There has never been a better time to be an African woman, than now in South Africa – well for those of us who are lucky enough to be educated. We have the latitude to do and be whomever we want, if we are willing to fight for it. Ntombenhle Khathwane, founder & owner of Afrobotanics, spoke to Heavy Chef about how fairness and equality should be a leaders core values.
I was raised to be assertive and a fighter. I was raised in a matriarchal family, and although I felt the absence of my father, I have drawn from the strength I saw in my mother and grandmother. I learnt from them that you will not get something unless you go for it, ask if you have to, but go for what you want. Growing up in the Swazi culture, I became aware of the inequality that is inherent in that patriarchal system. Also being subject to racism under the apartheid regime at the young age of 13 when I was not allowed to swim in the Northern Natal swimming team in 1991, made me hold fairness and equality as core values that define me as a leader today.
"I will show young rural women that they too can succeed without political favour."
Everything I do is motivated by the values of fairness and equality. I chose to pursue a business in manufacturing hair care products for African women because there was a gap – there weren’t naturally formulated hair care products on the market when I started out. But I was also motivated by wanting to set an example that as African consumers we should produce that which we consume. I was devastated by my 8 years in government in rural Mpumalanga, seeing how the majority of Africans aren’t able to leverage their political freedom for economic freedom. So I promised myself that as I go into business – a field I had no experience in but I believed would bring me the economic freedom and equality I crave – I would succeed and grow a huge manufacturing enterprise based on building a brand from scratch and I will show young rural women that they too can do it without political favour.
“Everything I do is motivated by the values of fairness and equality.”
My abilities as an African woman are questioned all the time, especially in the business world, and it is harder to push back compared to when I was in government. An African male financier doesn’t see the opportunity or value in funding my business because he doesn’t understand female cosmetics and thinks there’s no need to challenge international cosmetics brands.
A white female buyer in a large retail chain won’t list my products because she doesn’t understand trends in black hair care. I fight these battles daily, and they empower me. AfroBotanics is the leading South African natural hair care brand because I focused on excellence. I focused on delivering a quality product that meets the needs and demands of African women. I invested in getting my packaging looking good and since entering formal retail, I ensure that we deliver on time on every order placed by retailers. AfroBotanics is at the forefront of revolutionising the African hair and beauty category by claiming shelf space from international brands and opening the door for other local brands to make it into formal retail and be trusted by retailers and customers on the basis that my brand, AfroBotanics did it right with the first and only opportunity we had.
“Leadership to me is about being authentic and being true to your values.”
Importantly for me, AfroBotanics is contributing towards changing the narrative on beauty by affirming African natural beauty by impressing the fact that African women are beautiful the way they are and they are good enough. This is also motivated by my core values of fairness and equality.
Leadership to me is about being authentic and being true to your values. There are different kinds of leaders because we all value different things based on our experiences. As a woman you don’t get a second chance, you mess up once and it follows you the rest of your life, whereas male leaders get more reprieve in the African context. This is why we have political leaders whose personal values and professional values aren’t in sync and yet we still elect them and defend them. Let us learn to lead fairly and equally – as Africans and as women.
About the author: Ntombenhle Khathwane is the owner and founder of AfroBotanics – a proudly South African premium hair care brand designed for Africans, by Africans. Khathwana holds a Masters degree in Philosophy in Politics from the University of Natal. After graduation, she joined an Mpumalanga government department, where she worked as a research planner and Media Liaison Communications Manager for eight years.
Ntombenhle also participated in the Goldman Sachs 10 000 women entrepreneurship programme at Gordon Institute of Business Science (Gibs). In August 2014, AfroBotanics was featured in Destiny magazine, where her products were described as “one of the best brands on the market if your concern is healthy hair.” She was named one of Destiny Magazine’s 40 Trailblazers under 40 in 2011, one of M&G’s 200 Young South Africans, an Investec Young Trep in 2015 and one of Forbes’s 30 most promising young entrepreneurs in Africa in 2016. She was also an Arch Tutu AFLI Fellow in 2014.