I draw inspiration from the women around me, family members, friends and members of my community. One of the women that I admire is a very good friend of mine, Nozipho.
Nozipho and I have been friends for over twenty years now. There’s a lot of qualities that I admire about her, but the two that stand out are her loyalty and wit. I know that I can always count on her and it’s as simple as that, that is all you need from a friend. As for her wit, you will understand why I wrote that once you read her interview below.
She is a partner in the Telecommunications, Media, Technology & Intellectual Property Practice at Webber Wentzel. She grew up in Durban and moved to Johannesburg to attend University at the University of the Witwatersrand, where she attained her LLB degree in. She specialises in the commercial and regulatory aspects of the Telecommunications, Broadcasting, Media & Technology environment in South Africa and was recently named in Chambers Global 2017 as a leading lawyer in IT and Telecommunications.
I recently caught up with Zee, for a late power lunch at Kong in Cedar Square. We spoke about what inspires her, her views on woman empowerment and life in general. She wasn’t happy that there was a mini shoot that I had chosen not to mention to her, otherwise she would have rejected my invite. She handled it like a pro!
When did you know that you wanted to be an attorney?
As a child of the 90s (born in the early 80s), I was exposed to a lot of violence and injustice from a very young age. What I witnessed resonated with me and made me want to change the lives of those around me. I wanted to make a difference in some way or another. I just didn’t know how. So when I found out that Nelson Mandela was an attorney, the choice seemed obvious. I thought that was without a doubt the best way to fight for justice, for those around me and for what I believe in. Of course, as I grew older my motivation for joining, and remaining in, the legal fraternity changed, but the core has always remained the same, and that is to somehow make a difference.
Which woman do you look up to and why?
There are so many women that I look up to, in fact, the list is probably a page long but if I had to pick, I would have to put my mother and Oprah Winfrey at the top of the list. My mother because she is the strongest woman I know. She has navigated motherhood with the utmost of grace and responsibility – trying to ensure that she raises four well-adjusted individuals. She has handled all that has been thrown her way with absolute poise. And she’s absolutely hilarious. Watching her, and learning from her, has truly been inspiring. On Oprah, I don’t admire Oprah for her success and money, although I must admit that having “Oprah money” wouldn’t hurt in the least. I admire her because she’s gotten to where she is despite the fact that all odds were against her. You can’t help but admire that type of courage and perseverance.
What inspires you?
Anyone who lives fearlessly. Simply because that is something that I have struggled with in my life. I tend to be very cautious and risk averse in my own life so I’m always inspired when I see or hear about someone that is brave enough to throw caution to the wind, to live on the edge/for now or to go against the grain. So a child that is brave enough to hold a snake, a person that leaves their comfortable office job to pursue their dreams, or anyone brave enough to stand up for what they believe in – even where that belief may have adverse consequences. What it does for me is to remind me that life is short and that I must always be present in the now. When I see those things, I get inspired to live my life with just a little less fear.
What constitutes success in your mind?
Being happy and being fulfilled. In my view, the material stuff may be nice but it’s all meaningless if you aren’t happy or fulfilled in your life. To me, true success is when you can be still, close your eyes and smile from your heart because you are truly happy and fulfilled. I’m of the firm view that is what we should all be chasing…that which makes us happy and that which fulfills us. We just need to put in the work to find out what that is and to chase it when we do. The tangible stuff or the stuff that you can see is just a bonus.
Do you think that there’s a place for women who choose to have families in your industry?
Absolutely! The legal fraternity is quite conscious of the need to be accommodating where working mothers are concerned. Most firms now offer a broad range of support to working mothers – you can see it in the progressive maternity leave and annual leave policies, the emphasis on flexible hours, and the mentorship structures. I work in a firm where the female lawyers now outnumber the male lawyers. I am also aware that female law students now outnumber the male law students at Universities. So it would be very backwards for any organization or industry to not put in place the support structures that are required to support its female staff because it is obvious, certainly where the legal industry is concerned, that women (who may of course have or choose to have families) are beginning to dominate the space.
What are your views on women empowerment in your industry and in South Africa in general?
I think that a lot has been done in the industry and in South Africa to put in place the structures required in order to facilitate women empowerment. We have legislation that encourages the empowerment of women and equality as a whole, there is a lot of emphasis by a number of organisations and our government on the value of educating women, and there are a number of women, both in the legal fraternity and in South Africa as a whole, that serve as excellent role models for other women. That being said, I would be remiss in not saying that there is still a lot to be done. There are still differentials between the pay of men and the pay of women in the workplace, women still feel pressure to be “unemotional” in the workplace (i.e. to act hard), the top tiers are still dominated by men, and women (especially younger women) still have trouble with being taken seriously by clients. These are all things that need to be rectified. In the context of the country, the biggest issue I see, at the moment, is in the treatment of women generally. It is common cause that violence against women is on the rise. The stats are simply astounding. This says to me that more needs to be done by government and civil society to rally against patriarchal values which cause or support violence against women. Outrage alone won’t end the violence. In my view, any person who asserts their power through the abuse of others (whether it be women or children) should be shamed and condemned. It is time for swift and proper action to be taken against all offenders. If this is not done, it will increasingly become difficult to convince any girl child that she is powerful…because how can you feel powerful and empowered in circumstances where you do not feel safe in your own society?
What are your outside interests and hobbies?
I enjoy spending time with my partner, my friends and my family. I love to read, watch series and movies. I enjoy watching sports (I absolutely love cricket and soccer). And I really enjoy good food! I don’t cook but I can eat the hell out of a good meal!
If you were not an attorney what else would you have chosen to do for a living?
I think I’d be a journalist or a film producer. I love movies and I love to write so that’s where I think would’ve ended up.
How did you celebrate women’s day? Do you think the holiday is still relevant?
I rested!! I slept in and wore a tracksuit the whole day. I really needed that mid-week break. Women’s Day will forever be relevant. We can never allow ourselves to forget why it is that we have that holiday in the first instance. We must always celebrate and remember those women that fought for our human rights and our dignity on that fateful day in 1956. Those women symbolise the strength and courage that the women of this country have.
What is your super power?
Hmmmm, I think it’s my long-term memory. My short-term memory is not so good but my long-term memory is on point! I can remember faces, events, and discussions even years later. It’s something that came in very handy when I was at school.
What is your greatest achievement thus far?
Knowing and accepting myself and daring to be happy. It was a journey but I sure am glad that I got there!
Hope that left you feeling inspired!