Mahlati chose to be an agent of change in her short life

Vuyokazi Felicity Mahlati relentlessly wanted to see real change for women in rural areas in particular.
Vuyokazi Felicity Mahlati relentlessly wanted to see real change for women in rural areas in particular.

Born: September 7 1965

Died: October 13 2020


By Bongiwe Njobe

Dr Vuyokazi Felicity Mahlati (née Zondani) was born in 1965 and raised in Grahamstown in the Eastern Cape. Her formal education journey was continuous. She started her education at a farm school where her mother taught, and later went to a missionary boarding school for her higher education.

This is where her passion for seeking alternatives to the oppressive education system of the time began, choosing to be an agent of change. She then went on to obtain her Bachelor of science degree at the University of the Western Cape, a Mastesr of science in social policy and planning from the London School of Economics and Political Science, and a PhD from the University of Stellenbosch.

The theme for her PhD epitomised the essence of her professional journey – a relentless focus on the role of value chains in mainstreaming rural entrepreneurs into global markets. Over the years that I have known her, our connections and conversations were consistently in relation to land-based development opportunities that could result in the empowerment of black people, especially women.

The first of these was when she was a champion through the first Plant Fibre Cluster pilot for the legalisation of hemp, and we worked together to try to create conditions for the cultivation and processing of hemp with the idea that it could stimulate socioeconomic prosperity for the people of the Eastern Cape. Subsequently, when government initiated the Commercialisation of Goats Initiative – intended to empower black people unlock value in their goat assets – she joined the process consistent with her appreciation for the multipurpose value of goats in African communities.

Vuyo was unwavering in her pursuit for solutions for the transformative development in general and of SA agriculture. She was ready to put her hand up to be part of the solution as demonstrated by the various roles she played in public policy such as contributing through research to the constitution-making process, appointments to various advisory boards, including the Integrated Urban Development Framework Panel, the National Planning Commission, and the Global Advisory Council of Corporate Women Directors International and the Impact Hub Global Advisory Council.

When she was a member of the National Planning Commission she reached out and we shared ideas on how to overcome the concerns we had of the limitations in the treatment of agricultural development and the challenges and complexities in ensuring that land reform delivers for agricultural prosperity.

More recently as the president of the African Farmers Association of SA (Afasa) and chairperson of the advisory panel on Land Reform and Agriculture we coalesced on practical ideas on how to create conditions for the successful participation of black farmers in local and international markets. As a recipient of several recognition awards in her various roles, she initiated recognition awards within Afasa emphasising the role of policy, leadership and entrepreneurship – starting with a celebration of women.

Vuyo was compassionate, entrepreneurial and action-oriented and succeeded to bring her professional, passion and business competencies together when she conceptualised and established Ivili Loboya, an innovative and impactful venture whose vision is to be the leading natural fibre (wool and cashmere) beneficiation enterprise for woven and non-woven textile products in Africa that now has a globally destined brand, Dedani.

As a friend, she was an active and interesting social media communicator, continuously expressing gratitude and celebrating friends and family when it mattered. It is my hope that the ideas and initiatives she has championed in her relatively short life will continue to grow and prosper. My heartfelt condolences go out to Gil, Lilitha, Siseko, the Mahlati and Zondani Families, all her professional and friend networks. Her work on earth is done – may her legacy live forever.

Njobe is  a former director-general: national department of agriculture (1997 – 2004)

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