July 26, 2023

PROFESSOR MAMOKGETHI PHAKENG is a phenomenal woman driven by an unwavering passion to scale the heights of success and serve as a shining example of all-round achievement for her fellow women.

From her early days, Phakeng exhibited an indomitable spirit and a can-do attitude that propelled her love for mathematics. She fearlessly challenged stereotypes and shattered misconceptions about women’s capabilities, fearlessly choosing to pursue mathematics and ultimately becoming a celebrated global success story.

Though she started as a Maths teacher teaching impoverished students in rural farm schools before she joined academia and now has gone to conquer the world stage, garnering numerous accolades both within and beyond the realm of mathematics. 

As a pivotal member of the board of the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls in South Africa and the Geneva Science and Diplomacy anticipator, Phakeng has not only achieved personal milestones but also uplifted others on their paths to success.

In 2002, she made history as the first black South African woman to earn a doctorate in mathematics education, a testament to her resilience and brilliance. Taking the helm as the vice-chancellor of the prestigious University of Cape Town in July 2018 further solidified her status as a trailblazer in her field.

Phakeng firmly believes that success knows no gender; it transcends societal limitations and preconceived notions. 

She prides her rating as a B1 Scientist because according to her, “there will always be doubting Thomases who would question how capable you are… So it is essential that people can see what you have done”.

She dedicated her success to the women in her life who have contributed to her passion and motivations to achieve success. First to her mother, Wendy Mmutlana, then to other renown successful women the likes of Wangari Mathai, the first black African woman to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004, and Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, the seventh director-general of the World Trade Organisation. 

In the face of misconceptions surrounding mathematics as a difficult subject, Phakeng’s inspirational approach to teaching empowers her students, making the subject accessible and enjoyable. Her impact has transcended the classroom, earning her the distinguished title of the First Illustrious Visiting professor (BIVP) at the esteemed University of Bristol, England.

Professor  Phakeng’s journey epitomizes determination, resilience, and the courage to rise above challenges. Her story is a guiding light—a reminder that passion, perseverance, and the pursuit of excellence can propel anyone determined to be successful to remarkable heights.


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