“It always seems impossible until it’s done.” — Nelson Mandela

Zanele Nkomo


Mining & Manufacturing

Organisation / Company



Zanele Nkomo, 35, grew up with a single mother in the townships. Her mother, who continued to learn throughout her life and obtained a degree in her 50s, was a positive role model who instilled a strong work ethic in Zanele. She learned from her mother empathy and understanding, but also the importance of enabling and nurturing others, qualities that have served her well as a leader. Zanele is the orchestrator of Essential Health’s supply chain, where she fosters excellence across the end-to-end supply chain, among many other responsibilities. Her top achievement was ensuring that a number of employees did not lose their jobs during the pandemic, and finding alternatives for those who were retrenched. Her sector actually improved production volumes and achieved record-breaking results. She learned a number of lessons from this experience, including realising how resilient she is and how powerful collaborations between the private sector, employees and communities can be. As a young black woman she says she had to work harder than her colleagues to be treated equally as a mechanical engineer. She’s not afraid to speak up against injustices that affect her or those whom she leads.


BIng Honours (Mechanical Engineering), University of Johannesburg
MBA (Cum Laude), University of Stellenbosch Business School
Government Certificate of Competency, Department of Labour


As site lead in the most disruptive period during and post pandemic, with the mandate to separate two business units and potentially retrench 33 employees at Unilever. Through partnerships, I mitigated forced retrenchments and we found alternatives for affected employees. They were the most productive years for the operation, with the highest engagement levels of employees.
We landed social outreach programs for surrounding communities, enabling jobs for locals through contingent labour and achieved record-breaking results. We improved production volumes by 15%, enabling R770 million in sales versus prior years, 6% improvement in manufacturing costs per tonne of production, 100% quality and achieving golden status in quality audits.
This was my greatest lesson in leadership, teaching me resilience, adaptability, empathy, collaboration, courage and the power of unity between the private sector, employees and communities.


We were raised by a single mother when our father passed away at a young age; I was 8. My mother has been and still is a powerful and positive role model. She taught me resilience and strength by overcoming challenges at work and at home. How she handled life’s challenges with determination to protect what matters most has been inspiring. She taught me how to handle multiple obstacles, leading to achievement. She continues to work even today, and has instilled a strong work ethic in me, demonstrating that I can reap rewards through hard work and commitment.

I’ve learned my sense of independence from my mother’s example, how to be responsible and self-sufficient and leading from the front. My mother completed her degree in her 50s, demonstrating the value of education, continuous development and lifelong learning.
I’ve also learned the importance of taking care of others, empathy and understanding, nurturing and enabling, and these are some of the ways in which I show up as a leader today.