Vance Center Continues Promoting Women’s Leadership and Mentorship in South Africa

April 2023

The Vance Center and its South African Legal Fellows Alumni Network (SALFN), in partnership with the United States Embassy in Pretoria, this month welcomed a second cohort to its mentorship program, part of the Advancing Women in the Workplace (AWW) Project in South Africa. 

Representatives of the South Africa Women Lawyers Association at the AWW welcome event. (Photo credit: Bowmans)

The AWW project, which aims to support young women of color to advance to senior leadership positions in the South African legal profession, held a series of events to welcome the cohort of 20 mentors and 20 mentees. Antonia Stolper, a member of the Vance Center Executive Committee member and AWW Advisory Board, welcomed the new participants and emphasized the importance of collaborations between senior and junior lawyers while sharing experiences from the 20 active chapters of the Vance Center’s Women in the Profession Program. 

The series started with a virtual event on April 11, featuring a dialogue on women lawyers’ leadership. AWW Advisory Board member Zelma Acosta-Rubio, joined Stolper to welcome the mentees, while keynote speaker Judge Carol Sibiya, a mentor from AWW’s first cohort, celebrated progress made in the 100 years since the first woman was allowed to practice law in South Africa. Judge Sibiya raised the importance of gender equality and equitable access to opportunities and noted that mentorship can help women overcome professional hurdles. Former mentees Jessica Swats and Vuyo Jozi advised the new mentees to approach the process with an agenda for self-development and to make the best of the program’s offerings. 

Attendees at the AWW 2nd cohort welcome event. (Photo credit: Bowmans)

On April 13, Palesa Madi, Deputy Director for the Centre for Applied Legal Studies at Wits University, encouraged the mentors to make the best of the relationship through authenticity and reciprocity. Shireen Said, a member of the AWW mentor support committee, and Ana Yurgel of Women in Law Mentoring Brazil, presented the roles and expectations of a mentor. Judge Lebo Modipa, in her keynote, reminded the senior legal practitioners that they have a constitutional basis for claiming the space of leadership and should endeavor to support young women who, like them, are aiming to climb the ladders to leadership. 

The series concluded on April 20 with the official launch of the second cohort through a hybrid event in partnership with Bowmans South Africa, attended by more than 50 legal practitioners in person and approximately 30 online. Inosi Nyatta, Chair of the Vance Center Committee’s Africa Sub-Committee and AWW Advisory Board member, explained the Vance Center’s vision  for South Africa and the Program, while SALFN Chair Nontu Made outlined the program’s alumni network. Frank Whittaker, Minister Counselor for Public Affairs at the U.S. Embassy in South Africa, advised women legal practitioners to “Stand up, speak out” to gain spaces in leadership positions, and Fatima Laher, Head of Pro Bono at Bowmans, reiterated the firm’s commitment to women’s leadership and partnering with the Vance Center on pro bono projects and programs.  

Speakers at the AWW 2nd cohort welcome event. (Photo credit: Bowmans)

Addressing a joint session of mentors and mentees, Hlaleleni Kathleen Matolo-Dlepu, Inaugural Chairperson of the Legal Practice Council and current Commissioner of Judicial Service in South Africa, highlighted some difficulties she faced in finding opportunities and how mentorship helped her advance over 30 years of legal practice. and emphasized the need for continuous training, the value of dialogue between women in the profession, building and strengthening networks, and advocating for breaking the cycle of gender-based discrimination in the workplace. The following panel discussion, entitled “Promoting women in leadership through mentoring: Perspectives from Mentors and Mentees in South Africa and Latin America,” further echoed these sentiments. The panelists- Lerato Mathopo, Judge Nomahlubi Kwinana, Siviwe Anthony, Amanda Dladla, Nobesotho Molete of South Africa, and Vanessa Oqueli and Astrid Villeda of Women in the Profession (WIP) Honduras – answered questions from moderator Zodwa Velleman of SAFLN, and discussed their experiences and views on mentorship and other activities to advance women in leadership positions. 

Vance Center Africa Program Director Adaobi Egboka moderated sessions on all three days explaining the AWW program’s vision, expectations, timelines, evaluation process, and the need for mentors and mentees to grow their relationships organically while collaborating with the Vance Center’s overall goal of promoting women in leadership in South Africa. By the end of 2023, the project will have a network of 40 mentees and 40 mentors, she said. Dr. Kim Lamont-Mbawuli, the AWW program consultant, closed the session with a call to the women to use the AWW program to advance their careers and break through the glass ceiling.  

Attendees at the AWW 2nd cohort welcome event. (Photo credit: Bowmans)


While in South Africa, Egboka also met with Vance Center partners and contacts to discuss potential collaboration and pro bono projects, and spread the word about the upcoming event marking the Vance Center’s 20th anniversary and celebrating its flagship program, the African Legal Fellows program, taking place from October 11-13, 2023, in Johannesburg, South Africa.  

Meeting with the Chief Director, Gender Directorate of the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development. (Photo Credit: Adaobi Egboka)