Celebrating Women’s Month. Women in the Pelagic industry. Mary-Anne Wakefield.
Mary-Anne Wakefield was born into a family of business trend-setters, with her parents being the pioneers for people of colour to enter the Pelagic Fishing Fraternity and become rights holders. This dynamic entrepreneur, culinary genius, art lover, expert gardener and social media wizard has always envisioned herself as a successful restaurant owner – little did she know that she would in fact become one of the leading ladies in “Fish”.
Mary-Anne obtained her diploma in Food Service Management, as well as her B-tech in Business Administration at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology (“CPUT”), and subsequent thereto, registered to study her M-tech in business. This was done with the intention of expanding her business knowledge, as she continues making a valiant effort to amplify her skills set in every aspect, through persistent learning. She has recently completed a course in commercial law, as well as a digital media course. Mary-Anne also travelled and worked in the United States of America as part of her business transitioning journey. Yet just when she thought her life was headed in the direction that she had always dreamed of, she was asked to join the family business. In hindsight, this can certainly be regarded as the point where Mary-Anne unconsciously stepped into her destiny.
The year 2007 was a dreadful and burdensome one for the Williams family; It was the year that Diana Williams was diagnosed with cancer. With the sudden intrusion of her mom’s illness, Mary-Anne was forced to de-register from her M-tech to step up and endeavour to fulfil her mom’s role in the family business. These were with certainty large shoes to fill, given all the roles that Diana played both inside and outside of the family business. Diana is the co-founder of Cape Pilchard Pioneer CC (“CPP”) and found herself on the board of several organizations, including the renowned South African Pelagic and Fishing Industry and Association (“SAPFIA”).
Alone, practically inexperienced, but having been groomed through attending certain meetings alongside Diana, and entangled in a predominantly male dominated industry, Mary-Anne’s failure seemed inevitable and was anticipated by many. However, in defiance of the shadow of darkness bestowed upon the young Mary-Anne at the time; she gathered the courage, took a leap of faith and unabatedly ventured through the cross-fires of the unknown. Despite the daunting challenges that she has faced and continues to face, this young business icon has proved that her presence has power and has earned the respect that she rightfully deserves. Mary-Anne has proven herself capable and filled these roles with such grace, that she has been labelled as “Little Diana”.
12 “roller-coaster” years later and Mary-Anne has audaciously stepped into her purpose as an active executive member of CPP. Mary-Anne calls herself “the face” of the company, which speaks volumes of her modest personae. In reality, Mary-Anne is the life and essence of the business, being at the front-line of all business operations, negotiations and transactions. Mary-Anne has since flourished in her role as executive committee member of SAPFIA and has been actively involved in several exciting projects. Despite her fierce and tough business exterior, Mary-Anne is a devoted philanthropist, who has invested herself selflessly in community outreach and development programmes. For this natural care-giver, community work extends far beyond a contribution of mere resources, which is why she has invested her time, physical effort and energy into the upliftment of her community. Amongst others, Mary-Anne has had the pleasure of being involved in affording scholars an opportunity to pursue tertiary education by providing them with full bursaries.
In addition to her work within the organization, Mary-Anne premises herself on being a positive influence within the cancer community. She has been a board member of the St Luke’s Hospice (“St Luke’s”) Grassy Park Branch since 2013, and later obtained a seat on the board of St Luke’s Combined Hospices at the Head Office at the Kenilworth branch, as a result of to her great work and active involvement during her time in service. However, in 2017 Mary-Anne traded her seat as board member at the Head Office and in 2018 at St Luke’s Grassy Park, for that of volunteer instead. She needed to take this step as a means of balancing her time efficiently between her community work, while simultaneously occupying a demanding business role.
Mary-Anne attributes her success to her Mom, who raised her to be an independent woman that follows her own truths and never allows herself to be defeated by anyone who doesn’t believe in her as much as she believes in herself. Notably so, I had the pleasure of meeting and engaging with the wonderful Diana Williams and it must have been one of the most illuminating encounters that I have experienced. A real lady embodying the kind of strength that can only be gathered through hard-work and perseverance. A true personification of the term ‘Survivor’. From enduring the realities of apartheid, to advocating for women and setting the mark in paving the way for women in the fishing fraternity, to being a coloured female on the Boards of male dominated organizations, and most importantly, a victorious warrior in her battle against cancer. It certainly is no mystery why Mary-Anne calls her mom her Role Model. Mary-Anne has had “business blood” flowing through her veins since the very beginning. Ever since childhood this business powerhouse was adamant to sell any and everything that she possibly could. Her business skills were evident in the stories told by her and her mom. Amongst others, the best were tales of how she had charged her friends R1 per hour to use her computer during her childhood years, and she didn’t stop at just that. Mary-Anne recalls charging her sister’s friends R10 to watch a movie at their house and according to this business fundi, the cover charge went towards “electricity”.
Safe to say that “Business Woman”, was always the path to be strutted by this vivacious entrepreneur. Mary-Anne is proof that some storms don’t come to disrupt your life, instead, they come to clear your path. So, in-spite of the dream in her heart and her hunger to create art through food, Mary-Anne was “forced” to take her life in the direction of the family business. Instead of being the Chef she always envisioned herself to be, she stepped up and into her destiny and embarked on the journey that she was always meant to be on.Despite increased participation opportunities for women in and entering the fishing fraternity, and the business world in general, women are still under-represented and under-estimated in many ways. Mary- Anne says that her experience has taught her that you still have to be deliberate and intentional in your actions to truly be heard. She encourages women, especially young ladies, to develop a “thick skin” and be strong in all that they do. To never take no for an answer about something that they are passionate about. To exhibit external confidence even when they are having internal anxiety. And most importantly, to keep pushing in-spite of the opposing current.
“Because you’re a woman in a “man’s world”, you’re already under-estimated and not seen as knowing what “they” know, so you have to be strong and confident in all your actions – don’t be sensitive!” – Mary- Anne Wakefield
Now that the Minister has done away with the Fisheries Transformation Council and has reissued a call for nominations for a Consolatory Advisory Forum (CAF), she hopes to be nominated and obtain a seat on CAF. It goes without saying that Mary-Anne certainly would be a great candidate for this role, considering that she is knowledgeable about the Pelagic Industry, she is female in the industry and she would be able to give valuable contribution from small businesses in the Fishing Industry.