In 2020, Lisa Kinnear who heads up academics at the Toyota Wessels Institute for Manufacturing Studies (TWIMS) hosted a talk entitled: “Women as manufacturing leaders: disruptors or adapters?”

In a nutshell she looked at the low level of representation of women in the South African manufacturing sectors and how the South African ecosystem does not provide sufficient opportunities for women to excel.

The topic got us debating quite a few things internally: Is it “disruptive” for women simply to have representation in such a crucial part of the SA economy?

The Department of Trade, Industry and Competition (DTIC) actually released some really interesting (scary?) research on this subject during 2019 – here are some of the key takeaways:

  • Only 24,4% of South African women are in craft and trade positions in the manufacturing sector. 
  • Women remain a minority in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields. 
  • According to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) Institute of Statistics, only 8% of all students in engineering, manufacturing and construction globally are women.
  • South Africa has one engineer per 3 166 people, compared to 1:227 in Brazil and 1:543 in Malaysia.
  • The proportion of women receiving engineering degrees in South Africa actually fell between 2002 and 2017 and, according to the World Bank research the picture is similar around the world…. But … here is where it gets interesting:

The data, however, shows that in 2017 the percentage of women engineering students who graduated from universities in South Africa was 19% compared to that of men which came in at 17%.

With the right industrial incentives and a growing base of role models, this base of engineers are likely to re-shape the face of manufacturing in the coming years.

Here are just some of the industries being “disrupted”:

  • While her business has taken a severe knock under COVID, the craft brewing sector is no longer the preserve of the pale male. Apiwe Nxusani-Mawela, one of South Africa’s first black women brewers, founded Brewsters Craft, an independent brewery, in 2015. In 2017 she received funding to establish her own plant in Roodepoort where she produces African-inspired beers that use local ingredients such as rooibos and sorghum under the brand Tolokazi Craft Beer.

  • Cate Olifant is the founder and CEO of Akani Paints who manufacture paints for the commercial and industrial markets.

  • Maria Kapala, the CEO and founder of Mable, became frustrated at struggling to find customisable furniture at affordable prices in SA. Kapala – a scientist by qualification – took her knowledge, spatial imagination and meticulous attention to detail to begin designing a modular storage solution, opening a furniture manufacturing business.

In April 2021, the DTIC released a report looking at the success of the Black Industrialist Scheme since inception. The fund noted that through its various channels it had funded 182 black women-owned businesses with financial support of R1.1 billion.

Women are a strategic part of the DTIC strategy in terms of bringing in new participants into the manufacturing sector. Uzenzele, in Zulu, means to get up and do it for yourself! We are saying YES, but not by yourself. Uzenzele invites women in manufacturing who are looking for expansion and growth capital exceeding R10mil; to get up, get in touch and let us help them grow their businesses.

It’s said the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. Manufacturing competitiveness in SA has long been on a downward slide and maybe it is time to stop viewing women as “Disruptors” but rather see them as a whole new pool of “Innovators”. 


Happy Women’s Month!