Sunday, August 30, 2015

FNB Business Women's Breakfast - A Student's Account

By Zaynura Jehan Dolley 

With the pleasure of Almighty Allah and the generosity of MSA Union, I was fortunate enough to attend the FNB Business Women's Breakfast held in KwaZulu-Natal on the 5th of August, at one of Durban's prestigious ICC Halls. The event was held not only in celebration of Women’s Month and the phenomenal strides that women have made in South Africa, but also to highlight the unique journeys, lessons learnt and in advice from the key speakers that addressed attendees that day. 

Please note, the following account could be offensive to boring and otherwise humourless individuals. With only the greatest amount of respect, if you so find yourself of such disposition and choose to read further – please note that you do so at your own irritation … hehe 

Key speakers at the event included author and former President Nelson Mandela’s assistant Zelda la Grange and Freshlyground's lead singer Zolani Mahola. Not to mention the award-winning ballerina, businesswoman and current Top Billing presenter Lorna Maseko and finally IT innovator and former Google South Africa Boss, Stafford Masie …

On arrival at the event, we were met with a red carpet welcome and big warm smiles by polished, uniform-clad hostesses, ready to escort you to your seat within the hall that held over 700 woman from all walks of life. Seated at round tables each laid with a buffet of fruit, smoothies and fruit juices, as well as a basket of breads, an assortment of cheese as well as berry and muesli trifle, the set up itself was quite aristocratic. Everything was most delicious let me assure you … except for perhaps the blue cheese, which I could not touch! (I eventually asked if they could have it removed from the table. To be very honest – I thought someone had taken off their shoes and such smell had wafted up to my nose … but alas – it was naught but the joyous presence of blue cheese)

Our first address was by the ever-charming Stafford Masie who, as an IT specialist, expressed his terror at addressing a hall full of females – saying as an IT nerd, talking to one female is practically impossible so the 700-to-one ratio would be pushing it a little. The MC of the event didn’t make it any better of course with her advising the crowd to acknowledge “hotness” when you see it (referring to poor Stafford. Not that I looked at all of course – the blue cheese and I had developed quite a relationship by then). Stafford spoke about the great love he has for his grandmother and her being his great inspiration. He found such strength and happiness through her rearing and being a little coloured South African boy eventually finding his way to rubbing shoulders with the greatest names in IT programming – it says a lot for the rearing, foundational, inspirational values of a female in the home environment doesn’t it? Stafford strongly believes that a woman’s role does not end at home though. He is a strong advocate and supporter of having females on the exec boards of businesses and companies, in fact citing the reason behind Kodak’s insolvency being the lack of female influence. He advocates female representation not just to create a balance of the inequalities of the past, but because females possess a unique understanding of people and what they need, feel and want. That, coupled with their natural intuition, is a round table recipe for success!!

Our next speaker was the ever beautiful Lorna Maseko - Glamorous, Diva, Comedian and from ever humble backgrounds. Growing up and coming from the Alexandra Township, having given the opportunity to practice ballet at age 8 – she found herself becoming the first black ballet dancer travelling to and performing in Switzerland, dabbling in business and eventually finding herself become a presenter on Top Billing. She speaks on the essence of hard work and says that it’s the most rewarding and the key to success, quoting that “Hard work beats talent, when talent doesn’t work hard”. Saying further that her life is about putting the work in, reaping the rewards  and creating your own success story; it doesn’t matter where you’re coming from or what people say you can and should not even entertain dreaming of doing because of your circumstance – go ahead and make it happen anyway

We then had Zelda le Grange share her experiences with former President Nelson Mandela. Eliciting a great response from the crowd, she starts off by mentioning the women of 1956 marching to the Union Buildings in protest of the “pass laws” , moving to the woman that she was - admitting that she and her family happily lived in Apartheid and they never asked questions. In 1994 she applied for a job as a typist in government only because it was close to home. When she first met Madiba she says she was absolutely dumb founded by his friendly and open demeanour toward her. He in fact extended his hand to shake hers and her immediate thought was … “surely he must know I voted no in the last elections” and secondly was that in his first approaching her – he spoke to her in Afrikaans. The language of the people who oppressed him and tortured and killed many of his people … and yet the humility of the man to speak to her in that very same language - was mind-boggling. Madiba always said that “when you speak to a man you speak to his head, but if you speak to a man in his language – then you speak to his heart”. This she says is true as it started a process of her digging into the history and reasoning of Apartheid and led to the start of her ultimate loyalty and respect for the man known as Nelson Mandela. Dedication, loyalty and commitment are what she says is the recipe for achieving the world and reaching the distance. Discipline, respect and integrity are what Nelson Mandela taught her. To the extent that Madiba even disliked those people who came late and found it nothing short of disrespectful. With respect, she says the two most important things that he had told her was  “never allow the enemy to determine the grounds of battle” and “the way you approach a person is the way the person will treat you.” He always respected each and every person absolutely and that is what she says is the Madiba magic. She further says that if we make it fashionable for the above values to be practised with our children - as women and parents – society and the world can be a much better place.

And finally was the lead singer of super successful and locally nourished Freshlyground! She started her address with a powerful rendition of a lullaby that represented her life and is one of the most popular songs that Freshlyground produced. She too came from a township, but in the Eastern Cape. She comes from a single parent family where it was her father who had looked after and her siblings and spoke about her love for her family and the importance of maintaining family ties as, not only in business but also in personal life, the importance of having a network of people to count on and communicate with can make a world of difference. She also told a tale of not letting the critique of other people dictate the distance you travel. When she and her band had first performed, during their early days, in front of a panel of judges, the judges had said that the band was a “talentless bunch of hippies destined for oblivion” and despite which…  heyy perhaps some of us don’t know who in the world Zolani or Freshlyground are – they currently climb the stairs of music industry success and have performed with international artists and on international stages. Hence the sentiment of not giving up because of bad critiques or because of a speed bump or two.

And at the end of it all, I got a chance to meet and greet a few busy women before they had to rush off back to the office and the wealthy housewives to pick up their kids and even recognised a lecturer or two from my University and exchanged knowing smiles. All in all it was a beautiful and inspiring experience and one thoroughly enjoyed and appreciated. Jazaka’Allah Khair for the opportunity and to all of you for reading.   

About the author
A "die-hard winged eyeliner fan and wearer", Zaynura is studying her third year in Law at UKZN Howard College. She is also the current deputy chairperson of the MSA chapter there and dedicates time to motivational speaking.

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