Read in magazine

Leadership Editor Prof JJ Tabane conversed with Luthando Madhlopa, who can be described as a changemaker in the corridors of communication and EduTech. She is the founder of Madhlopa Brand Reputation Management.

Luthando Madhlopa is a beacon of innovation and a changemaker in the corridors of communication and EduTech. Luthando isn’t just the founder of Madhlopa Brand Reputation Management; she’s the heart and soul behind a company that rose from the challenges of COVID-19 to become a bastion of strategic communication and crisis management.

Her journey with BMFI (Black Management Forum Investments) is a narrative of triumph and resilience, marked by milestones such as the M&A Communications awareness campaign of BMFI’s acquisition of a stake in Rosslyn Hub. This campaign was also featured in the Sunday Times. The second milestone was the celebratory luncheon for Dr Nombasa Tsengwa upon her appointment as CEO designate of Exxaro in April 2022 and, lastly, the decisive handling of a crisis that reshaped an entire organisation.

Luthando’s story does not end there. As co-founder of Elimu-Verse Holdings, she is at the forefront of an EduTech revolution, crafting a meta-verse that’s not just a tool but also a gateway to knowledge and empowerment. The Meta Library and Career Guidance centre are not just features; but they are a testament to a vision of a world where education and technology converge to create unlimited possibilities.

Her voice resonates beyond boardrooms and into the hearts of youth through ‘The Gamers Tour’, which was launched in Soweto in October 2023 and, at the time, dubbed the first and largest educational-gaming tour, showcasing the different career opportunities within tech and gaming and how, as a hobby, gaming can be monetised.

Here, Luthando’s passion for uplifting children shines, as she and her team are working tirelessly to encourage children who have been labeled and overlooked—showing them that they are, in fact, invaluable and capable of greatness.

Luthando Madhlopa’s leadership and advocacy extend to her role as a founding member of the Bold Women Network, where the organisation champions equity and equality issues by celebrating women in different career fields and by having different events that cater to each industry, such as Bold Women in Marketing, where there was a large collaboration from organisations such as Vuma Reputation Management, Ogilvy, and Black Swan, just to name a few, as well as Bold Women In Tech and Women in Health, which was launched in partnership with the Gauteng MEC of Health and Wellness.

Luthando’s recognition as a finalist for the ‘IDEAL Innovative Entrepreneur Award’, as well as by The Feature Magazine’s ‘Top 50 Most Memorable Women of 2023’ have also been commendable. Luthando’s strategic insights on PR and positioning have been invaluable in steering organisations and individuals towards progressive change.

Luthando’s personal narrative is one of courage and transformation. Amidst adversity, Luthando has alchemised tragedy and trauma into shaping her into a staunch advocate for personal authority and justice that is fuelled by her need to enact change. Her story is a powerful reminder that our greatest challenges can become our most profound sources of strength.

Luthando Madhlopa is more than an entrepreneur; she is an activist and a visionary who has used life’s lessons to inspire change and foster hope. Her dedication to learning, growing, and advocating for the collective good is what makes her not just a leader, but a source of inspiration for us all. This all became very clear during my communication with her.

In summary, here are some of my own impressions after talking to this great person, Luthando Madhlopa. While interacting with her it became more than clear that she is not just an entrepreneur—she is an activist and a visionary who has used life’s lessons to inspire change and foster hope in all of us. Her dedication to learning, growing, and advocating for the collective good is what makes her not just a leader, but a source of inspiration for us all.

Luthando in her own words

On the values she was brought up with…

I was raised on the values of being Christ-like: caring for and loving people. Knowing everyone deserves a chance, other important values also echoed the importance of education and equipping yourself with skills and knowledge as a woman and as a person. I was raised on the values of black pride and never forgetting where we come from as people. I was also raised on the political values of democracy and the freedom of expression, with feminist and liberal values.

On her background…

I am the mother of a beautiful girl named Azania. My own mother, Thobile Tshabalala, was the daughter of the late vhaVenda Chief, Gilbert Mapholi, and my direct connection to mavericks and industry giants at a young age. I was brought up by my grandparents to be a fierce feminist, and to understand the value of financial freedom as a woman and the importance of family connections and justice. My late father, Sipho Madhlopa, a Harvard graduate, was a legal genius that gave us some of our democracy’s milestone legislation and findings in the form of the Employment Equity Act, as well as chairing the Madhlopa Commission of Inquiry in 2000. My family has stood on the pillars of integrity, respect, and hard work; questioning what was wrong and always standing up for themselves and those they held dear to them.

On what defined her as an emerging leader on her academic journey…

I studied at the Universities of Pretoria and also Johannesburg. My subjects included BCom-Law, BA-English, with Journalism as a major, BA-Law, and even Theology. I also found that I could relate to many different people. I met people that I loved, could pray with, have fun with, plan the future with, and discuss political, philosophical, and legal issues with—despite their race, gender, creed, and political affiliations. One of the many things that defined me as an emerging leader is therefore my love for people. I feel that I have demonstrated the ability to bring together diverse stakeholders, foster unity, and drive positive change. My commitment to collaboration and impactful initiatives has, in my view, defined me as an emerging leader.

On how she has dealt with the rough patches in her life…

I began to experience a sense of no purpose in the work that I was doing and realised that I had to sever ties with a prominent organisation. This was deeply disturbing and I also realised that I would have to rechannel my life’s purpose. I then started Elimu-Verse Holdings, a company that builds tech-driven solutions for the gaps we have in our education and that helps young people to build lucrative careers. I then decided to hang up my PR gloves and to focus more on people-driven causes. I joined Bold Ambitious Women when that organisation was launched. My purpose is to help young black women and children to use their experiences to forge new futures and to create new storylines in their lives. I have to be resilient and I believe in working ahead of myself and that I must wear resilience like armour and be close to God, always, for that is our source of strength.

On what attracted her to the subject of Reputation Management…

I attended the Marikana Commission of Enquiry and I was absolutely shocked at the levels of insensitivity that I witnessed during that event. For example, a journalist attempted to illicit a story from me for a payment. As a young person, I was completely flawed by this experience and I also started seeing that not everything that was happening in that auditorium was always being reported in the evening news. This experience took me on to a new career path, one that involved going into the media, and via content I consumed on Daily Maverick. When I told my granddad what I now wanted to do with my life, he responded by saying, “Oh, you want to be a spin-doctor and lie to the public!” I responded by saying that I wanted to help shed light on issues that have been left in the dark and to help people out of the trouble they may find themselves in.

On the state of South Africa…

I believe that the reputation of South Africa, as a brand, can be improved. But we need to talk and work from a place of honesty. We cannot work on the reputation of our country from a wish list of what we ought to be, a wish list of what we would like to do, and a wish list of inaccurate data. As a nation, we would like to be crime free; we would like to have leaders that match our policies; we would like to have improved services in the healthcare system; and a qualitative education system that will not let our children down. Unfortunately, this is not our reality. Instead of facing these issues head-on and going back to the drawing board to map out how we got here, our leaders either pretend that these issues are not critical or they are apathetic to the cries of the nation. This is where we fall short. The reputation of our nation is that of a largely divided state, where the poor cannot survive, the middle and working classes are becoming poorer, but the wealthy keep getting wealthier. Accountability does not seem to be a word in the current leadership’s vocabulary. Too many of our men rape and kill our women and children and too often they seem to get away with this. We need to admit that we were never really ready for democracy and what democracy actually meant for our already fractured society. We need to admit that the ‘Rainbow Nation/Peace in our Land’ PR strategy was not sustainable, and we need to admit that the quality of our leadership has fallen largely by the wayside. However, that there are positive things in our country, including how ordinary people are trying to make a difference everyday in their different pursuits to improve their communities, to challenge the unfairness of our society.

On her passion for fighting GBV…

I am really a living statistic that has survived being molested as a child, raped as a teenager, strangled and left for dead because of a rape attempt that went wrong when I was at my university. I survived being on my knees and being beaten with a belt whilst being told to pray to God to save my life, because today might be my last one. I have survived being drugged and raped in my thirties and waking up to bruises on my wrists and legs and blood between my thighs. But so have many other women. Others have died, others have committed suicide, while others live in survival mode. I share my story because I am not ashamed of my past and because women, people, young girls and boys need to know that there is life beyond abuse, there is life beyond rape, there is purpose and hope beyond torment.

On her future plans…

My future plans are to continue to grow and use my gifts and my voice for the voiceless. I want to deliver Elimu-Vers to the children of South Africa and the continent and I also plan to run for public office in the next election to ensure that the changes we need, and want, will begin to come to fruition—with my key areas of focus being women, children, education, and technology. Thereafter, my eyes are set on the African Union and establishing an academy that is premised on the foundations of the African Renaissance and excellence.

Her parting words…

If you want to change the world, go home to love and serve your family. There is no leadership role that does not include love or servitude—without it we are inhumane, we lack empathy, we lack understanding, foresight and respect. Without love and servitude we are selfish in all our pursuits and we are not about our people, our organisations—we become mere circus masters whipping at everything that does not obey. That is not leadership; you are then not a leader. You are a person that people fear.

Prof JJ Tabane is Editor of Leadership Magazine.

By Editor