BBQ caught up with Zodwa Velleman to chat to her about some of the challenges she encounters working in the corporate environment


Velleman started her career at the SA Human Rights Commission as an intern and moved to the Parliament of South Africa as a Committee Secretary for the Portfolio Committee on Justice. She is an admitted Attorney of the High Court of South Africa with over 15 years’ experience. Before HEINEKEN she served as a Legal and Corporate Security Director for the Brandhouse JV, a role she also occupied initially at HEINEKEN before moving to her current Corporate Affairs Director role.

Velleman is a board member of the company and serves in other governance structures as well. HEINEKEN South Africa, together with its Joint Venture partner Namibia Breweries, is an important player in the beer and cider business in Southern Africa. “Our brand portfolio consists of several great brands such as Heineken ®, Amstel, Windhoek, Sol, Miller Genuine Draft, Strongbow Cider and Tafel. We continue to increase our portfolio with new variants and beers to keep providing our consumers with a variety of choice. HEINEKEN currently employs around 900 direct employees and some 600 indirect employment opportunities through our third party service providers, explains Velleman.

High-profile title aside, she is a family woman. She’s one of eight children and has been married to her husband, Sango that has always been supportive of my dreams, for over 17 years. They have two children, Mihlali (17) and Luthando (15). “We always have strategic plans for organisations, and KPI’s but it’s something that we seldom do for ourselves. Very earlier on I had an idea of the milestones I wished to achieve. With luck, some readiness and God saying yes—I have been blessed with a good career. At the same time, I knew that I wished to have a family. It was important to me that the person I get married to was supportive of my career and personal ambitions and would play a role other than that of a traditional husband.

“I have been fortunate in my career to have other than a supportive family that allowed me to grow ,line managers who believed in me, in fact, far more than I did in my own capabilities. When my previous Boss hired me (at 36) and within a week of us meeting, I was put forward to take on a Director position of a joint-venture of multinationals – I genuinely thought I was being set up to fail, yet it was the push I needed to start believing in my own abilities. Being young, first female Executive of the organization had its challenges but the support of my Boss who was my coach, mentor, fan, and that of my other colleagues, made all the difference.

Women face many challenges climbing the corporate ladder in South Africa. One of the biggest challenges is assumption. There’s always the assumption that if you’re a woman and you want a career, you can’t also be interested in having a family. There’s also the assumption that women don’t aspire to get to the top of the organization. That is just not true. Women are as ambitious and as driven as any man could potentially be, if not more,” she shares.

Velleman adds that fear of failure and fear of taking risks are both factors that halt the growth and development of many career women.

Relocating my family from Cape Town to join HEINEKEN in Johannesburg on an opportunity I could not resist—thanks to my Boss Ruud van den Eijnden (MD) was the biggest risk I am glad I took.

There are never any guarantees but as women, we need to constantly seek to make the working environment better for our girl kids. We need to support each other. We need to create space for other women to join our teams and feel nurtured to even do your role! If I could, so can anyone else

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Issue 83


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