On the 3rd of March 2020, I was tasked with giving a presentation on the success ratio of SME’s in creating growth and reducing unemployment in developing countries. The subject is relevant not only because it was a “hot topic” in the recent SONA but there will always be a tug of war between Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) and domestic entrepreneurship.

However, in this post I seek to place the growth of women entrepreneurship under the microscope. In 2018, Statistics South Africa released a report that concluded that South Africa is young, black and female. However, the distribution of wealth, access to financial services and overall opportunities are still skewed in favour of their male counterparts.

Measures that prevent the growth of women entrepreneurship includes but is not limited to high interest rates, collateral requirements, access to banking facilities, access to funding, building a network of relationships and social challenges as raising a family and due respect from males that suffer from toxic masculinity. 

Majority have heard of countless scenario’s where women have had to work twice as hard as their male counterparts just in order to breathe in the same room as them.

In the context of South Africa, the government in order to curb this, piloted the National Gender Policy Framework to address challenges such as access to employment, economic empowerment of women, access to science and technology and access to land.

Whilst women are more educated and have a lot more opportunities there is still a lot of improvement that needs to be made.

According to a paper by business environment specialists titled Understanding women entrepreneurs in South Africa it was noted that there has been a substantial growth in the number of female entrepreneurs. However, the growth is limited to the retail and services sector. Historically male dominated industries such as construction and manufacturing has been the Achilles heel for most female entrepreneurs as penetration into these markets is difficult.  

What about the informal sector?

In Vusi Thembekwayo’s recent article African Women: an opportunity, not pity, Vusi recited the story of the female entrepreneurs of the Tshakuma Market, Thohoyandou Limpopo.  50.4% of the women head up their households and are effectively carrying their communities through selling foods such as fruits and vegetables. These women work tirelessly in the hot baking sun to provide food for 3.8 persons in their respective households.

This phenomenon is not unique to the rural communities in South Africa. In the heartbeat of Johannesburg, there are countless stories of women of all ages who set up stalls in the early hours of the morning selling food from amagwinya, skopo, fruits and vegetables and scones. There is not a single block in sight where you will not spot these phenomenal women.

However, regardless of whether the female entrepreneurs are in corporate or in the informal sector, the challenges remain the same with access to funding being the major setback for female entrepreneurs.

Whilst the story looks glim, there are some success stories to make mention of.  The Workspace released an article in 2019 highlighting 10 of South Africa’s top Women entrepreneurs. Not only is the list diverse in terms of demographics, but the companies noted are spread across many different sectors.

Youngest out of all of them is the story of Dineo Lioma (30), co-founder of Incitech, Cape Bio Technologies and Deep Medical Therapeutics. Working in tandem with tech giant IBM, Deep Medical Therapeutics is working on AI systems assisting doctors to identify the most suitable therapies to counteract the effects of diseases such as tuberculosis. Dineo believes in creating meaningful health solutions in Africa, identifying competitive products and commercializing the field of science.

Founder of Riverbed, a through-the-line communications agency, Monalisa Zwambila grew her business through an acquisition of then communication agency Chillibush Communications. Through this acquisition, Monalisa has increased turnover from R 18M to R 80M. Monalisa argues that success in business is attributed to good personnel, sharing a common purpose and being intentional with your decisions.

Mayleen Kyster, founder of Africa Steel Holdings, took a leap of faith and started a company in the male dominated steel industry. Africa Steel Holdings provides steel materials to a number of construction projects across dams, buildings, bridges and roads.  Her motto to success is to invest in education and knowledge, identify profit making ventures and keep working capital as low as possible.

Women entrepreneurship all over the globe is a phenomenon that is growing. The growth may be stunted by challenges like access to funding and opportunities but it is growing indeed. With measures put in place to assist in the growth of female entrepreneurs not even the sky is the limit.

You may write me down in history

With your bitter, twisted lies,

You may trod me in the very dirt

But still, like dust, I’ll rise.

Maya Angelou


  1. Reply
    March 12, 2020 at 5:33 am

    Beautifully written article. As a young black female who aspires to be an entrepreneur, I find this very inspiring. I hope to see many more black women rise above the challenges mentioned and become very successful!

  2. Reply
    March 31, 2020 at 2:29 pm

    Thank you very much Tshego!

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