Ntombenhle Khathwane is a 2019 finalist of the WE Empower United Nations Sustainable Development Goals challenge and an innovative entrepreneur that empowers African women through her natural cosmetic brand and positive marketing. In the following article, WE Empower Intern Jordan Leiter highlights Khathwane, her business AfroBotanics and shows how they promote gender equality and other sustainable development goals.
Khathwane is the founder and co-owner of AfroBotanics, a business that manufactures and sells natural cosmetic brands made with African botanical ingredients. One of the company’s product lines is called “Buntu”, a word derived from the age-old African philosophy of “Ubuntu” made popular by global icons like Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Ubuntu is about honoring the humanity in each other and recognizing that we are all equal just because we are all human. The literal translation of the word is: “I am because You are.” Khathwane states that she “hopes to take this philosophy to the world in order to contribute to healing the world and for the world to see Africa differently”.
The mission of AfroBotanics is to empower rural African women and retell, reimagine and reposition the African identity by producing high quality consumer products created with sustainably sourced African ingredients. Khathwane believes that “women’s empowerment towards gender equality has to be both about reminding and re-educating women that they are worthy; our cultural, traditional and religious norms cannot take away our humanity; and women’s empowerment towards gender equality has to be about giving women access to educational and economic opportunities.”
Khathwane not only empowers women through her positive messaging to young girls via products and marketing, she also empowers them through her purchase from rural cooperatives that support over 800 women to make a living. Buying from them allows these women to be self-sufficient and support themselves and their family members. At its core, AfroBotanics celebrates African women, African history and African wisdom.
When asked directly about how her sustainable business supports gender equality, Khathwane said:
“Whilst my business empowers mainly rural women through our supply chain, I find that the real gender equality gap is in changing mindsets. That is how I understand my business to really be a ‘beauty for purpose’ natural cosmetics manufacturer and retailer. I was born in Swaziland, the last Absolute Monarchy on the African continent and I am now South African, so I know what it is like to not be free as a result of my color and my gender as well as class. The brands I develop and how we market them speak directly to the liberation and empowerment of women.
"When we say our tagline for AfroBotanics is ‘My Own Kind Of Beautiful’ or for Girl Boss South Africa ‘My World My Rules,’ we think it goes beyond challenging standards of beauty that would ordinarily say all African women with our brown skins and coils hair are ugly. It is about each and every woman asserting and owning her individuality as a daughter to her parents, to her husband or partner, in the work place, as a leader, as a member of society. We have a mindset issue in Africa that was described by the late South African Freedom Fighter and Activist Winnie Madikizela-Mandela when she said, ‘Women are the first defenders of patriarchy.’”
Khathwane is directly challenging these outdated mindsets not just in Africa, but globally. AfroBotanics is the ultimate multitasker, empowering girls and women to feel good in their own skin, all while supporting healthy ecosystems, gender equality, and international partnerships.