Three years after the 1948 enactment of Apartheid in South Africa, a beautiful girl with big diamond blue eyes was born in the “Diamond City” of Kimberly. Fast forward to now. Professor Sheila Onkaetse Mmusi (60), who has lived her life as a black woman in the racially segregated South Africa still has the diamond blue eyes; they sparkle even more complimented by her long, neat dreadlocks, elegant sense of style and flawless skin. I’ve travelled for more than 8 hours from Mpumalanga to Limpopo to meet her, and as we exchange our greetings and engage in deep conversations about our history while driving to her office, I see in her face the strength of the 20 000 women who marched to the Pretoria’s Union Building on 9 August 1956 to protest against the pass laws.

The Professor currently heads the department of Media and Communications Studies at the University of Limpopo, in the far Northern region of South Africa. This is no ordinary feat, considering South African history. According to the South African Press Association (SAPA), South Africa produces only 26 PHD graduates per million annually of its 43 million people; most of them are white men in their 30’s. This makes Professor Mmusi a rare gem indeed. “It’s difficult to come across South African blacks who have high qualifications,” said the Professor.

Professor Mmusi has faced tremendous obstacles on her journey from the Diamond City to the halls of the University of Limpopo. As a child, she wanted to be a doctor; in 1974 she was awarded a scholarship to study medicine at the University of the North. It was not a supportive environment for a young black woman. An Afrikaner lecturer in her first year told her that half of the black students would drop out within months. After two years she quit her medical studies and completed both a BA degree and a Secondary Teacher’s Diploma.

In 1984 she was awarded a scholarship for post-graduate work at to the University of Illinois at Urbana – Champaign, Illinois in America. She spent the next 8 years in America studying, raising her two daughters; Keamogetswe and Lerato, as a single parent and juggling three jobs. She was a teacher’s assistant, taught Afrikaans and Setswana at various universities, was a proofreader and editor, and was the president of the African Student Association. “I really was living the concept that the sky is the limit, anything I set my head on was done,” said Professor Mmusi. “Even the system was such that you could be whatever you wanted to be and my children lived just like normal American children. I had support from Professors and my mentor, Professor Eyamba Bogamba.” In May 1992 she was awarded a PhD in Linguistics.

It was in America that she realized how much she had been scarred by gender stereotyping. This victimization lit a fire within her. “When you talk of women oppressing women I can attest to that in families. I have gone through what I would call emotional abuse…I have seen it even with my step father being abusive towards my mother.” It made her want to help other women to avoid that fate, and became one of the driving passions in her life.

Upon her return to South Africa, in 1995 Prof. Mmusi headed the University of Limpopo’s department of Translations and Linguistics and then spearheaded the creation of a department of Media and Literary studies. After she was appointed her immediate challenge was dealing with a racist lecturer who did not want to attend staff meetings. He later confessed that “I am not used to reporting to a woman, to be frank with you; the black woman I know and I have experience with is my maid,” before he asked for a transfer to an English department within the university.

As her passion for media developed, she realized that community radio was a potential tool to create positive change for women. She started running workshops for the province and UNESCO and introduced a course in community radio and management to professionalize the sector. She conducts Gender and Media Literacy workshops for community radio stations that teach station managers and program managers about human rights, women’s issues, and gender policy. Despite her multiple degrees, her decades of experience as a professor and a department administrator, Professor Mmusi has continued to experience roadblocks in her professional life. She was nominated by many opposition parties as a board member of the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) but was not selected. She has applied for and been rejected from several governmental positions, some of which went to much less qualified individuals. Her struggle to be taken seriously in a world of institutionalized racism and sexism is constant. “As a woman, you are like a howler in a meeting,” she observed. Yet she hasn’t lost faith. “I’ve always believed that my work talks for me, my CV talks for me, and all my experiences talk for me.”

In the meantime, she is achieving her vision to provide the best media training in Limpopo. Her students have been well received by prospective employers and many of them are now working as station managers at the national broadcasters. To her students she’s not just a professor but a friend, a mother, a sister, a woman and a teacher. “I have an open door policy,” added the Professor.

As we waved goodbye after she dropped me off at the taxi stand, I smiled and thanked her for such a wonderful time. “I always know that beyond a rainbow there is something and it’s my faith,” she said. “That’s how I have lived my life.”

I do see all the possibilities. She has crushed all my fears of ever becoming a professor and I now know that when I do become one, I will no longer be seen as a howler. She has paved a way for me and many women who will come after her.

This article is part of a writing assignment for Voices of Our Future, which is providing rigorous web 2.0 and new media training for 30 emerging women leaders. We are speaking out for social change from some of the most unheard regions of the world.

Take action! This post was submitted in response to Voices of Our Future 2011 Assignment: Profiles.

Comment on this Post


Dear Rudzani,

You have done a wonderful job here. As I read your article I was able to visualize the Professor, and follow her powerful journey through life. You were an artful guide for me on that journey which has provided so many young women with a rigorous education in media. It is easy to see why she so inspires you.

Thank you for enlightening me with her story.

With love and compassion, Cindy

Thank you for taking this journey with me, for walking with me and for holding my hand. I am grateful for all that you are doing so far and this is the result of your wonderful work. It is not going to be easy but I will get there. Thank you for reading about, she's an inspiring woman who deserves to be recognized for all the wonderful work she's done.


Rudzanimbilu Muthambi

What an inspiring article and a wonderful woman. Thank you for sharing her story. It is never easy to stand up what we believe in, especially if others disagree with us or refuse to look towards the 'bigger picture." I am in education as well, and I can tell you, there are many people who would rather take the easy way rather than express a vision or follow a dream. I am inspired by you as well, and look forward to reading many more wonderful articles by you - you have so much to offer and teach the world. Believe me when I tell you, people are listening.

As I read your words, I was very motivated for it was not easy to do this. Your words came in at the right time, like you knew I needed the confirmation that I can tell women's stories from my communities. I have learned so much here and I hope you will too. Thank you for finding time to read about her.


Rudzanimbilu Muthambi

So glad to read your article. It is an inspiring and a great story that ought be shared. She is so positive and she is a wonderful example to follow. Never to give up and never to loose hope.

Well done :-)

Love, Amei

Thank you so much my dearest sister. She is inspiring indeed. I have time today so I will read your beautiful profile. I miss being here.

Take care of yourself and Happy New Year Amei....

Rudzanimbilu Muthambi

Rudzani, thank you for the opportunity to read your assignment. You write truthfully and I felt I was right there with you, talking to the professor. I have no doubt you too with will be a trail blazer for women in your country, and I'm sure that professorship you want will be yours - if you can dream it then anything is possible. Thank you again, and best wishes and love to you. Caitlyn

Thank you so much for reading and for your encouraging words. I'm beginning to believe that it is possible and trust me this has taken me a while. I will get there someday and with your support in here everything seem all possible.

Rudzanimbilu Muthambi

Am happy made it, You have done a good job. Undertaking an 8hrs journey to meet your admirer and role model is a serious business. It takes courage to do this. She is a Professor indeed and what an honour you have given to her to profile her life journey.I guess having an opportunity to meet her is a great previlege to you since you desire to be one someday. You will get there sister and may God grant you your heart desire and give you the grace to carry on.

Am glad to read your work again.


''Every woman have a story at every stage of Life''

For the first time I have said it out in public, without fear because I know this community right here on World Pulse is supportive. It's very hard to take such a bold step and I thank each and one of you for giving me that confidence to say things that have been long buried inside me. If I could go back I would add that as part of our first assignments before we were selected and of course add the information centre as well. Taking that journey to meet her was worth every energy because she is such a wonderful human being who has given so much and have received very little. I will never forget her warmth and her soft voice as she spoke. I am glad you loved reading and as always I look forward to reading your amazing work Viv.

Rudzanimbilu Muthambi

Dear Rudzanimbilu,

Hi there! What a nice and inspiring story you've share,thanks a lot for sharing it and it will inspire a lot of us.I do believe that what she had been doing to her staff,students and followers will multiply in numbers and so as in quality.As I have observed and noticed that everywhere especially here also in our country,individuals who are not in limelight are the ones' who did a lot and can help the needy and poorest of the poor but not given so much recognition but on the other hand,that individual did the good deeds silently.The masses whom she/he had helped were the ones' recognized and acknowledge their good actions.It is my own opinion andI really can say that almost what's happening everywhere now is a popularity contest,if you are rich and famous you will win and a lot of persons/politicians,individuals are trying to ride on such pace.What I am hoping is that by our little efforts,our own little way of helping for change for us women,we can achieve our dream for a change.

More power!

Those are strong words and this morning you have taught me that, we might live in different regions, speak different language but as humans we go through the same thing and the exploitation trends are the same too. What the politicians are doing in your country is the same everywhere, some of them even go further by changing history to suit their own ideology and feed their power. It's very hard but as long as we show women of strength, share their stories for the world to see, I think we are on our way to change this rocky road. It is not easy but it is possible with a bit of help and support from other women in different regions. Thank you for reading.

and have a lovely week ahead Adelma....

Rudzanimbilu Muthambi

Your profile is inspiring and motivating! what a strong woman to carry 3 jobs with two daugthers to take care of. She is brave and strong! Thanks for giving us her example. Thanks for sharing!

Trust your HOPES, not your fears... Harmony

Sorry for the late response. Thank you for reading Harmony. Yes, she is an inspiring woman indeed and she is very brave and strong and I hope those who read are encouraged to see their own strength as women. Imagine holding 3 jobs and raising two daughters? That must have been hard for her but she did it and so can we.

Rudzanimbilu Muthambi

Hello, Cindy is a good friend of ours and she sent me this link. I am so proud of all of the women who are contributing to our planet through their words! You all rock! Keep em coming and stay strong! I hope your daughter is feeling well!


Cindy is my mentor and she's really been great with guiding me through this journey. I really applaud World Pulse for choosing our mentors and editorial midwives because they are brilliant at what they do. It's my son but he is well now. Thank you so much for reading and for your support.

Rudzanimbilu Muthambi

I felt so very connected to your story. Thank you for all you have done to get this story written and to us . I believe this portrait of the professor will inspire many not to be discouraged or to give up. We can make a difference. Look at the group of leaders she is building that will see the world a new way and will share that with others to grow the change in our world


Thank you for reading and I'm glad you feel it will inspire others because that's what I hoped this story will do so this is a wonderful revelation. We can indeed make a difference and I think she is doing her bit to change the world. Your words has served as a great motivation for me, I'm grateful. Once again, thank you.

Rudzanimbilu Muthambi

Hi Rudzani,

This is such a wonderful tribute to an inspiring woman. Thank you for sharing her story with us here... it's the story of following your dreams, never giving up, and never letting anybody or their bad ideas stand in your way. I can tell that she is an important person for you and for her students too.

Your writing is beautiful. It's very clear, concise, but still descriptive and informative. I feel like you covered so many details of her life in the short-word-count available to you. Great job!

I am really looking forward to seeing more of your work, and am thrilled that you're here with us.

My best wishes to you and your family, Scott

Scott Beck

Thank you for reading, thank you for your support Mr. Beck. Its the story of following your dreams, finding courage in the face of adversity yes and we need more people like her. I really appreciate your encouraging words and I am looking forward to learning from you and your team.

And thank you for the best wishes,

Rudzanimbilu Muthambi