Phuti Mahanyele-Dabengwa. Picture: MARTIN RHODES/Business Day
Phuti Mahanyele-Dabengwa. Picture: MARTIN RHODES/Business Day

For the first time in history Naspers — formerly De Nasionale Pers Beperkt, founded over a century ago — has a black woman executive at the head of its SA operations.

Newly appointed CEO Phuti Mahanyele-Dabengwa is also, for the moment, the only black woman to run a JSE-listed top 40 company.

Mahanyele-Dabengwa has a long history in corporate leadership and close ties with President Cyril Ramaphosa.

The 48-year-old was the CEO of Shanduka Group until 2015, when it was sold to the Pembani Group. Shanduka was a black-owned investment holding company that was founded by the president.

She joined Shanduka as MD of its energy division. As Ramaphosa stepped away from his business interests to focus on politics from about 2013, Mahanyele-Dabengwa took a more central role in the group.

She also sits on the board of the Ramaphosa Foundation, formerly known as the Shanduka Foundation.

Before joining Naspers, she served as the executive chair of Sigma Capital, a privately held, majority black-owned investment group.

She will lead the day-to-day business at Naspers and represent its local interests. Its SA operations include Takealot, Superbalist, Mr D Food, OLX, AutoTrader SA, Property24 and Media24.

Phuti Mahanyele-Dabengwa. Picture: FREDDY MAVUNDA
Phuti Mahanyele-Dabengwa. Picture: FREDDY MAVUNDA

She is also expected to run its two new units, Naspers Labs and its SA-focused funding initiative, Naspers Foundry, which will invest in tech entrepreneurs.

"I am thrilled to be joining Naspers at such a pivotal time for the group and for SA and look forward to adding value to the group in realising its strategy in SA," she said in a statement last week. She was not available to be interviewed ahead of her appointment.

Mahanyele-Dabengwa’s mother, Sankie Mthembi-Mahanyele, was a previous minister of housing and former secretary-general of the ANC. Her father, Mohale Mahanyele, inspired her decision to find her passion in business.

She left her place of birth, Soweto, at the age of 17 to further her studies abroad. She obtained an economics degree from Rutgers University in New Jersey and later obtained an MBA in the UK at De Montfort University.

Three decades later, Mahanyele-Dabengwa has become a well-known face in the business world. She has received a string of international accolades. In 2007 the World Economic Forum selected her as one of its global young leaders and she was named "one of the top 50 women in the world to watch" by The Wall Street Journal in 2008.

Forbes named Mahanyele-Dabengwa "one of the 20 youngest ‘power women’ in Africa" in 2011. And Forbes Women Africa honoured her with the businesswoman of the year award in 2014.

Before joining Shanduka, Mahanyele-Dabengwa worked at Fieldstone, a New York-based investment company, and was the head of project finance for SA at the Development Bank of Southern Africa.

She has served on a number of boards, including those of Vodacom, Gold Fields and Comair.