Elisabeth Makumbi’s love for history inspired her to enter the world of law, with her fascination for the cumulative effects of each of the apartheid-era laws forming the foundation for her activism for the future.
“I wanted to find out more about our past laws so that I could possibly create laws or policies to empower, educate and enrich all South Africans,” she says. Once qualified, Makumbi started her career in a large corporate firm, where she gained outstanding experience and refined her legal skills with the assistance of great partners and associates. “But the work never truly resonated with me,” she says.
“I opted to work for free as an intern at the Centre for Human Rights in Pretoria where my focus was on gender equality and women’s rights.” Her special focus now is on women’s economic empowerment through entrepreneurship and employment. In addition, during her tenure at the World Bank Group in Washington D.C., she measured how laws, regulations and policies in different countries around the world differentiate between women and men and how these provisions affect a woman’s ability to work or set up and operate a business. “Knowing what I know now about different economies around the world, coupled with my understanding of South Africa’s political system, unemployment rates and BBBEE policies, I hope to start implementing and enforcing my knowledge on the ground,” she says.
Makumbi dreams of inspiring women to be inspired by the accomplishments of other women, and is a co-author of a book entitled Women creating Wealth: A collection of Stories of female entrepreneurs from Across Africa written in association with the Graça Machel Trust and She Inspires Her.
She wants to assist women to find fellowships, scholarships and grants, helping them find the numerous opportunities that are available online, so they to can have some of the opportunities she have had — some of which were only available to her because she had really good resources and help. She would love to draft a shadow report on how to amend and improve South Africa’s laws — especially when it comes to affirmative action policies affecting black women. Makumbi notes that one of her biggest challenges is being a black woman in South Africa. “When you get a good job, people will dismiss it as affirmative action.
I was often told I was so ‘lucky’ that I was a black female as everything must come so easily for me. In a legal industry which is still very much made up of white males, as a black woman lawyer in South Africa you will always work twice as hard to prove yourself, as it is presumed you’re incompetent or inarticulate. “But we can change this because we are competent, strong and smart — no matter what society’s perception of us is.”
— Kerry Haggard