Jul 31, 2003


South Africa’s premier accolade for achievement by women went to Connie Mbowane, who was named the Shoprite Checkers / SABC 2 Woman of the Year 2003, at a dazzling concert in celebration of the women of South Africa, held at the Cape Town International Convention Centre on Thursday 31 July 2003. 

The event, which will be broadcast at 21h00 on SABC 2 on National Women’s Day, Saturday 9 August 2003, and at 10h00 on Sunday 10 August 2003 also included the announcement of the winners of the eight categories of the Award. 

Overall winner and winner of the Education category of the Award, Ms Mbowane has selflessly dedicated 30 years of her life to teaching and has been principal of the Montsusi primary school in Sebokeng since 1980. The school is located in a poverty-stricken area where most of the parents are unemployed, and it also caters to street children and orphans. Through the years, she has continuously hosted up to three schools in her single building by juggling the hours that learners and teachers from the different institutions could spend there. 

Taking care of up to 1 000 hungry children each day in a single school building, Ms Mbowane mobilised the unemployed men and women in the community to establish a vegetable garden. Part of her Botho ke Botle (Humanity is Beauty) plan, today it not only feeds the children, but also yields financial returns for the school and community. 

Ms Mbowane has excelled in looking after her school and the broader community’s interests. Not long ago, she orchestrated the building of a bridge over the road in front of her school for the children and parents to pass over – a near miracle in her cash-strapped community. On top of this, she secured work on the construction of the bridge for 14 of her community’s jobless, unskilled workers through the Department of Labour. 

She has also raised funds to set up a borehole on her school grounds to better irrigate the vegetable gardens, and she has started talks with the education department to acquire more ground in the area to augment the food project. Here, she has put her HIV/AIDS training to good use by encouraging sufferers to work in the garden and grow healthy food to improve their diet. 

Judges deliberated for several hours over their decision due to the high standard of finalists and Judge Lucy Mailula says they agreed on Ms Mbowane because of the national impact she has in teaching the leaders of tomorrow. 

“Ms Mbowane’s teaching and fundraising skills are outstanding,” says Judge Mailula. “She constantly juggles time, money and facilities to offer children an education. She has built bridges within her community that have not only ensured the safety of the children, but figuratively speaking she builds bridges that offer people skills that can be taken to the next level of their development. 

“She is a rolemodel for the women of South Africa and an outstanding guide to the teachers throughout our country. Her initiatives are fine examples of pilot projects that can be developed nationwide.” 

Winners of the other seven categories of this prestigious Award are: 

Arts & Culture 

Tembeka Mbobo, co-founder of the Women in Writing Community Project, reaches out to impoverished members of society by training them, irrespective of their origins, in story-telling and writing skills in order to tell the story of their own history. Ms Mbobo runs a full-time information dissemination centre for budding writers from as far afield as Letaba in Limpopo and Krakesrivier in the Eastern Cape. By teaching rural women and youth to set up their own writers’ clubs and raise funds from their local businesspeople, indigenous members of society are afforded the right to have their memories and views published. Ms Mbobo has also established the Centre for Enrichment in African Political Affairs to inform societies about South African politics and history. She is currently editing a compilation of short stories by indigenous women in South Africa for her book Voice of our Own. 


Sandra Africa left behind her role as a housewife and took on the men in 1997 when she pulled on her gumboots and entered the construction industry. She has since registered Corporal Construction, a company that has been subcontracted by construction giants such as Group Five and Grinaker. Ms Africa has put her hometown of Dysselsdorp near Oudtshoorn on the map as a major construction player in the area, and her company’s involvement in building projects has brought employment and a better life to the majority of the town’s 23 000 residents. Empowering the people around her, Ms Africa has assisted community members in everything from achieving their drivers’ licences to opening their own businesses. Her building, civil and road construction company has landed a number of contracts in the Oudtshoorn area and she often manages contracts worth several millions of rands. From her early days of buying one bag of cement at a time and owning a hammer and a screwdriver Ms Africa now plays a key role in the region’s development. 


Pastor Mary Crockett founded the Uniting for Cure organisation in Qwa-Qwa earlier this year after being involved in a number of community projects since 1998 that have focused on better conditions and better health for all. She established an HIV/Aids counselling centre and marriage counselling centre, secured land for agricultural development and continually encourages the development of normal family life within disadvantaged areas through workshops and skills development initiatives. She has established building, gardening, arts and crafts, and cultural projects, and has been instrumental in uplifting and inspiring members of the community. In July 2003 she opened a hospice for the terminally ill that will cater to 30 patients, offering them spiritual therapies as well as recreation. 


Dr Laetitia Rispel’s ability to shape new health policies is impacting positively on thousands of people using the Gauteng health care services. As Head of Department at the Gauteng Department of Health since 2001, she has implemented programmes that have improved people’s health status and increased accessibility to health especially for women and children. Responsible for a staff complement of 43 000 and a budget of R8-billion, Dr Rispel is regarded as an exceptional, dynamic and competent strategist and professional. She provides visible leadership and support to her Department, and is an avid campaigner of government’s Bathu Pele “people first” project. Overcoming gender bias early in her career Dr Rispel believes in getting involved at grassroots level, and recently achieved excellent results from 26 roadshows that she took part in herself involving hospitals and clinics throughout Gauteng. She has facilitated programmes benefiting women and children’s health, improved the quality of life for people with disabilities, and improved overall hospital efficiency. Her dedication and commitment to taking the Health Department to even greater heights are exemplary. 

Media and Communications 

Angel Jones returned to South Africa in 2001 after a six-year stint in London with the aim of stemming South Africa's brain drain. Now the creative director for advertising agency morrisjones, Ms Jones's ambition to facilitate homecomings for other South Africans abroad resulted in the launch at the beginning of 2003 of The Homecoming Revolution, a voluntary non-profit organisation that aims to assist South Africans in returning home. With the motto of “Come home and make it even better” Ms Jones’s Homecoming Revolution project is changing people’s views on South Africa, strengthening their belief in the country and offering them advice on everything from property and jobs to schooling and bank accounts. 

Science and Technology 

Professor Lynette Denny has saved the lives of countless women through her commitment to combating the huge spread of cervical cancer in disadvantaged areas. Having started community-based research in 1996 with $US40 000, the viability of the project today justifies $US750 000 in annual funding. Her most recent and groundbreaking success is the discovery of an alternative test to the traditional ‘pap smear’ which, once implemented could save a quarter of a million women’s lives annually. Prof. Denny’s counselling skills, outreach programmes and research successes over the years have earned her many awards for combating violence against women and children and benefiting disadvantaged communities through research. She is widely published and has recently embarked on a funded 3-5 year study to assess the cost of rape to South Africa, by closely screening its effects on the lives of rape survivors. 


Amanda Coetzer, South Africa’s top woman tennis player, has been ranked as high as No.3 in the world of tennis (1997) and never been below the top 20 since 1992. Her R5,6 million in prize money was put to good use when she established a foundation in 1996 to assist the Tennis Association of SA in the development of the game at grass roots level. Ms Coetzer gives back to the wider communities of South Africa the love and joy she has experienced in playing tennis by sharing the know-how and providing the tools for developing communities to also find fulfilment in the game. Three of her projects include a tennis development centre in Adams Mission on the KZN South Coast, a coaching project in the Tikwane township near her hometown of Hoopstad and a project in Okiep, near Springbok in the Eastern Cape (run with a close friend and SA tennis star, Jeff Coetzee). 

An annual major initiative for National Women’s Day, the Shoprite Checkers / SABC 2 Woman of the Year Award is now in its eighth year and continues to focus attention on issues which are of importance to the women of South Africa. 

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