred on poverty alleviation with a specific focus on women.

In 2013, Mlambo-Ngcuka was appointed as the Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of UN Women. "By providing more opportunities for women…we can ensure that women can play central roles in the rebuilding of our nations,” the UN Women ED said in a statement on World Humanitarian Day this month.

Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma Appointed African Union’s First Female Head

Year: 2012

The distinguished Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, former Minister of Health and then Home Affairs, was appointed in 2012 as the first woman to chair the African Union (AU) Commission, a body focused on promoting cooperation between a number of African countries. Taking over from her predecessor Jean Ping, this was yet another significant boost to the recognition of women in senior political positions on the continent and a testament to how this would indeed be the African Women's Decade.

Under the leadership of Dlamini-Zuma, the AU declared 2015 the Year of Women's Empowerment and Development.

This year marks the end to Dlamini-Zuma's tenure at the AU and there is much speculation that she could very well become the ANC's next presidential candidate.

Thuli Madonsela Faces Off with Zuma

Year: 2014

Thuli Madonsela, an advocate and the Public Protector of the country, came under the spotlight in 2014 when she boldly stood up against corruption in light of the claims of the president having allegedly spent an unsolicited amount of R250 million on his homestead, Nkandla.

The Constitutional Court, the highest court in the land, ruled in her favour, finding that the president's failure to implement the findings of her Nkandla report were “inconsistent with the Constitution,” to which Madonsela responded: "The Constitutional Court restored hope in the constitutional dream."

This year marks the end of her seven-year tenure as the Public Protector. In an August interview with Marie Claire, Madonsela opened up about her plans to take a sabbatical wherein she hopes to teach and resume practising the law and write her memoir.

Women Lead the Fees Must Fall Movement

Year: 2015

In 2015, South Africa saw its largest student uprising since 1976. Students from all over the country came together and marched to the Union Buildings protesting against the proposed fee hikes in tuition at universities that threatened to financially cripple and exclude many students. The movement was largely begun by two young women forces, Shaeera Kalla and Nompendulo Mkhatshwa, outgoing and incoming presidents of the Student Representative Council (SRC) respectively at Wits University. As with the march 60 years ago, the spirit of Imbokodo Lead, women taking front and centre, was alive in our young women and saw the president agreeing to a 0 percent increase in fees.

Sizakele Mzimela Becomes the First Black Woman to Launch an Airline

Year: 2015

Sizakele Mzimela, then 49, smashed the aviation ceiling last year when she became the first black woman to establish an airline. The former South African Airways (SAA) CEO made history in 2015 when she co-founded Fly Blue Crane and went on to launch the airline's first international flight earlier this year. Mzimela has broken through some of the boundaries and barriers which often impede the road to success of many women, especially black women.

Asked to offer some advice to women in an interview with Runway Girl Network, Mzimela shared, "Understand that we [women] just have to work harder. It’s unfair, but you spend less time complaining and more time finding a way to move on and break through regardless of the difficulties."

Caster Semenya Wins Gold at the Rio 2016 Summer Olympics

Year: 2016

After a lengthy break from the track, Caster returned to fly the South African flag high in Rio this month. The 25-year-old middle-distance star breezed past Burundi's Francine Niyonsaba and Kenya’s Margaret Wambui into first in the final of the women's 800m, making her the first black South African woman in history to win an Olympic gold medal.

In the face of snide and underhanded responses from competing athletes, Semenya remained gracious and South Africans continued to fiercely defend against attacks on the Olympic champion.

Semenya herself later took to social media to thank South Africa for their continued support. "Thank you everyone for supporting me throughout the championship, for showinme love and for believing in me. To my fellow South Africans. Here is our medal. We made it," she said.

Rufaro Samanga is an intellectual, aspiring literary great, feminist and most importantly, a fiercely passionate African.


Introducing OkayAfrica's 100 Women 2020 List

Celebrating African Women Laying the Groundwork for the Future

It would not be hyperbole to consider the individuals we're honoring for OkayAfrica's 100 Women 2020 list as architects of the future.

This is to say that these women are building infrastructure, both literally and metaphorically, for future generations in Africa and in the Diaspora. And they are doing so intentionally, reaching back, laterally, and forward to bridge gaps and make sure the steps they built—and not without hard work, mines of microaggressions, and challenges—are sturdy enough for the next ascent.

In short, the women on this year's list are laying the groundwork for other women to follow. It's what late author and American novelist Toni Morrison would call your "real job."

"I tell my students, 'When you get these jobs that you have been so brilliantly trained for, just remember that your real job is that if you are free, you need to free somebody else. If you have some power, then your job is to empower somebody else."

And that's what inspired us in the curation of this year's list. Our honorees use various mediums to get the job done—DJ's, fashion designers, historians, anthropologists, and even venture capitalists—but each with the mission to clear the road ahead for generations to come. Incredible African women like Eden Ghebreselassie, a marketing lead at ESPN who created a non-profit to fight energy poverty in Eritrea; or Baratang Miya, who is quite literally building technology clubs for disadvantaged youth in South Africa.

There are the builds that aren't physically tangible—movements that inspire women to show up confidently in their skin, like Enam Asiama's quest to normalize plus-sized bodies and Frédérique (Freddie) Harrel's push for Black and African women to embrace the kink and curl of their hair.

And then there are those who use their words to build power, to take control of the narrative, and to usher in true inclusion and equity. Journalists, (sisters Nikki and Lola Ogunnaike), a novelist (Oyinkan Braithwaite), a media maven (Yolisa Phahle), and a number of historians (Nana Oforiatta Ayim, Leïla Sy) to name a few.

In a time of uncertainty in the world, there's assuredness in the mission to bring up our people. We know this moment of global challenge won't last. It is why we are moving forward to share this labor of love with you, our trusted and loyal audience. We hope that this list serves as a beacon for you during this moment—insurance that future generations will be alright. And we have our honorees to thank for securing that future.


The annual OkayAfrica 100 Women List is our effort to acknowledge and uplift African women, not only as a resource that has and will continue to enrich the world we live in, but as a group that deserves to be recognized, reinforced and treasured on a global scale. In the spirit of building infrastructure, this year's list will go beyond the month of March (Women's History Month in America) and close in September during Women's Month in South Africa.

100 women 2020

Burna Boy 'African Giant' money cover art by Sajjad.

The 20 Essential Burna Boy Songs

We comb through the Nigerian star's hit-filled discography to select 20 essential songs from the African Giant.

Since bursting onto the scene in 2012 with his chart-topping single, "Like to Party," and the subsequent release of his debut album, L.I.F.E - Leaving an Impact for eternity, Burna Boy has continued to prove time and again that he is a force to be reckoned with.

The African Giant has, over the years, built a remarkable musical identity around the ardent blend of dancehall, hip-hop, reggae, R&B, and afropop to create a game-changing genre he calls afro-fusion. The result has been top tier singles, phenomenal collaborations, and global stardom—with several accolades under his belt which include a Grammy nomination and African Giant earning a spot on many publications' best albums of 2019.

We thought to delve into his hit-filled discography to bring you The 20 Essential Burna Boy Songs.

This list is in no particular order.

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(Photo Illustration by Rafael Henrique/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Rejoice! WhatsApp Places New Restrictions on Chain Messages to Fight Fake News

To combat the spread of misinformation due to the coronavirus outbreak, users are now restricted from sharing frequently forwarded messages to more than one person.

The rise of the novel coronavirus has seen an increase in the spread of fake news across social media sites and platforms, particularly WhatsApp—a platform known as a hotbed for the forwarding of illegitimate chain messages and conspiracy theories (if you have African parents, you're probably familiar). Now the Facebook-owned app is setting in place new measures to try and curb the spread of fake news on its platform.

The app is putting new restrictions on message forwarding which will limit the number of times a frequently forwarded message can be shared. Messages that have been sent through a chain of more than five people can only subsequently be forwarded to one person. "We know many users forward helpful information, as well as funny videos, memes, and reflections or prayers they find meaningful," announced the app in a blog post on Tuesday. "In recent weeks, people have also used WhatsApp to organize public moments of support for frontline health workers."

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News Brief

Sarkodie Hits Hard With His Latest Single 'Sub Zero'

The Ghanaian heavyweight rapper shows up with the fire bars over an Altra Nova-produced beat.

Sarkodie has dropped a new aggressive track in the shape of "Sub Zero."

"Sub Zero" follows the star Ghanaian rapper as he throws back criticisms that have come his way from other rappers with his own ice cold flow. The new track was produced by Ghanaian beatmaker Altra Nova and mixed by PEE On Da BeaT.

"Sub Zero" follows Sarkodie's turn-up single "Bumper," which dropped bak in February.

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