South African entrepreneur Wendy Luhabe, who made her name in business championing female financial power, was made an Honorary Lieutenant of the Royal Victorian Order at an investiture ceremony in Buckingham Palace on July 11.
She received the award – given for service to the Royal Family – for the 10 years she spent working for the Duke of Edinburgh’s International Award Foundation, a leading youth charity that gives people aged between 14 and 24 the chance to fulfil their potential by learning life skills.
Luhabe is one of the few from the continent to be given the prestigious title. She received it from Prince Charles.
Other recipients of the award, instituted in 1896, read like a who’s who of ambassadors and admirals. The award is given to those who have served the monarchy in a personal way. It includes officials of the Royal Household and ambassadors who have arranged state visits.
The foundation has helped young people everywhere, from the favelas of Brazil to the prisons of South Africa. In her work, Luhabe worked alongside Prince Edward, the Earl of Wessex.
Luhabe made her name in business with the women’s investment company WIPHOLD, founded in 1994 with three other women at a time when black economic empowerment was trying to bring the majority of South Africans into the mainstream.
In African lore, rain means blessing. The day she walked the red carpet to the palace, the grey sky over London was full of best wishes as Luhabe put the final touches to her outfit, a simple African print dress and a brown lace top. The multi-colored contemporary African print was designed by Machere in Parktown North, Johannesburg, specially for the occasion.
Luhabe told how she waited with 100 other recipients of the award at Buckingham Palace at the investiture. She was called up, after the knighthoods had been given, to receive her award from Prince Charles in the Throne Room at the Palace in a ceremony that lasted an hour.
“We talked about how long I had carried out work for the Duke of Edinburgh awards and he also wanted to know if I was living in England or South Africa. It was a very quiet and dignified affair and what I remember well was the beautiful classical music that was playing throughout,” says Luhabe.
“I see this award as a tribute to all women and also my grandchildren…We are here to serve humanity, we must try to do things for ourselves, in this way, we can change the face of Africa.”
Luhabe was told that little was expected of her when she was growing up in apartheid South Africa.
“You were expected to get married and then maybe become a nurse or a teacher, if you were lucky,” says Luhabe, who was inspired at secondary school in Cradock, in South Africa’s Eastern Cape, by her teacher Matthew Goniwe, a political activist who was murdered by security forces in 1985 and later known as one of the Cradock Four. Goniwe encouraged the 12-year-old Luhabe to debate and it spurred her on to study at the University of Fort Hare, also in the Eastern Cape, followed by a stint at university in Lesotho. After some time in the corporate world, Luhabe became an entrepreneur.
“I want to be remembered as someone who touched lives, made a difference and gave back to society,” she says.
Luhabe, whose track record includes being founder of Bridging the Gap, a human resources and recruitment firm, is in the process of setting up microenterprises for women in the bakery industry in various communities in South Africa. She will pilot 300 bakeries in provinces including the Free State, Northern Province, Western and Eastern Cape.
Over the past 15 years, Luhabe has received international recognition from the World Economic Forum in Switzerland as a Global Leader of Tomorrow, the Osaka Junior Chamber in Japan as an Outstanding Young Person, Leadership in Practise by Unisa Business School in South Africa, and Woman of Substance by African Women Chartered Accountants.