By Charndré Emma Kippie​


South African women face the daunting reality of being under-represented in educational leadership across the nation. Fortunately, these eight phenomenal women have been able to break down barriers, shaping a brighter future for aspiring female educators across the land.


Dr. Edith Phaswana

Dr Edith Phaswana is the Head of Academic Programmes at the Thabo Mbeki African School of Public & International Affairs (TM-School). She is responsible for planning, directing and coordinating the School’s teaching and learning and formal programme delivery activities. She also ensures quality assurance of programmes and efficient and effective course development, delivery and research.

Dr Phaswana was previously the acting Head of the Thabo Mbeki African Leadership Institute, UNISA, and the Vice President of the South African Development Studies Association (SADSA). Taking on the responsibility of facilitating the Thabo Mbeki Leadership Institute, Dr. Phaswana transformed the face of the establishment by mounting its accessibility to underprivileged youths, whose interaction with its resources is crucial for South Africa’s society and economy. Her contributions to this educational organisation stands in line with her enduring pursuit of cognising and tackling structural inequalities. Just this year, she received the 2020 NIHSS Best Edited Volume Book Award (Non-fiction) – a marker of excellence in Literature and Academia.

Very early on in her career, Dr. Phaswana worked diligently in a remote area known as Manoke in Burgersfort, at the border of Limpopo and Mpumalanga. During this time, she immediately realised the increasing value of her work as an educator. She applied her skills here for a decade, endeavouring to conquer existing socioeconomic and cultural hurdles, and utilise her skillset and wisdom for the betterment of others. “I realised that unless I embark on a deliberate effort to intervene in the little space I occupy, it will take many years to wipe out the legacy of our past as it manifests in every aspect of our lives — psychologically, politically, socially, economically, culturally, and spiritually”, she says.

Prior to her association with the Thabo Mbeki African Leadership Institute, she was a faculty member at the University of Johannesburg, which is where she received an award for Distinguished Teaching Excellence in the Humanities for the year 2014. Dr. Phaswana was the recipient of the 2019 Mail & Guardian Top 100 Women Changing South Africa, and is a co-founding member of the Africa Decolonial Research Network (ADERN). She is also the co-editor of the Award Winning Title ‘Black Academic Voices: The South African experience’, which was published in 2019. She has continuously provided research & advisory services, and policy reviews, for the South African government at both national and provincial level.

“The modern world we live in has been constructed without us, as women…One of the biggest issues that always bothered me as a young professional woman had been the lack of support structures in place for women in the workplace, and this is a global phenomenon. When young women find themselves occupying those lonely seats at the table, they must ensure that the ‘terms of conversation’ change. Their presence, even if they are outnumbered, must make it difficult for certain things to be said or done.” ─ Dr Edith Phaswana, Thabo Mbeki African Leadership Institute, UNISA.

Phaswana continuously speaks about academia’s effect on perpetuating inequalities, which she finds disheartening. She finds it concerning that society has learned about inclusion and exclusion schemes from academic circles and even published papers that are pervasive and underpinned by historically-prejudice dogmas:

“When it is reflected in our societies, we act as if we are surprised, but this is what academics live daily. We are all aware of the disparities according to race and gender, which continue in many of our universities. In terms of the workload, women pay a high price for unrewarded, unappreciated academic citizenship.” ─ Dr Edith Phaswana.



  • PhD from London South Bank University, UK.
  • Master of Arts from the University of Johannesburg
  • BA Degree from the University of Pretoria
  • TCE Teacher’s Diploma (Grade 10-12 Mathematics)



Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng

In 2018, Rosina Mamokgethi Phakeng ─ mathematics educationalist ─ became the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Cape Town (UCT). Prior to this appointment, she was the Vice Principal of Research and Innovation, at the University of South Africa, as well as the acting executive Dean of the College of Science, Engineering and Technology at UNISA.  She is a highly regarded B2 NRF-rated scientist with over 80 research papers and five edited volumes published. Over the years, Mamokgethi has delivered well over 30 keynote talks and lectures at international conferences, and was also a visiting professor at a plethora of universities around the world, in locations such as Australia, Botswana, Canada, USA and the UK.


She has multiple accolades added to her belt for her research and community contributions:

–          SA Woman of the Year (one of the three finalists) for the Science and Technology Category (2003).

–          Recognised as one of top three NRF Top Women in Research (2006)

–          Golden Key Honours Society – Association of Mathematics Education of South Africa (AMESA) Honorary life membership (2009)

–          Association of Mathematics Education of South Africa (AMESA) Honorary life membership (2009)

–          NSTF award for being the most outstanding Senior Black Female Researcher over the last 5 to 10 years in recognition of her innovative, quality research on teaching and learning mathematics in multilingual classrooms. (2011)

–          CEO Magazine award for being the most influential woman in education and training in South Africa (2013)

–          Order of the Baobab (Silver) conferred on her by the President of South Africa (2016)


Mamokgethi Phakeng was the founding Chairperson of the Board of the South African Mathematics Foundation (SAMF) from 2004 to 2006, and served as the secretary and member of the executive committee of the International Group for the Psychology of Mathematics Education (PME) during 2003-2007. Passionate about empowering the youth, she is the founder of the Adopt-a-learner Foundation, a non-profit organisation that started in 2004 and provides financial and educational support to students from township and rural areas to acquire higher education qualifications.

As an academic and researcher, she has been focusing on developing key pedagogies for multilingual mathematics classrooms, since 2006. Her research focuses on mathematics in multilingual contexts. Her journey in this area of study started in 1998 with a concern about the low mathematics performance of a majority of learners in multilingual classrooms, in South Africa, who learn in a language that is not their home language. At the core of this concern was a need to address the uneven distribution of mathematical knowledge and success:

“So far I have developed what I refer to as the deliberate, proactive and strategic use of the learners’ home language in the teaching of mathematics. In this work I specifically focus on algebra as an area of study that is used to communicate most of mathematics. Through my collaborations I am now extending this work to also focus on multilingual mathematics classrooms of immigrant learners and also undergraduate students”, she comments.



–          Strategic leadership

–          Public relations, communications

–          External relations

–          Fundraising

–          Council accountability

–          Institutional financial sustainability

–          Risk management

–          Transformation

–          Ceremonial functions



Dr Nthabiseng Moleko

A woman of many talents, Dr. Nthabiseng Moleko is a poet, author, Commissioner of the Commission for Gender Equality, and the Deputy Chairperson of the Ikhala TVET College Council. She serves on the Board of Trustees of the National Empowerment Fund, and is a former CEO of the Joe Gqabi Economic Development Agency in the Eastern Cape. Nthabiseng has worked extensively in business education and economic development, and was designated by the African Institute of Financial Markets and Risk Management (AIFMRM) as a leading future African researcher in finance and economics. To date, Nthabiseng lectures in economics and statistics at the University of Stellenbosch Business School (USB), where she completed her PhD in Development Finance, in 2019 ─ she is the first woman in SA to receive this qualification.

Despite having a huge career to maintain, alongside continuous research work, she is on a mission to lessen poverty and fight for the economic rights of women in South Africa. During a virtual Inclusive Economic Growth-Oversight Summit in November 2020, hosted by Parliament, she addressed the fact that gender barriers mean the detriment of the South, limiting the nation’s potential. “Accelerating women’s participation in South Africa’s economic reconstruction: maximising the growth potential of provinces, districts, and localities”, she says.

Her journey in academia has been remarkable. In finding a research area that complements her passion, she has been able to make significant contributions to society through her publications and in-depth lectures:

“Having completed a PhD, I have gained more in-depth knowledge and therefore have more authority and a voice in that area. I am able to influence thoughts and thinking in my field, which is great”, she says. “We are in need of solutions to the multiple problems and complex issues faced on the continent, be they economic, in healthcare, scientific, the built environment and all other spheres and disciplines…I am proud to be black, in academia, and in the quantitative and economic space, which is predominantly male-dominated. If doors could open for me, a girl from Umtata, it is possible for other girls too, no matter their background”.



–          That every woman would fulfil her economic destiny. Women are hardest hit by inequality, poverty, and unemployment. If we can improve those things, women’s livelihoods would be improved.

–          For women to enter into areas of critical and scarce skills — science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

–          To see greater representation of women at the highest levels of decision-making, women who fill the space in both the public and private sector, at executive and senior management levels, as well as at board level.



Professor Sibongile Muthwa

Professor Sibongile Muthwa, Vice-Chancellor of Nelson Mandela University, South Africa, completed her PhD at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, as well as an MSc in Development Policy and Planning, from London School of Economics and Political Science. With a distinguished career, both in South Africa and internationally, she has worked in academia and development and public sector institutions. As the very first woman Vice-Chancellor appointed at Nelson Mandela University, Professor Muthwa serves as the Chairperson of Universities South Africa [USAf], which endorses and expedites optimum conditions for universities to function effectively and contribute to social, cultural and economic improvement.

Before her time at Nelson Mandela University, Muthwa acted as the Director General of the Eastern Cape Provincial Government [2004 and 2010]. She was also previously appointed as the Director of the Fort Hare Institute of Government. She is deeply committed to gender justice, social inclusion and active democratic participation, and accordingly serves on a number of Boards and advisory structures, including from 2014 as a Commissioner of the Financial and Fiscal Commission.

Professor Muthwa’s passion for education stems from a simple childhood experience ─ learning to read and write. “My love of reading came from my grandfather who had taught himself to read. My father was a teacher and my mother a nurse, but growing up we spent most of our time with our grandparents and I was particularly close to my grandfather”, she says. “My journey has inspired my commitment to contribute to changing the trajectory of every young person whose life I have the privilege to touch.”


Professor Muthwa’s thoughts on Tertiary Education in SA:

“As we all know, our sector and country is at a crossroads. As a higher education institution we need to be acutely attuned to the issues of our country, including poverty and inequality, and to be committed to improving the lives and educational opportunities of the marginalised in particular. The calls for free education for all those who cannot afford it have made this task urgent and critical… We will continue to strive, with great pride and humility, to live up to our responsibility of leading the only university in the world that carries Nelson Mandela’s name”.



–          PhD from the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London

–          MSc in Development Policy and Planning from the London School of Economics

–          BA Honours from Wits University

–          BA in Social Work from the University of Fort Hare



Dr. Precious Moloi-Motsepe

In 2019, Dr. Precious Moloi-Motsepe was appointed as Chancellor of the University of Cape Town (UCT). Taking up office in January 2020, she is previously known as top businesswoman and philanthropist in South Africa, and is successor to Graça Machel who was first elected back in 1999. Dr. Moloi-Motsepe is married to mining magnate and billionaire, Patrice Motsepe, and together they founded the Motsepe Foundation in 1999, becoming the first African couple to join The Giving Pledge ─  a commitment by the world’s most affluent families, and individuals, to contribute the majority of their wealth to philanthropic efforts.

 Dr. Moloi-Motsepe has strong roots in Medicine and Gender Activism, and has further authored a resource guide for women across South Africa titled The Precious Little Black Book, published in 2017, and created the Gender Responsive Budgeting Initiative South Africa. Her strength and talent spans far beyond philanthropy and academia, as she owns African Fashion International (AFI), claiming her place in the fashion world. She’s also partnered with the Harvard Kennedy School’s Women’s Leadership Board and Centre for Public Leadership Council, served on the World Economic Forum Global Agenda Council, and was previously also appointed as the president of the Cancer Association of South Africa.

 A passionate advocate for women’s rights, she continuously endorses initiatives geared towards achieving economic, political, and social equality. As a medical practitioner, Moloi-Motsepe established the first women’s clinic in Johannesburg, receiving the Elizabeth Tshabalala Award for her cancer awareness initiatives and outstanding work in women’s health, in South Africa. In addition to the many hats she wears, she is Patron of Birdlife South Africa and Patron of Child Welfare South Africa, and occupies a seat on the board of Synergos ─ an organisation committed to tackling global poverty and social injustice by means of collaborating with governments, business and civil society, and generating sustainable systems transformation. 



“People, Planet and then Profits. This is how the new thinking in business ought to be. We should care a lot about the planet we leave behind for our children and the generations to follow. This is the most important agenda.”─ Dr Moloi-Motsepe.


ACCREDITATIONS: MBChB, Diploma in Child Health from Wits University, Diploma in Women’s Health from Stellenbosch University.



Professor Xoliswa Mtose

Professor Xoliswa Mtose began her journey in tertiary education as a lecturer at Rhodes University back in 1996, which is where she also acted as the Coordinator of the Distance and Continuing Education Programme. Since then she has been climbing up the ranks, and she was appointed as the Dean at the Faculty of Education at Fort Hare in 2009. Attaining much recognition for her dedication to the education sector, Xoliswa moved on to the University of Zululand, which is where she undertook the role of Dean of the Faculty of Education. Thereafter, she was quickly promoted to Deputy Vice-Chancellor for Teaching and Learning. As a distinguished international scholar, Professor Mtose has had many opportunities to study abroad. Thus, she was able to experience the University of Harvard in the United States of America, after being granted a South African Scholarship.

 Today, Professor Mtose is an educator, higher education specialist and psychologist, who has been positioned as the seventh Vice-Chancellor appointed at UNIZULU’s Faculty of Education Dean, since 1960 when the University was first established. She is the third black female Vice Chancellor that UNIZULU has had. She also serves as an executive member of the Anti-racism Network in Higher Education. Professor Mtose is known for leading by example in setting goals and standards of performance. Her seasoned experience in academia has moulded her into a thriving manager and pioneer in higher education.



Professor Mtose’s research focal point regards issues of race, post-apartheid blackness, and overall identity politics. While accepting that race is a social construction and that racial identities are fluid, she believes that “forms of racial subjectivity are also deeply rooted and persistent.”



“You cannot train and educate a black child to live a white discourse and be employed in a white discursive formation. This is the central anomaly that has been fully intellectualised and which I hope this conference will begin to attend to, constructively and transformatively… The African university needs to be reinvented, remade, yes, but it must be imbued with African formats, discourses, discursive formations and knowledge praxis.”



  • PhD in Psychology from the University of KwaZulu-Natal
  • Master of Philosophy in Higher Education from University of Stellenbosch
  • BA Honours in African Languages from Rhodes University
  • BA from University of Fort Hare
  • HDE (Post Graduate) Primary from University of Cape Town



Professor Puleng LenkaBula

Professor Puleng LenkaBula has just recently been appointed as the new Vice-Chancellor of the University of South Africa (UNISA), by The Higher Education Transformation Network. She will be taking over from Professor Mandla Makhanya, who has been at the helm since 2011. She is excited about taking over in 2021 and remains dedicated to implementing transform and diversity policies.  She becomes the nation’s fifth woman vice-chancellor and UNISA’s first – joining the likes of University of Zululand’s Professor Xoliswa, Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng from the University of Cape Town, and Professor Sibongile Muthwa of Nelson Mandela University.

Prior to her recent appointment, Professor LenkaBula was the Vice-Rector of Institutional Change, Student Affairs and Community Engagement at the University of the Free State. Before taking up her post in the Free State, she was the Dean of Students at Wits University. Leading up to her new promotion, Lenkabula worked at UNISA as an associate professor of ethics, as the Dean of Students and in Makhanya’s office as a director and adviser. As of 2015, there have been an estimated 20 vacancies for vice-chancellors in South Africa, yet only four women have been given the opportunity to occupy these seats at tertiary institutions.



Professor LenkaBula has obtained a Doctorate in Ethics (Theology and Philosophy), specialising in Ethics of the Economy, Ecology and Politics (Social Ethics), from the University of South Africa. Prior to this achievement, she received her Master’s degree from St Andrew’s College at the University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon, Canada, specialising in Social Ethics. Her Master’s dissertation focused on studying the ethical repercussions of multifaceted finance, as well as financing institutions on economies and economic policies in Africa.

She is widely published, with more than 25 articles in local and international peer-reviewed academic journals. Her list of publications includes a commissioned book by the World Communion of Reformed Churches, titled Choose Life, Act in Hope (2009) ─ completed in collaboration with Rev. Dr. Dibeela, Botswana National Front Vice President, and Dr. Vuyani Vellem from the University of Pretoria. In addition, she has built innovative projects, such as DIPLOspeak sessions and the strategic programmes for forming a unit of African intellectuals to accelerate UNISA’s engagement in international relations with diplomatic companies, geared towards advancing UNISA as a contextually grounded, but globally viable university in the service of humanity.

 With a wide local and global footprint in her favour, she has previously also been invited to be a keynote speaker at the Geneva Conference, presenting a discussion on ‘the intersections of Technology, Economy and Ethics/Theology in the 21st century’. Professor LenkaBula’s forte is her innate ability to navigate across disciplinary boundaries. This is why she serves as a board member in leading academic and global institutions, including the Council for the Development of Social Sciences Research in Africa ─ ranked as the No.1 think tank in 2016.

 Professor LenkaBula is dedicated to knowledge production, innovation, and the advancing of socio-economic development in South Africa, Africa, and the world:


 “Universities have not been successful in ensuring that there are sites where the democratisation process, the inventions that respond to questions that societies grapple with are addressed. I think transformation should be ensuring that people living with disabilities are embraced within the university and nature their knowledge.” ─ Professor Puleng LenkaBula



*Check out the latest edition of the Public Sector Leaders publication here.

For enquiries, regarding being profiled or showcased in the next edition of the Public Sector Leaders publication, please contact National Project Manager, Emlyn Dunn:

Telephone: 086 000 9590 |  Mobile: 072 126 3962 |  e-Mail: