Ignore the noise to get to the top  

Trailblazing women encourage young women to challenge patriarchal norms.

“Being a black woman is extremely difficult especially when you get to the top, because the assumption is that you slept your way to it,” these were the words of former Vice-Chancellor of the University of Cape, Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng.  

She was speaking at the Women in Leadership symposium held at the Wits Senate room on August 22, where the theme ‘Dare to lead’ was aimed at encouraging young women to assume positions of power without fear.  

Along with Phakeng, The Wits School of Social Sciences invited speaker of the Johannesburg City Council Collen Makhubele, Group executive director in mining, Sibu Majozi and Policy advisor, Lutfiyya Dean to the women month event.

Attendees were eager to know about tackling power dynamics and sexism in the workspace, which panellists addressed as they delved into their personal experiences. 

Majozi argued that women need to understand that they live in a post-colonial and patriarchal world, but they must rise above the entrenched system. “You need to earn the right [to take on a leadership position] especially if you’re a black woman,” said Majozi.  

Emphasizing the inherent double standards of patriarchy, Phakeng said the media and the public alike have been overly critical of her over trivial things like dancing.  “There was a male vice chancellor in this country that was charged with gender-based violence at this very university [Wits] but the parents, students and women in this country did not raise their voices,” said Phakeng.  

Attendee, Sibusiso Msibi enquired about the significance of feminism in empowering women, where the panel reached a consensus that the socio-political movement is only relevant to some extent because of its lack of intersectionality and failing to consider ‘the struggles of black women’.  

In response to the fact that women hold 29% senior management positions globally, Makhubele told Wits Vuvuzela that there is clearly something we have not cracked as a society, and it must come from the current generation of young people. “In order to change the political space-we need something more than a feminist movement,” said Makhubele.  

At the end of the seminar, panellists encouraged students to reach out if they need personal mentorship.  

FEATURED IMAGE: Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng speaking at the women in leadership symposium at Wits University. Photo: Sfundo Parakozov


The new BEE: Black women academic empowerment

WITS University has a shortage of black women academics despite efforts of transformation by the National Research Foundation (NRF).

According to statistics released by the Academic Information and Systems Unit black female academics make up one third out of a total of 322 academic staff at the university, with seven out of 33 of its temporary staff being black women.

“As black women we do not necessarily have the support of people who have walked the journey and can tell us how to fight or hold our hand as we walk the journey,” said Mamokgethi Phakeng professor of Mathematics Education at the University of South Africa and the president of Wits Convocation.

DOCTORS ORDERS: Dean of Students Dr. Pamela Dube discussing the importance of  female academics. Photo: Tendai Dube

DOCTORS ORDERS: Dean of Students Dr Pamela Dube discussing the importance of female academics. Photo: Tendai Dube

Phakeng is the first black African female recipient of a PhD in Mathematics Education and said part of the transformation process of any university is having black women academics, suggesting they offer a different voice to academia

“Our experience of oppression is different from that of black men and of white women and so not having more of us in academia means that one important voice is missing,” Phakeng said.

She suggests there is difficulty associated with maintaining traditional gender roles when pursuing an academic career as “academia can be unsympathetic to women.”

According to Dean of Students Dr Pamela Dube there is a dire shortage of female academics, especially people with qualifications in the PhD level.

“We have a less than a 1% research output in the country,” said Dube. She added there was a lack of participation of female researchers in the PhD level. “We have a huge shortage and we need more.”

 “As black women we do not necessarily have the support of people who have walked the journey and can tell us how to fight or hold our hand as we walk the journey”

Other projects to help women academics include The Project Developing Young Research Leadership where undergraduate students observe and participate in research projects.

Pursuing a PhD can take up to seven or eight years to finish, but associate professor of the School of Human and Community Development Dr Mzikazi Nduna confirms that with the intervention of such projects, it can take even less time to complete.

Nduna, who is the only black African female professor in her department out of 12 professors, said it takes a lot of commitment to become an academic and that “many young people are just not willing to commit.”

Phakeng maintains, however, that despite the challenges faced when pursuing an academic career “we need a narrative of excellence, one that says we should all work towards being excellent irrespective of our background.”