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Milk too messy for sterilised corporates

At a pan-African conference with more than 40,000 delegates, one imagines that a not insignificant proportion of attendees are parents of young children. There is also the emerging trend of business travellers who take their children along on business trips, out of choice or circumstance, as I tend to do.

Yet when I asked the conference organisers if they had considered adding a childcare booth as part of the conference amenities, I was met with bewilderment.

I shouldn’t be surprised. I have hosted a conference in Cape Town myself and not once did the thought of childcare enter my mind. We live in a world with hard boundaries between the spheres of paid work and care work. Parents have to split themselves into parts, and in many ways, it remains taboo to let these spheres intersect.

On my first business trip with my baby daughter, I had to attend a two-day conference held at a hotel outside Stellenbosch. I booked into the hotel, located on a large property with lovely walkways and with one of the rooms converted into a cosy playroom. This was not a good way to start, because it was too easy and convenient, and raised my expectations. On the next trip, I ended up at a high-end hotel in the Cape Town central business district. It had great facilities but on inquiring about the playroom I was informed that the hotel caters to business travellers. I, too, am a business traveller.

Once, a client-side colleague on a project told me that when she had a young baby that fact was not visible in her work life. She was juggling graduate school and building a consultancy and none of the people she encountered in her work-life would have guessed that she had a newborn. The implicit advice was that I do the same lest I lose out on opportunities. In the context of our conversation, that advice did not come across as harsh as it might sound and was probably a little exaggerated. But it still raises concern.

Have we set up workspaces where parenting has to be invisible? Where it’s aspirational to take time off for a soul-searching sabbatical but admitting to the demands of childcare seems like shirking?

As one who acts as an adviser to organisations in various capacities, I have a vantage point into the diversity of support offered to parents in the workplace. I have had to pump breast milk in bathrooms (would you make a sandwich in a bathroom?), once in a Top 40 CEO’s office suite (a lovely gesture aimed to conceal inadequate facilities) or at the airport clinic en route to an institution I knew would be hopeless on that front.

But the worst part about pumping is the product.

A US woman entrepreneur, founder of Naya Health Janica Alvarez, set out to revolutionise the user experience with a smart pump that does not make the hideous sound, collects more milk (and useful data) and is truly portable. But she is reported to be struggling to raise the next level of financing from (male-dominated) venture capital firms.

Global health guidelines are unanimous on the value of breast milk, but financiers fail to appreciate the opportunity to transform the user experience.

Finally, I should mention I’ve begun to make a conscious effort to refer to “parents” in discussions, because they so easily scale down to the challenges facing working mothers. The triumphs and trials of modern parenthood are framed as if men are not part of the equation. It is dismissive of fathers, and families led by men only, to proceed from the assumption that a woman should always be the lead parent.

(Published originally on Business Day on 21 November 2017:

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WIPHOLD acquires a stake in Sasfin Bank

Sasfin Holdings Limited (Sasfin) is pleased to announce the agreement and conclusion of transaction terms relating to the proposed B-BBEE transaction between Sasfin and Women Investment Portfolio Holdings Limited (WIPHOLD).

The terms include WIPHOLD SPV (a wholly-owned subsidiary of WIPHOLD) subscribing for 25.1% of Sasfin’s issued share capital, post the voluntary repurchase offer referred to below, for a total consideration of R413 million. WIPHOLD and Sasfin have also entered into a services agreement in terms of which WIPHOLD will provide Sasfin with services relating to promoting and growing Sasfin’s business, particularly in the area of business development and in key internal focus areas such as group procurement, recruitment, stakeholder relations and providing the Sasfin group with strategic inputs in its transformation journey. In addition to the above, WIPHOLD has further undertaken to become a shareholder of reference to Sasfin.

Due to Sasfin’s strong capital position, Sasfin has no need for the capital raised from the transaction and will be returning the proceeds of the subscription to shareholders through a voluntary repurchase of shares. Should the entire allocation be tendered, as is expected, the subscription price would equate to R51 per Sasfin share.

According to Sasfin CEO Roland Sassoon, concluding terms with WIPHOLD represents a milestone for the Sasfin Group: “We are extremely excited to conclude a B-BBEE transaction with an investor of WIPHOLD’s calibre. This transaction underscores Sasfin’s commitment to transformation and will result in Sasfin having the highest black equity ownership of any JSE-listed banking group.

“Given the strategic nature of WIPHOLD’s shareholding and the excellent cultural fit between our respective organisations, we believe this transaction places Sasfin in a strong position to become a far more meaningful player in many of our activities. WIPHOLD is highly reputed and has experience in banking and financial services, having been owners of, and partners to, a number of well-known financial services concerns,” Sassoon said.

Speaking on the conclusion of the terms of agreement, WIPHOLD founders Louisa Mojela and Gloria Serobe were excited at the prospect of working closely with Sasfin’s board and executives in growing the business and building Sasfin’s stakeholder and corporate relations: “Financial services has always been a key focus for WIPHOLD. The sector is a cornerstone of any economy and critical to realising WIPHOLD’s vision of the economic empowerment of black women.

“We are therefore delighted to further build our operational presence in the sector through our new partnership with Sasfin. WIPHOLD focuses on investing in businesses that we believe have the ability to deliver strong returns over the long-term and that have high calibre management and impeccable corporate governance. Sasfin more than meets those criteria. We look forward to working together to grow and transform the business,’’ Serobe said.

After the conclusion of the transaction, WIPHOLD will hold 25.1% of the ordinary shares in the issued capital of Sasfin.

The transaction remains subject to a number of conditions including regulatory and shareholder approvals.

Author: Sasfin

Issued on: 8 June, 2017
For media queries, please contact: 
Cathryn Pearman
Head: Marketing and Communications


achievement women

Awards put spotlight on Africa’s leading women

Gambia’s Fatoumatta Jallow- Tambajan, Minister of Women Affairs and Overseer – Vice President’s Office, is the New African Woman of Year

Author: Media Release from New African Woman

The fearless Gambian human rights activist won New African Woman magazine’s Woman of the Year Award at the their Award ceremony that took place in Dakar last night. Fatoumatta Jallow-Tambajan was instrumental in galvanising the opposition that eventually beat long-term now exiled leader Yahya Jammeh.

Held at a glitzy Gala Dinner at the Terrou-Bi hotel in the Senegalese capital Dakar  on 12 April and the Awards, now in their second edition, recognise,  celebrate and honour African women who have made exceptional impact  and change in their countries or communities in the past 12 months.

Nigeria’s Amina J. Mohammed – the new United Nations Deputy Secretary – took home the New African Woman in Politics and Public Office. Prior to her new post, she served as Minister of Environment. But she has played key roles in both the current Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), on how both agendas impact Africa – more so its women.

Winners have been selected by a special panel of judges from 68 shortlisted candidates across 12  categories.  The Award for Women in Health, Science and Technology went to Namibia’s Dr Helena Ndume – a pioneering ophthalmologist and cataract surgeon, who has to date, performed over 35,000  sight-restoring surgeries on  Namibians, completely free of charge. 

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Legacy of Rhodes is not black and white

My thoughts on #Rhodesmustfall:

ONCE in a while, a little voice asks me: “What were you thinking?” It belongs to an inconstant ghost that might suddenly appear when I am having a good laugh over drinks with cherished friends I met at Oxford. Or while I listen to a young, ambitious woman at pains to demonstrate how she stacks up to the attributes of the ideal scholar as set out in Cecil John Rhodes’s will. Or when students at the University of Cape Town demand that #Rhodesmustfall. What was I thinking, filling out forms, rehearsing answers in front of the mirror, rounding up referrals?

But most of the time, when the pesky ghost is not with me, I am a proud Rhodes scholar, who continues to support the aims of the trust by giving some of my time to its local secretariat.

A black woman from Hammanskraal, I’m obviously not what the colonist had in mind when he wrote his will.

The rest is here:

afro-chic hair care style women

The ‘natural beauty’ myth

Source: City Press/Elizabeth Sejake

In last Sunday’s City Press (18 August), I have an opinion piece that argues that black women’s style choices should be limited by our imagination, not ideology. The article brought some heat to my otherwise cool twitter timeline.

I’d like to send a shout-out to two talented visual women – Maki Mashego, whose art work revived this line of thinking in me, and Elizabeth Sejake, who took amazing pictures of that work (and me in the background).

Unedited version of the piece:

I am about to take possession of a beautiful and moving work of art by a young artist named Maki Mashigo. This piece, one of a duo, titled Moriri 2, grapples with the dilemmas black women face as they respond to a generally exclusionary global beauty standard. In her artist’s statement, Ms Mashigo makes thought-provoking observations about hair practices as pseudo-religious acts that encompass both pain and celebration. Unfortunately, most commentators on this subject are not as sophisticated as Ms Mashigo.

Though I am at one with this sister in questioning the narrow and sometime dangerous beauty standard, I find that this discussion, especially as it relates to black women’s hairstyle choices, is biased towards a narrative of victimhood and inauthenticity even when this is not appropriate.

This brings me to a debate I stumbled into on Facebook about a year ago. Why are most black women aspiring to look white, my digital acquaintance had asked? He went on to list “weaves, bleach, cigarettes, heavy make-up, behaviour and twang” as manifestations of this quest for whiteness.

What should we make of those who try to tell women how they should look? Modern feminism, in all its waves, has struggled with the beauty question but has yet to resolve the issue adequately. Later generations were left with the impression that the classic brand of feminism was hostile to any expressions of femininity whatsoever. Later waves of feminism, such as lipstick feminism, tried face the issue head-on, but they were possibly not compelling enough.

And in this vacuum, predatory aspects of popular culture have seeped in. The media is littered with imagery that seeks to disempower women through impossible standards of appearance. Women are assaulted by an unsophisticated and vulgar privileging of youth at the expense of mature beauty and elegance. The arbiters of taste continue to set standards that are exclusionary and that reflect narrow, Western-based beauty ideals.

We are stuck. We know that the beauty and fashion industries often exploit female insecurity. Yet we also struggle to draw the line between the internalisation of such exploitation by women and the daily creative acts of women as they seek self-expression through style.

All this presents a particular conundrum for black women. Many modern black women do not only want to challenge the restrictive beauty standard but they also want to put forth their own vision of a contemporary black aesthetic.

Is telling black women to look ‘natural’ not as problematic as the imposition of the Western beauty standard?

Black women’s own vision of their style may include the employment of modern tools; some mechanical, some chemical.

The ‘back to nature’ call is not that different from messages that seek to strip black women of their femininity. By taking away flat irons, make-up, liposuction and other such tools from black women, we can keep our sisters as pure, uncorrupted mules of the earth whilst glamour is reserved for other racial groups. Those who want to keep black women invisible deploy this oppressive image of desexualised servitude to achieve their ends. Even in esteemed spaces such as Parliament, attempts are made to silence black women by scathing references to their hair and clothes.

Those who mourn the penetration of the beauty industry into black society yearn for some mythical natural state of times past. They attack black women who choose to have straight hair. They conflate benign stylistic choices with problematic ones irrespective of the nature of the technique, the motivations behind pursuing it or even the consequences. Lipstick, weaves, hair straighteners, skin lighteners, anorexia are all thrown into one pot.

One can quarrel with the ‘Western beauty standard’ but to prescribe a ‘natural African’ one is equally limiting. Though I would not advocate for self-hating mimicry, there should be nothing wrong in drawing elements from other cultures and countries in forming an aesthetic perspective.

I abhor the historical violent imposition of Western values on our communities. I can respect what Steve Biko and others like him were trying to achieve at the height of apartheid, when blackness was vilified. However pride in who I am does not mean that I must be insular and reject Western or other influences wholesale and for all time.

It is troubling to observe a discourse that tries to foist victimhood on black women even when they are clearly taking matters into their own hands. And yet, black women’s self-stylisation, if one bothers to actually look at black women, has little to do with whiteness as is often the accusation. For every Beyonce there is a Kelly Rowland; bless her, with her thin, long-haired, chocolate look that could be Lagosian or Jamaican or from Limpopo.

My digital acquaintance also argued that black men only ascribe to a ‘black’ physical standard, that they pick up their stylistic cues from other black men only. I don’t think it is factually correct that black men are blind to the world in their aesthetic choices. Further, picking up ideas on any subject from people who are like you to the exclusion of everyone else, is nothing to be proud of. Purity does not yield creativity, cross-fertilisation does.

The idea that black women let the side down for keeping with hair straighteners whereas black men rejected them a while back also seems bogus to me. There is a limit to male consumption of beauty products, be it hair products or face cream. I would argue that black men rejected hair straightening not because they are Afrocentric but because they are men. Hair straightening didn’t take off in much the same way that make-up for men won’t take off. Men of all races tend to look ‘natural’ and women tend to enhance their looks. This is not an outcome of racial pride by any particular group of men. This blandness we have to endure from our brothers of all races is possibly the price they have to pay for clinging to old fashioned views of masculinity.

Perhaps what black women need to transcend is not just the Western beauty standard but also the politically correct one that shackles us to a provincial utopia? Black men and women should constantly push the boundaries of what looking black/African/authentic means. Not every alteration is harmful or driven by self-hate.

City Press article