Pioneering Women in Innovation

Pioneering Women in Innovation

Tembeka Ngcukaitobi wrote an article on 9 August 2018 titled “Let the world know that women were once not “persons” in the eyes of the law”1. He was referring to the 1912 case of Incorporated Law Society v. Wookey. Madeline Wookey applied to serve articles at a law firm and the Law Society refused to register the articles1. At the time, the Cape Charter of Justice stated that any person suitably qualified could apply for admission as an attorney1. The Law society argued that the term “persons” did not include women1. As a result, Wookey was denied the opportunity to qualify as an attorney.  Keep in mind that white women were only allowed to vote on 19 May 1930, while black men and women could only vote from 27 April 1994.


It is shocking that until recently, black women were considered perpetual minors by law. This meant that unless she was emancipated, a black woman had no independent powers save as to her own person and as specifically provided2. Women were always under the guardianship of a male (her father; then her husband; after the death of the husband then the eldest son becomes the guardian)3. Despite all these hurdles and impossible odds, women have always fought to get their voices heard and to take their rightful place at the table. This explains why, despite all the obstacles facing women, there have been great achievements from them. We will be celebrating some of these phenomenal women this Women’s Month. The four phenomenal women we are featuring in this blog are Professor Keolebogile Shirley Motaung, Ms Nneile Nkholise, Dr Esther Mahlangu, Ms Palesa Mokubung and Ms Tumelo Tshaya Mashabela.


Professor Keolebogile Shirley Motaung is a Biomedical Scientist who holds a D.Tech Biomedical Technology from Tshwane University of Technology (TUT) in conjunction with University of California, Davis in the USA4. She was the first female at TUT to receive a Fulbright Scholarship to pursue her doctorate at UC Davis5. Her research and innovation focused on the role of medicinal plants in tissue engineering of bone and cartilage. Based on her research, she established her own company, Global Health Biotech (Pty) Ltd during 20164. Prof Motaung has received multiple awards for her efforts to bridge the gap between science and entrepreneurship4.


Another phenomenal innovator that we are looking at is Ms Nneile Nkholise. Her company, iMED Tech, develops prosthetics for cancer and trauma patients. The company was established during 2015 while Ms Nkholise was studying for her Masters in Mechanical Engineering at the Central University of Technology. The company has created a positive impact across the African continent. Ms Nkholise has experience in 3D printing technologies which she uses to develop her custom-made products.


Dr Esther Mahlangu was born on a farm in Middleton, Mpumalanga. She learnt how to paint from the age of 10 and was taught by her mother and grandmother6. Dr Mahlangu is a pioneer who uses the crafts of the Ndebele people to create breathtaking artworks6. Her work has been exhibited across the world and has brought her significant success in the art markets6. Dr Mahlangu was also commissioned to add her designs to British Airways planes, BMW vehicles, vodka bottles, billboards, and food packaging for products such as Albany bread and Tastic rice.


Ms Palesa Mokubung is a designer based in Johannesburg and she is the founder of the Mantsho clothing label6. In August 2019, Swedish retailer H&M announced that Mantsho would be collaborating with them6. This was the first ever collaboration between H&M and an African designer6. The Mantsho brand has modern and edgy designs that celebrate Africa’s culture and vibrancy.  Palesa’s innovative designs make her standout from the crowd.


Ms Tumelo Tshaya Mashabela is the first black female patent attorney in South Africa. She graduated with an engineering degree from the University of Cape Town and obtained her LLB from the University of South Africa (UNISA). She qualified as a patent attorney and has since established her own law firm, Tshaya Mashabela Attorneys. Ms Tshaya Mashabela has 16 years’ experience in the field of intellectual property (IP) with over 11 years as a patent attorney. She is passionate about creating IP awareness and ensuring that entrepreneurs and SMEs know the value of the creations of their minds. She is the bridge between innovators and the market and always ensures that innovators extract the most value from their creations. During 2018, she won an award for Professional Excellence awarded by the Department of Science and Innovation in collaboration with the South African Research and Innovation Management Association. She was an Independent Contractor contracted to UNISA to develop content for post-graduate diploma in IP management.


There are many more phenomenal women that we would like to celebrate, and we will do so in future blogs. We have a long way to go before achieving gender equality, but these women are leading the way and showing those who follow in their footsteps that it can be done. From not being considered as “persons” in the eyes of the law to such unbelievable achievements… It is clear, that this woman can!


Written by: Tumelo Mashabela, Managing Director and Registered Patent Attorney

For all your IP, commercial and corporate law services, please contact us on 012 942 8710 / You can also find us on social media platforms with the handle @TshayaMashabelaAttorneys (@TshayaMashabela on Twitter).





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