By Cedric Mboyisa

‘There has been so much change in this industry of late and many women are coming to the fore and taking their seat at the table.’ This is the view of Robbyn Richards after she was re-elected as vice-chair of the South African Sugar Millers’ Association

Robbyn Richards was re-elected as vice-chairperson of the South African Sugar Millers’ Association (Sasma) for a second term. Photo: Supplied/Food For Mzansi

In an unambiguous show of confidence, Robbyn Richards, the first black female vice-chairperson of the South African Sugar Millers’ Association (Sasma), a member of the South African Sugar Association, has been re-elected to serve another term.

Richards is making her presence felt in the milling sector and the sugar industry as a whole.

“The board and industry have given me the opportunity to continue in this leadership role representing them, not to provide me with a voice because I have always had one.

“But the empowerment and the change only come when they want to hear my voice and listen to it and let me use it, and in this legacy industry, what a pure indicator of progressive transformation. I thank the industry leaders at Sasma for this and have learnt so much from them and take guidance from them,” she said.

Representation matters

Richards, who is head of industry affairs at Illovo Sugar South Africa, is an unflinching advocate for transformation and women empowerment, a cause to which she has been committed for many years.

“I believe that currently, with all the women in leadership positions and such forces of nature that they are, Ms (Joanmariae) Fubbs, Michela (Cutts), Fay (Mukaddam), Kiki (Mzoneli) and Lee (Hlubi), to name a few who I hold in such high regard, that this inspires other women within all the industry structures, companies and associations no matter what the background. It reinforces that women will be heard in all the places where decisions are being made.”

Richards said the appointment signifies change, long-awaited and a much-needed sign of progressive change.

“Representation matters! We need to see each other in leadership positions to believe we can be there too. It is important for the disadvantaged communities we come from as well.”

“There has been so much change in this industry of late and many women are coming to the fore and taking their seat at the table and that has created more positive change. We, as women, do things differently and that makes all the difference.”

Women play a crucial role

Richards added that her second term will be marked by learning. She said this legacy industry is evolving by the minute and keeping it on its toes.

“We have to fine-tune that agility and focus in order to ensure it is sustainable, to continue on a transformational and progressive trajectory. We need sometimes to adjust our approach and understanding to be aware of the present day, nurture relationships and up our EQ a bit. These are essential softer issues as it were, and this requires some focus.

“We have some amazing young leaders (myself and the chair of Sasma, Rolf Lütge included) in this industry which will serve us well, another key component of transformation,” she said.

She is in awe of women and the crucial role they play in society.

“I would like to add that while we acknowledge and admire all the women of this industry, not just in leadership. I would like to take this opportunity to show my admiration and gratitude for the women of this industry and this country who come from some of the most difficult walks of life and circumstances, and get up every day to provide for their families and contribute to this country without recognition,” said Richards.


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