Heart & Mind
Fairlady|June 2017

From serving as a national planning commissioner in the Presidency to producing South Africa’s first cashmere, Vuyo Mahlati is a multifaceted woman. And while she exhibits an incredibly diverse skill set, her focus has been singular – to drive social change.

Kate Sidley 

In the smart boardroom of Dr Vuyo Mahlati’s Rosebank office in Johannesburg, we’re talking about goats. Specifically, the imbuzi goats that are indigenous to the Eastern Cape and other parts of the country, and that have historically been kept for ritual purposes and for their meat. Now, they’ve become a source of income for rural people, thanks to Vuyo’s company, Ivili Loboya, which has produced South Africa’s first cashmere by processing the soft, fine inner hair of the coats of these goats.

Ivili Loboya recently launched its Dedani collection, a line of clothes made of cashmere harvested from these goats, and spun, woven and processed in rural Eastern Cape using natural dyes.

These natural dyes were sourced from leaves, fruits, bark and flowers to create the collection’s palette of earthy tones, such as ochre, bone, nut, marula and wild peach. The fabrics are visual evocations of nature, as well as spiritual and ancestral imagery.

This venture is the culmination of some of Vuyo’s many interests, her history and influences: growing up in the Eastern Cape, her mother who was a shepherdess and cultivated Vuyo’s interest in farming, her passion for employment creation and empowerment, her creativity and her studies in the field of development economics. Fundamentally, all her choices have been governed by one thing: to drive social change.

In fact, Vuyo’s CV and life experience would be enough for a couple of women, or a couple of lifetimes. She’s on the International Women’s Forum board of directors, is president of the African Farmers’ Association of South Africa, and she’s serving a second term as a national planning commissioner in the Presidency. She’s served on several boards, committees and strategic think tanks, from the 25-year Gauteng Transport Strategy to the SA Post Office, and has been involved in media, finance, business and social entrepreneurship. Oh, and did we mention the awards? There are lots.

A youthful-looking and glamorous 50, Vuyo has such a full plate and wide range of interests that you wonder how she manages them all. She sees her life as divided into three parts. ‘There’s me as the mother, wife and daughter, and that’s my centre. Around that, there are a lot of innovations, but they’re basically in two areas: the policy activism work and the entrepreneurial side.

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