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United Nations in South Africa celebrates the life and legacy of Dr. Vuyo Mahlati

14 October 2020 – The United Nations (UN) in South Africa is shocked and profoundly saddened by the passing of Dr. Vuyo Mahlati.

A gender and development activist, Dr. Mahlati fought tirelessly for women’s economic empowerment – their right to land, to security, to equal opportunities, to a life free from poverty. We were privileged to have worked closely with Dr. Mahlati in the many roles she so earnestly and wholeheartedly played.

Recognised as a champion for women’s rights globally, Dr. Mahlati previously served as the President of the International Women’s Forum (IWF) South Africa and co-chair of the IWF President’s Council; she had recently been nominated as IWF Global President, due to start her term at the end of October. She received numerous accolades from international bodies for her thought leadership and her ability to straddle both macro-economic challenges and grassroots realities and was a strong supporter of the UN’s work on gender and macroeconomics across Africa.

Dr. Mahlati was a Trustee of the South African Women in Dialogue (SAWID) and chairperson of the Development Commission, using this platform to call for economic transformation and reaching thousands of women, mostly in rural areas, with pertinent information and discussions on poverty reduction, employment and entrepreneurship through events held by SAWID. In recent months, Dr. Mahlati played a critical role in partnership between SAWID and the UN to assess and propose recovery strategies for household vulnerabilities as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Her passing is a great loss to the economic development sector broadly, particularly to the agricultural sector, especially women farmers, who she galvanised and led fearlessly as President of the African Farmers Association of South Africa (AFASA) – the first woman to hold this role. She worked closely with several UN agencies to provide platforms for increasing women’s agency in shaping policies and programs aimed at advancing women’s economic empowerment.

Dr. Mahlati made significant contributions as an inaugural member of the National Planning Commission, delivering the National Development Plan, and was serving a second term. In her role as Chairperson of the Presidential land reform and advisory panel, she ensured that women’s rights were incorporated in the land reform bill.

She was also an agribusiness entrepreneur in her own right, becoming the owner of an indigenous wool processing plant. Her impactful enterprise sourced directly from communal sheep farmers creating jobs for women and men at the highly industrialised plant in rural Eastern Cape.

As we mourn her passing, we do so, knowing that she leaves a huge gap in knowledge and activism within the development sector. Yet we are filled with immense gratitude for the impact she made, comforted by the many seeds she planted and inspired by her life’s work, which we commit to continue to support.

Our deepest condolences are extended to her family and loved ones.

May Dr. Vuyo Mahlati rest in peace and power.

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