Aiming for change

FOR MORE than 20 years the South African Council for Business Women has been dominated by white Afrikaner businesswomen.

When it was founded its aim was to "increase the negotiating power of women in business" through its affiliation and partnerships with other business-oriented associations such as the Afrikaanse Handelsinstituut.

Over the years the council has provided its members, mostly white female entrepreneurs, with opportunities to network with relevant stakeholders and decision-makers to strengthen and expand their business interests.

At a recent annual conference in Bloemfontein the council, which boasts more than 1500 women entrepreneurs from across the country, inaugurated its first black president.

For Thelma Mathamelo, a respected mining mogul who joined the council four years ago, the inauguration means the beginning of a new direction for the now multiracial organisation.

Celebrating her election in style with music and dance in the company of Paul Mashatile, Deputy Minister of Arts and Culture, Mathamelo said becoming a member of the council had not come without challenges.

But her selfless vision of equal opportunities for all women in business remains steadfast.

"For me it is wonderful to see women standing alongside men at the pinnacle of success, because many of us have had a much heavier load to bear on our way up the mountain," she said.

Mathamelo's extensive experience in the mining and business sector has earned her directorships in major companies across the country.

These include being a shareholder in the Diamond Bourse of Africa, the first black empowered diamond house in South Africa.

In her new role she is determined to change the face of the council.

"My high school teacher used to say we must adjust to changing times and still hold on to unchanging principles," she said.

Laying out her vision and goals for the SA Council for Business Women for the next two years, Mathamelo, whose portfolio includes involvement in the R100million commercial property development currently taking place at Ventersdorp in North West, said her plan was to forge a tight working relationship with the Afrikaanse Handelsinstituut, which has been the council's business partner for many years.

"The Afrikaanse Handelsinstituut has been and will always be an important partner. Together we have come a long way and still have a long journey ahead."

She said she sees the council a resource where members can find referrals and advice for themselves and their clients.

"Reaching out and supporting one another is extremely important," she said.

The MBA graduate said she also hoped to collaborate with other business organisations, locally and abroad, to promote their common interests and increase awareness of the council.