Empowering Women: Wendy Luhabe

Wendy Luhabe shows us how being stubborn and doing what you are passionate about, can take you to the top. She is a pioneer in the Economic Empowerment of Women that enabled South African Women to be first-time investors. She is also a social entrepreneur and a mentor for younger generations. With numerous awards and honors behind her back, including being awarded with the Liutenant of the Victorian Order (LVO) by the British Royal Family in 2014, Wendy Luhabe is with no doubt an unstoppable woman that keeps empowering women around her.

August is dedicated to celebrating Women’s Month. On 9 August 1956, 20 000 women traveled from all over the country to finally meet in Pretoria, to stand as one in protest. These women fighters marched in protest for the Withdrawal of Passes for Women and Repeal of the Pass Laws.

The march was an attempt for women to fight for their freedom and to be seen as equal to men. The sea of women came dressed up for the occasion, some clothed in traditional dresses, others in Congress colours (green, black and gold) and Indian women were dressed in white saris.

The pack of women showed disciplined and displayed strength that finally got them what they came for.

Because of these fearless women fighters, today all South African women have the freedom to do what they want.

Although women don’t have to walk around with passes anymore, our ladies are still fighting inequality. Women are still paid less than men, women still have to deal with frequent harassment and women still have to fight patriarchy in a corporate environment. Ultimately, it could be argued that women have to work harder than men to be successful.

Sometimes, in times of disbelief, all we need is a bit of inspiration and encouragement to keep us going.

We are celebrating Women’s Moth by featuring powerful women in business and highlighting their achievements. We hope to inspire our female readers to reach out for their dreams and be as successful as they wish to dare. We want to remind all women that they can be successful in anything that they do.

Keep reading to find out why Wendy Luhabe is an empowered woman.


Who is Wendy Luhabe

Most people might know Wendy Luhabe as the wife of politician Mbhazima Shilowa. But associating this powerhouses’ success to her husband would deny her of her entrepreneurship. Even though Luhabe grew up in the old Benoni in the East Rand, she has said that she grew up in a happy home, unaware of the apartheid system.

There was no time for dreams and aspirations while growing up, Luhabe was too preoccupied with an education and getting food on the table. She would work with her grandmother during school holidays by cleaning homes where she would get new clothes as payment.

Despite her mother’s circumstances, being a single parent and a nursing sister, she was determined that all five children get an education. Luhabe has said that her mother understood the value of an education and that she would somehow make it a reality.

During the 60’s and 70’s women, and particularly women of colour, were limited in choosing a career path. Women in those days only had three choices when thinking about a degree; social work, nursing or teaching. Wendy Luhabe started her degree in social work

During 1976 an opportunity opened up for Wendu Luhabe that would dramatically change her life. Without having any plans to go into business, Wendy decided to leave her social work degree behind for a BComm degree at the University of Lesotho.

Learning the ropes  

Despite all the hard work and a degree under her belt, Luhabe soon realised that the only job for a black woman with her qualification was clerical, and naturally she was not impressed. She spent the next year searching for a job that presented an opportunity and aligned with her qualifications.

Wendy’s big break came when she met South African business tycoon Johan Rupert, who offered her a job at his cosmetics company, Vanda. While working for Vanda, she found her passion for marketing and knew that this is what she was meant to be doing.

After working at Vanda for a few years, Luhabe felt passionate about developing skincare products especially for black women. After designing and motivating her ideas, the company felt that there was not a big enough market for it. Luhabe decided that it was time to move on from Vanda and quit her job.

With a little help of some friends she quickly found a job at the BMW Group. She spent the next three years working for BMW in Germany and the United States. After being overlooked for a promotion Luhabe took this as an opportunity to start her own human resource business.


Standing on her own two feet

Her first business, Bridging the Gap, focused on graduates and students. The idea was to help graduates and students make informed decisions when deciding what to study and prepare them when searching for their first job. The project was tricky to get off the ground and allowed her to explore her passion for innovation and problem-solving.

Within only two years of working on her new project, Wendy was involved in discussions on the future of the South African business landscape. She realised that there was a lack of women in this discussion, leaving her with two choices.

She would either have to wait for women to be invited or she would create her own business that would assist pioneering women in the economy.

Wendy Luhabe being who she is, decided that she was going to change the way women preserved economics. She invited some friends over, including Gloria Serobe, Nomhle Canca and Louisa Mojela, and whoever pitched up would be involved in her new big idea. The group met up every Tuesday at 5pm for 18 months for extensive consulting sessions. They came up with a new formal model that became Women’s Investment Portfolio Holdings (Wiphold).

The new project was aimed at educating women about economics and how they would become first-time investors. Wiphold created a platform for women to become real shareholders in the economy. The company got 18 000 women investors and a 300% return on their investment in the first 10 years. The innovative business women created a trust that’s now worth more than R1 billion.


Defining Moments

Luhabe wrote a book in 2002 called Defining Moments based on inspirational success stories of South African women. She wrote the book to further engage and inspire women across South Africa.

She wanted to capture these stories so that other women can learn that all life experiences have purpose and that they define who we are. Luhabe donated the proceeds of the book towards the education of women.

Since 1 Januray 2019 Wendy Luhabe has been appointed as part of the board of directors of Steinhoff Africa Retail (STAR) as independent non-executive director.

Steinhoff has said that “Wendy has an impressive track record as a business leader and has made a huge impact in the business community in South Africa. We are thrilled that she has joined STAR and look forward to her contribution. ”


Empowering women

From stumbling her way into commerce and perusing her passion for helping others, it is easy to see what Wendy Luhabe values most. She does what she wants, and not out of arrogance, but out of stubbornness. She has quit jobs and started new companies because that’s where she felt she could make the biggest change.

We can learn from Wendy Luhabe and apply this to our own lives.

In fact studies have shown that being stubborn may contribute to your success. Being stubborn helps to stay true to what you value most, in Wendy’s case she values helping women become more successful. Stubborn people tend to look past the onlookers and non-believers. They stick to their guns because they have the ability to detach themselves from outside influence. Like Wendy, stubborn people chase their passions wholeheartedly, because they know this is where they’ll stay focused more consistently.

So, be more like Wendy Luhabe and chase your dreams no matter what.

Let us know how Wendy Luhabe empowered you by commenting below.

2 responses to “Empowering Women: Wendy Luhabe”

  1. This has been my woman crush since I first discovered about her while in Grade 11. I always struggled with finding my purpose because I juggled on a lot of things, mam Wendy was that cornerstone that made sense for building myself. To date, I am trying to live up to her foot steps, I see a lot of gaps in the economy but have no one to empower me to reach my goals.
    If I were to die and wake up, I would want to come back as her. What a blessing.

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