Jul 3, 2003


The finalists in the 2003 Shoprite Checkers / SABC 2 Woman of the Year Award have been announced and these outstanding achievers, selected from hundreds of nominations countrywide, will now compete for their category title as well as the overall title of South Africa’s Woman of the Year.

This year’s finalists range from an internationally recognised diva to an unsung heroine who has exchanged her role as a housewife to become the owner of a construction company. They include a dynamic businesswoman who literally puts bread on the tables of the disadvantaged members of her community and dedicated women who are offering adults a brighter future through adult literacy programmes. 

A major initiative for National Women’s Day on Saturday 9 August 2003, the Award pays tribute to South Africa's many unsung heroines who devote themselves to making a difference within their environments.For the first time in the history of the Award an eighth category has been added and the three rolemodels in the new Science & Technology section are paving the way for women researchers, scientists and mathematicians.

The three finalists in each of the eight categories are: 

Arts & Culture

Diana Ferrus is a campfighter for the reclamation of marginalised African women to reclaim their place in society. She literally merged poetry into law to forever entrench the rights of women when her poem “Tribute for Sarah Baartman” not only saw the famed remains sent home but, in a first-ever, the poem was published into a French law. This event captured the imagination of the world and put Ms Ferrus on the international stage as a writer, poet, performer and successful campaigner for justice and human rights. She actively promotes black Afrikaans women writers and raises funds for their development and hosts poetry-writing workshops for illiterate and semi-literate women, capturing the history of the women involved. This year Ms Ferrus helped establish the Writers Association of South Africa and she currently assists in the nurturing of the Khoi women now surfacing in Afrikaans literature.

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.

Mimi Coertse is a nationally and internationally recognised opera diva who has, over the decades, brought classical joy and happiness into music-loving South Africans’ homes through her operatic talent. She has been a stately ambassador for South Africa, since the start of her formal singing career in 1954. She has spent over two decades as the youngest elected permanent member of the Wiener Staatsoper and in 1996 received the highest accolade for artists from the Austrian government: the Oesterreichishe Ehrenkreuz für Wissenschaft und Kunst. Ms Coertse has recommenced her Debut with Mimi project this year, which involves promoting singers and young artists, and is currently planning to start an opera company for the youth, similar to the Black Tie Ensemble, of which she is a co-founder. These development projects aim to enable young, classically trained singers to bridge the gap between training and professional appearance.

Business Entrepreneurs

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.

Nocky Chauke invested her last source of income in a public telephone business to give migrant labourers an opportunity to keep in touch with their families. She has grown her business from one phone to 25, and has also branched out into a second venture that literally puts bread on the table of the disadvantaged members of the community. Ms Chauke launched Butterfield Bakery Franchise to ensure that the members of her community would have healthy, quality and affordable bread and confectionery. Employing local people in all her business activities, Ms Chauke's generous spirit knows no boundaries and, firmly believing in sustainable entrepreneurship, she shares her business skills and knowledge with the people of the Giyani district in Limpopo. Butterfield Bakery produces over 4 000 loaves of bread each day and Ms Chauke caters for between 20 and 30 villages in the area. Regarded as a beacon of hope and a down to earth member of her community, Ms Chauke’s goal is to open additional branches of the Butterfield Bakery.

Nancy Rakotoa started Faranani Nursery at Modikoe Village, Brits in the North West province when she was retrenched in 1994. With a limited education, a love and knowledge of plants and an immense amount of ambition she started her business in her backyard and then expanded it to her neighbour’s yard. Ms Rakotoa now has R1,5-million worth of plants and three self-built greenhouses where she keeps plants that are not frost resistant. She grows various types of plants, as required by her clients who are landscapers in the Brits and Johannesburg areas. Ms Rakotoa has also established two road stalls to bring her products to the public domain - one is situated along the N4 road towards Sun City and the other is at Hartbeespoort Dam. In 2002 she was voted Provincial and National winner of the Female Farmer Competition of the Year, and her business now employs 11 full-time workers and two part-time employees. Ms Rakotoa continues to motivate communities towards the greening of their villages and her goal is to expand further into landscaping.

Community Affairs

Sheila Joseph’s efforts to rid the Northern Cape town of Douglas of plastic snowballed all the way to Parliament with this year’s groundbreaking decision to ban the plastic bag. Putting Douglas on the map nationally and internationally, Ms Joseph’s intention was to make Douglas a better place for its population of 18 000 by cleaning up the town and ridding it of plastic. Her “Fantastic: No Plastic” campaign kicked off three years ago and she is delighted with the anti plastic law that was passed in May this year. Ms Joseph’s campaign united the entire community in banning the plastic bag, generating huge awareness for the town, and she became a favourite example of Minister Valli Moosa during government’s plastic bag awareness project. Ms Joseph worked with community organisations to offer an alternative to plastic bags and has subsequently created jobs for unemployed residents of the area. The “Dougie Bag” has become a symbol of entrepreneurial spirit and the power of a “team effort”.

Martha Mamphela has overcome incredible obstacles to uplift her community in the disadvantaged Nebo District of Groblersdal by setting up empowerment projects that include gardening, sanitation and a crèche. A retired teacher, she believes in taking control and empowering members of the village and continuously encourages debate among the community's disadvantaged residents. Her day care centre that caters to over 40 children ensures a safe haven for children while their parents are at work. Ms Mamphela has been instrumental in the building of a community hall and in negotiations with Eskom for the electrification of the district. She is currently facilitating a sanitation project, teaching basic health care and encouraging education projects among young and old.

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. This month (July 2003) she will open a hospice for the terminally ill that will cater to 30 patients, offering them spiritual therapies as well as recreation.


Connie Mbowane received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Department of Education in 2002 for 30 years of selfless dedication as a result of her work at the Montsusi primary school in Sebokeng, where she has been the principal 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. Taking care of up to 1 000 hungry people 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. She has also started a Saturday school for mathematics, English, art and computer training, which assists both the learners and community members.

Helen Zille was once a political correspondent fighting for the rights to equal education of all South Africans. She later became the MEC for Education in the Western Cape, and has changed the minds and ways of her peers by letting nothing stand in the way of her vision of unity and equality. Over the past 20 years Ms Zille has actively fought for the causes of the Black Sash, End Conscription Campaign, South Africa Beyond Apartheid Project in 1986 and Cape Town Peace Committee. In this latter project she gathered evidence for the Goldstone Commission on the work of various forces seeking to destabilise the Western Cape pre-1994. It is Ms Zille’s tendency to challenge orthodoxy, linked to an enthusiasm for creative thinking, that has changed the Cape schools system for the better.

Deirdré Prins has given school children the opportunity to visit Robben Island, an important South African historical centre of learning, not only assisting them to understand its significance logically, but also filtering its lessons to the rest of the families in their communities. Ms Prins created an annual Spring School on the island in 1998, through which 200 learners undergo intensive training in cultural heritage. Through the Robben Island Road Show, her travelling exhibition, schools across the country receive performance scripts, videos and children’s books creating awareness of the political and historical value of the island. Her schools programme takes 33 000 children to Robben Island each year. Ms Prins has also facilitated training workshops in 18 African countries to design programmes that bring to life museums and the country’s heritage for their children. 


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.

Sister Rosina Letwaba is a highly regarded and valued member of the community of Alexandra outside Johannesburg where she is a psychiatric nurse at the Children’s Clinic. Known and trusted throughout Alexandra, she initiated the Gogo Support Group that offers grandmothers and caregivers mentoring and encouragement in order that they too can become mentors. Sister Letwaba is often the person whom parents and children turn to for help. Dedicated to her calling, she has been instrumental in establishing food parcel projects, gardening projects, support systems, a drama group and a programme called Community Care Workers that trains young people as translators, administrators and therapists. She is an advocate for children’s rights and never gives in to mediocrity or indifference.

Elaine Maane inspires self-respect and courage among HIV positive mothers who are patients at nine different clinics around the Cape Town area. An integral member of the Mothers to Mothers to Be programme, Elaine is HIV positive herself, and represented MTMTB at the international Aids conference in Barcelona. Elaine is a counsellor and mentor who has taken the initiative to assist women who share her situation. Extremely compassionate, she believes the mentorship programme is integral to women’s development, bringing back a sense of life and offering women who are HIV positive a different and positive future.

Media & Communications

Shelley Seid, editor of SA Reader has turned the reading tide in South Africa by providing an excellent niche publication for newly literate adult readers. Empowering and liberating this community, Shelly has single-handedly built the publication’s circulation from 9 000 to 14 000 in under two years, reaching readers who are usually ignored and neglected by most print media. Funded by the Nedcor Foundation through Project Literacy, the oldest and largest Adult Education Organisation in South Africa, SA Reader was redesigned and reconceptualised by Ms Seid and is now regarded as a popular read amongst its subscribers and readers. Ms Seid has also encouraged involvement from readers and helped them to develop their communications skills via their contributions as book reviewers, poetry writers and articles. Her goal is to make a copy of SA Reader available to every adult reader who wants to read.

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. The organisation’s website - receives 150 000 hits a week, proving that South Africans are indeed interested in “homecoming”.

Tembeka Mbobo, nominated in two separate categories of the Award, also features in the Arts & Culture category. Ms Mbobo unearths talented writers via workshops and poetry recitations and has co-founded the Women in Writing community project, which has motivated thousands of women to take up their pens and write. Organisations have used her workshops as a healing method for projects involving young people and women, and although her target group is women she empowers all age groups and both genders to tell their stories. Ms Mbobo has involved the Department of Arts and Culture in her writer’s conferences and workshops and believes that women writers have a great contribution to make in telling South Africa’s history. She is co-editing an anthology of prose, drama and verse, as well as compiling the first volume of short stories by indigenous women in South Africa and an anthology of poetry by the youth. 

Science & 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. 

Dr Jean Harris has, over the past nine years, made an amazing contribution to the progress of ecological research, coastal management and human welfare in KwaZulu-Natal. Notwithstanding a long list of publications and achievements in both the scientific and development communities, it is her humanity, drive and compassion that emerge most strongly. She has a work ethic of uncompromising excellence, but takes time each day to show compassion for humans and animals within her organisation (EKZN Wildlife). As marine ecologist for Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife, she has ensured the success of subsistence fisheries for the local fishing communities, while at the same time conserving the marine environment. She has also ensured that the rural community mussel harvesters of the Sokhulu Tribal Area (near the Maphelane Nature Reserve) receive harvesting rights in co-operation and harmony with the Reserve.

Dr Mamokgethi Setati, with her PhD in Mathematics, is the heroine of all youngsters as a result of her ability to make mathematics understandable for women and children. She has developed a groundbreaking programme that trains maths teachers in rural and township schools through the AMESA project, of which she is the President. Her mission is to abolish the mythical higher status maths has in the mind of many South Africans, especially among women and children in rural and township areas. Dr Setati believes this symbolic power makes maths a filter that allows access to many areas of advanced study and results in better-paid and more fulfilling professional occupations. With this belief in mind, her life mission is to change maths’ status in the minds of children.


Apsra Panchoo has shifted women’s boundaries in the game of 8-Ball Pool by being Ranked No.1 in the world and Central KZN Champion (male and female), as well as SA Ladies Champion in 2002. Seeing a young Indian girl with a Masters in Business Administration and a Bachelors of Technology in Chemical Engineering being so successful in a previously male-dominated sport on international level has changed people from all over the world’s perception of the game, and a woman’s place in it. By playing matches in her hometown, Umlazi, against the local men Apsra has given her community and South Africans a new outlook on women’s role in sport and society, and she has unleashed the confidence of other women to compete professionally in the game.

Letitia Moses has her South African National Colours for Golf and has won the 1995 Protea Award for Junior Sportswomen. Having turned professional and played locally as well as in Asia, Europe and the USA, Ms Moses is a WPGA qualified teacher who has made it to the Dean’s Academic List. Currently, she runs a corporate club for ladies, golf tuition and clinics, as well as a programme for girls and summer camps. In addition, she is involved with a caddy kids programme designed as a community service to develop golf. Her next goal is become an LPGA Tour champion, in order to raise funds to establish a golf academy for women and children locally.

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).

Tickets for the Shoprite Checkers / SABC 2 Woman of the Year Award gala event, taking place at the new Cape Town International Convention Centre on Thursday 31 July 2003 at 19h00, are now on sale at Computicket outlets in the Western Cape.

The R150-00 per person ticket includes drinks and a buffet dinner as well as entertainment from top South African artists and the opportunity to join the sponsors in paying tribute to South Africa's unsung heroines.

The glittering ceremony will be broadcast on SABC 2 at 21h00 on National Women’s Day, Saturday 9 August 2003 and again at 10h00 on Sunday 10 August 2003. The 24 finalists and the judges will be flown to Cape Town courtesy of SAA, where they will be accommodated at Sun International’s premier Table Bay Hotel.

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