At just 37 years old, Linda Mabhena has become a trailblazer in changing the landscape of renewable energy in South Africa, with her independently owned wind farm powering over 160,000 households.
“I enjoy it,” she says, “It’s legacy building for our continent, for our people.”
Linda’s interest in renewable energy began at an early age when she noticed the disparity of Africa’s wealth compared to the Western world, despite its abundance of resources.
“When I was younger, I picked up a map of Africa and saw all the natural resources across the continent and I wondered to myself why we ranked as one of the poorest continents in the world when we had all these natural resources from gold to oil.”
While studying International Commercial Law at The University of Aberdeen, Linda took a part time job at Aberdeen City Council.
It was here that she was noticed by the CEO of a team that was developing Aberdeen’s first offshore windfarm.
“When they had board meetings I’d always give input and the CEO took an interest in me, took me under her wing and taught me about renewable energy,” she recalls.
“That wind farm was actually the one Donald Trump was challenging because he was building a golf course in Aberdeen.”
While dipping her toe into the world of renewable energy, Linda couldn’t help but think about how her home country could be making use of these resources too.
“South Africa was having rolling blackouts and I didn’t understand why we were not using renewable energy as a source of energy. We have a lot of sun, the coastal towns have a lot of wind so we had the natural resources to make it happen,” she says.
Linda soon began to research South Africa’s laws on renewable energy to see how she could turn her thoughts into reality.
With her legal training and entrepreneurial mindset, she formed DLO Energy in 2011 – which is 1 of 2 Black women-owned independent power developers in South Africa.
“At the time, South Africa was running an auction where government was procuring electricity from renewable energy source so, we put in a bid and we were not successful first time around and it was devastating,” she recalls.
“You spend a lot of money and time and effort bidding. I literally sold everything I had in my name and borrowed.”
Fortunately for Linda and her team, they were successful in the next bidding round and began work on one of South Africa’s largest windfarms.
She is showing no sign of slowing down as DLO has grown to a 60 person team with an in-house engineering and technology firm to help develop projects.
Since venturing into renewable energy, Linda has been featured on Oprah’s Power List and the Best Emerging Entrepreneur by Forbes Women Africa.
“The recognition is great because I know I didn’t have people to look up to when I was starting out in the sector 14 years ago,” she states.
“For me the real win is seeing a lot more women like me being inspired by that and coming up because I honestly believe that the sector wins with more Black women being involved.”
Throughout her career, Linda has occupied spaces traditionally reserved for white men. In sub-Saharan Africa, only 30% of women in higher education move into STEM-related fields.
However, last month the South African president announced that private companies can now generate power for large scale users and Linda thinks this is will be a great opportunity for budding Black entrepreneurs.
“This is a huge thing for an African leader to do,” she says.
“Governments overseas have research development budgets just for people to play and make mistakes and sometimes they lose that money and sometimes that money comes back in the form of a new and crazy invention.”
For Linda, the future of renewable energy looks bright as South African leaders are beginning to see the importance of research as a vital part of economic development.
Her hope is that Black Africans, and particularly Black women to see that they can succeed in a space that they may not think is for them.
“The more audacious our dreams and the more ambitious and we become, the more of us begin to win across the board.”