Captain of industry Mamongae Mahlare says she has settled well in her new role as managing director (MD) of a subsidiary of Africa’s largest sugar producer Illovo Sugar Africa. Image: Supplied.
JOHANNESBURG - Captain of industry Mamongae Mahlare says she has settled well in her new role as managing director (MD) of a subsidiary of Africa’s largest sugar producer Illovo Sugar Africa.

She was appointed MD of Illovo Sugar South Africa (Illovo SA) in March 2018, making her the JSE-listed group’s second country female MD after Zambia’s Rebecca Katowa.

Mahlare says she has hit the ground running because there is a lot of work that needs to be done in the R14 billion industry, employing over 350 000 people and supporting 1 million others.

The sector, which stakeholders described as being in an unprecedented state of crisis and near collapse, has been up in arms with the government over cheap sugar imports from neighbouring countries, and the contentious sugar tax.

However, in an interview with Business Report, Mahlare is upbeat and optimistic about the future of the industry, saying the sector needs develop a clear strategy going forward and engage key stakeholders to iron out contentious issues.

She admits that the industry has been in a period of recovery and normalisation following introduction of sugar tax on April 1, 2018, among other issues.

“We are clear that there are still challenges facing industry, that is why we have got to continue engaging on solutions for longer term and work together with all the stakeholders to say what is the way forward,” says Mahlare.

She holds an MBA from Harvard Business School and a BSc chemical engineering degree from the University of Witwatersrand.

Mahlare’s expertise and work experience spans many bluechip companies, having worked in senior management roles at SABMiller, Tanzania Breweries, Unilever and Coca Cola Beverages Africa.

Working in these high profile jobs, she says, created a reputation for herself and a network of people that have evidence of what she can deliver.

She explains that the Illovo Sugar business is centred around the rural economy. “The people there are very resilient and hardworking. Their level of dedication just humbles you,” she says.

The businesswoman says all the players in the industry are aligned with the government agenda to protect and grow rural economies.

“We want to achieve that goal, not only for the survival of our business, but for the survival of rural economies as well.”

Mahlare is well aware of the country’s socio-economic status, saying besides meeting their clients’ demands, they also want to continue being an effective contributor of the South African economy.

“We have to continue looking at benchmarking parts of our business and become excellent at what we do,” she says.

“It’s all about sharpening our tools and making sure that we are competitive, while also ensuring that we are engaging with the economy.”

She says her growth plans for IllovoSA include expanding the company’s footprint in agro-processing.

“Illovo SA’s commitment to the transformation of agriculture and agribusiness across the continent is something I strongly endorse,” says Mahlare.

“Having worked in multiple African markets, I strongly support the role of business as an active participant in delivering on the social and economic development agendas of each country, while maintaining its core commercial imperative.” 

Mahlare, who has been to 22 countries across the world, says she looks forward to being part of the delivery of the next stage of Illovo SA’s strategy for transformation, ambitious growth agenda and downstream diversification.

“It is good that there are places that recognise the competence that an individual brings to the table,” she says of Illovo SA.

Mahlare believes that everyone in the country should get the opportunity to play a meaningful role in the local economy, Africa’s largest and most industrialised.

“For me it’s around how do we open doors for many others. I’d be happy to see a lot more (women) coming through and in other companies around us as well.” 

Mahlare, who is in her mid-40s, says Illovo SA will continue to drive and support the growth of the sugar industry and to remain competitive as a business.

“And we will continue to drive transformation as part of our agenda across BEE framework.”