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Phindile inspired women to shape their destinies

Late journo used Sowetan Women’s Club to empower people

Sowetan Womens Club's Phindile Xaba.
Sowetan Womens Club's Phindile Xaba.
Image: Peter Mogaki

I learnt with sadness of Phindile Mary Xaba’s passing. Indeed, cancer is a cruel disease that has taken one of the brightest and most brilliant journalists and economic empowerment activist.

I met Phindile in the late 1990s. We both shared a passion for economic empowerment of women. It was clear to both of us that political democracy can only be successful if the socio-economic democracy is also achieved. We also shared a view that women’s participation in the economy was key to achieving the goals of developing SA.

She was passionate about ensuing that women do not become onlookers to the societal transition. Phindile was concerned that women do not remain at the bottom of the ladder as they were during apartheid. While she was aware that the democratic government had set the policy framework for inclusion of women, she was conscious of the fact that success of the policies would depend not only on government implementation, but also on broader society.

She recognised the plight of women in townships, who lacked the networks, market and financial access and know-how of effectively benefitting from new opportunities. She used the Sowetan Women’s Club as a vehicle for assisting them start their own businesses or growing existing businesses.

Most of the women who were club members already ran their small businesses and wanted to grow, whereas some women wanted to start businesses, but needed help in negotiating the complex path of having a properly registered company, that is tax compliant and could participate in the formal economy. 

Barriers to entry were huge and needed lots of resources to successfully overcome. Banks needed security for their loans, and most women had no security since they did not own houses or other assets. This is the reason Phindile approached my organization NURCHA (National Urban and Reconstruction Agency) to support the women through guarantees, financial and technical advice, and other mechanisms.

We also brought banking partners to the table to provide unsecured loans to the women. Eventually we also had the developmental institutions involved.

The Sowetan Women’s Club brought together policy makers, successful business people, NGOs, financiers together with women from the townships. The club effectively unpacked opportunities directed at women to sources of funds and showed them role models of women who have made it.

While most people see problems and write about them, Phindile was the opposite. She saw solutions for poverty in the townships, solutions for inclusion of women, and solutions for motivating the women to shape their own destinies. She was a born motivator, inspiring confidence in all she met.

Her humility and always-present smile made her approachable to all. She was persuasive and got leaders from different sectors of the economy to come and address the women.

She never took no for an answer and was relentless in ensuring that the club got the funding to host the events. She did not tolerate free riders, so all club members contributed to demonstrate their commitment to having their own skin on the game.

When I met her, she wanted me to link women to housing and construction opportunities, and finance. The government had promised that women contractors would be part of building the economy and specifically the building of government subsidy housing.

Our goal was to ensure that we link them to training, finance and actual projects. Through working with Phindile and others we were able to create an industry of women contractors, who participated in the rollout of infrastructure projects. Some of the women started businesses that supplied building materials, curtains, and other necessities for a home.

While everyone now talks about township economy, this term was not there during that time, but Phindile was already seeing the vibrancy of this economy and realising its potential in uplifting society. I was privileged to work in partnership with her.

• Mjoli-Mncube was executive director at NURCHA when she worked with Phindile

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