Reeva Forman

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Reeva Forman (born in Johannesburg, July 6, year unknown) is a South African businesswoman and managing director of Reeva Forman (Edms.) Bpk. (founded in 1974), a business manufacturing and marketing cosmetics. She has also made her name as a public speaker on topics such as management, marketing, motivation, personal development, and human relationships.


Forman was born in Johannesburg, the daughter of Joseph (Jo) and Cherry (née Hotz) Forman. Her mother was the daughter of Jewish immigrants to Cape Town and her father was from Johannesburg. Her grandparents emigrated in the 19th century from Lithuania or Latvia to South Africa with the outbreaks of the pogroms. Joseph was a pharmacist in Doornfontein, whose pharmacy, Sherwell Pharmacy, was located on 2 Sherwell Street, on the corner of Beit Street. The family of four (Forman had a brother who died of Parkinson's disease in 2017) lived in a two-room apartment above the pharmacy.

At the time of Forman's birth, Doornfontein was a predominantly Jewish area, but the exodus of Jews to the northern suburbs of Johannesburg had already begun. However, Forman described the neighborhood she grew up in as "beautiful." Both her parents worked full-time at the pharmacy, where her father became known as "the poor people's doctor," while her mother worked directly with customers. As Jews left, Doornfontein became a more cosmopolitan neighborhood, and her parents wound up selling to customers of all races. Forman remembers that all were treated equally. In the area at the time, political and racial discrimination lacked the foothold it had gained in other parts of South Africa. Her mother pointed out to her that anything was possible no matter one's circumstances, because "the Lord is good," but her father added: "provided you work hard."

At the age of 13, Forman began her career as a teen model as one of the first models for Habib van Fordsburg's saris. Shortly before the Sharpeville massacre of 1960, her parents borrowed money and built shops on either side of the pharmacy with a view toward renting them. After Sharpeville's detrimental effect on business confidence, the Formans struggled to rent out the stores. Eventually, they had to sell the property for a pittance. Her father regretted that he could not provide a good inheritance for his children, but Forman declared in a 2017 interview: "They gave us faith in ourselves, in the basic goodness of humanity, and om our ability to survive." For her, it was far more important than a large inheritance.

Forman first attended school at a convent near her house, but after enrolling, she finished her education at the Parktown Convent. She attended the Great Synagogue on Wolmarans Street, in Joubert Park.

Early career[edit]

After grade school, she earned a B.A. (Hons.) in psychology at the University of the Witwatersrand. A photographic model career in the United States of America beckoned, but she stayed in South Africa to become a motivational speaker, inspired by a seminar she attended there. At the time, she did such speaking at banks and other large companies in Johannesburg. One of the clients was an American cosmetics firm with overseas subsidiaries that offered marketing training. Therefore, in the mid-1970's, she left for a week-long avant-garde course on human development sponsored by the subsidiary in partnership with the University of California, Los Angeles. After her return, the American cosmetics company closed its South African subsidiary and asked her, as their marketer, whether she would like to take it over as her own independent firm. At the time, she already had a successful five-day motivation seminar.

She had long before registered the trademark Reeva, but only began using it to market perfume. At the end of the first year, she was selling two perfumes, and she gradually grew a range of offerings to supplement the dissolved company's products. By 1983, she had become a household name in South Africa, and the local subsidiary of Barclays Bank (now part of ABSA Group Limited) and the Public Relations Institute of South Africa (PRISA) jointly awarded her the title of Businesswoman of the Year. Hers was one of the first completely racially integrated firms in South Africa. Her motto at the time was what it is today: People are equal in potential if they have the will to succeed.

From 1985 to 1987, she was a member of the SABC board at the time that Riaan Eksteen was managing the broadcaster. She served with Mimi Coertse among others, but the SABC board was deemed too progressive for the government of the time, and after two years they were terminated. During a time of great, if short-lived, progress for the institution, she offered her five-day management course free for SABC employees.

Court case against Style[edit]

In the mid-1980's, Forman, already a reputable businessman, became famous for suing the magazine publisher Caxton over an article in the magazine Style that portrayed her business as a cult or pyramid scheme, jeopardizing the income of her 3,000 distributors. After a five-year-long court battle, she was awarded R1.35 million in damages, by the far the largest local award for libel in history. It would have been R2 million, but the High Court of South Africa did not wish to set a precedent for large awards on the American model.

Forman's business spent a fortune on legal costs, and at the end, her legal team (including members of diverse races and religions who would go on to prominent legal careers) cut costs so they could continue with the case. Afterwards, she admitted that she was idealistic and was not told that she had a small chance of winning the case. The free publicity and sympathy proved beneficial for Forman's business, but the distraction held it back on the other hand.


In 1991, Forman opened a new headquarters for Reeva Cosmetics, at 2 Sherborne Road, Parktown. Her firm by then turned a profit of R10 million and had 2,000 marketers working throughout South Africa. She paid R1 million for the office space, demolished the old building, and borrowed R4 million for the new building. The design was modeled on the headquarters of Benetton in Italy, a 15th-century villa she saw in a magazine. ZFormer, her architect Mike Henry and the Cape architect Louis Karol's Johannesburg cantor and contractor, Francesco Riviera, spent a memorable three days in Italy after she negotiated for a year with the Italian Ambassador to South Africa to visit the villa. They were granted a two-hour visit, but ultimately stayed eight hours. Karol was unprepared to build an "old-fashioned" structure, accustomed as he was to modern ones of steel, glass, and concrete.

During this time, she was less involved in marketing, and sales slowed. Distributors also left the business. In 1991, she borrowed a 10-year lease loan on the headquarters. The interest rate then was 14%, but would reach 26% by 1997. While she thought the interest rate would fall in the new South Africa, but the opposite proved true. Reeva had to pay for the costs out of profits, eating into the cash flow.

The building was auctioned off in 2000 to pay off the creditors, and after the new owners took over, they leased her the office space for R20,000 per month, which she sometimes paid late and often from her own money. Under a partner's guidance, sales dropped even further. In 2004, she approached her bank and bought the building back on the basis of her strong leasing record. She wrote that it was an "absolute gift from God" and "a miracle" that she got her building back. From then on, she would never again borrow money to build her business. A month later, an international firm offered to buy the building for three times the worth of the mortgage, but she refused to sell it to them. Shortly before, she had taken over marketing and begun addressing customers directly.[1] For many years, she has only used a small portion of the building, renting the rest to others, including the Helen Suzman Foundation and photographer Roger Ballen.

After losing her factory and going from 3,000 salespeople to only 20 of them, she retooled her business to concentrate on e-commerce. In 2017, her permanent staff included herself, her receptionist, her dispatch clerk, and her manager. Her products, developed by the leading scientists and beauticians in South Africa and Europe, were now contracted to another factory.

Chairwoman of Temple Israel[edit]

Although Forman had been raised an Orthodox Jew at the Great Synagogue on Wolmarans Street, her brother got married in the Temple Israel in Hillbrow, the first synagogue in South Africa affiliated with Reform Judaism. She later recalled in an interview: "It broke my heart (when I heard in 1994) that such an unbelievable Jewish site would be sold. Historical buildings that are part of our country's rich past should be preserved." In Temple Israel's case, it was for the sake of 70 impoverished Jews still living in the area.

Temple Israel had a long history of involvement in the wider community. Already in 1944, a group started a school in Alexandra Township which later was named M.C. Weiler Primary School after the synagogue's first rabbi. As Forman put it: "Outreach and caring about others are inherent in the very bricks of temple Israel." After Forman was appointed chairwoman of Temple Israel in 1994, the unused classrooms and hall alongside the synagogue shul were made available for community uplift projects during "ten of the most wonderful years" (according to Forman), until lack of space necessitated moving them to the old Hillbrow Children's Hospital. A nursery now rents the classrooms for a nominal fee, while a Christian church uses the synagogue for Sunday services, also for a nominal amount which Temple Israel contributes to offset.

On July 9, 2016, the Temple Israel Heritage Center was formally opened by former Public Protector of South Africa Thuli Madonsela with a speech on the center's motto: "Follow justice and justice alone, so that you may live and possess the land the Lord your God is giving you" (Deuteronomy 16:20. Former Johannesburg mayor Parks Tau toasted Hillbrow's Jewish pioneers as a model immigrant success story for those seeking a better life from elsewhere in the neighborhood today. Under Forman's plans, the center was to advocate for people's rights and dignity in the spirit of "humanitarian activism," in Forman's words, serving Jew and Gentile alike. She also noted the greatest threat to humanity in the 21st century to be "hatred of the other," including among others xenophobia, Islamophobia, and anti-Semitism.

Background: Temple Israel[edit]

Temple Israel is one of two Jewish houses of worship in the downtown and environs of Johannesburg - the other one is the Orthodox Jewish Doornfontein synagogue (known for its Lions Shul) - after others followed their congregation members to more pleasant neighborhoods, among others that of the Great Synagogue on Wolmarans Street. Temple Israel was opened as the first Reformed synagogue in South Africa in 1936[2], when the neighborhood was one of the more affluent ones in Johannesburg before the replacement of the homes there with cheap apartments. In the early 1980's, Indian, black, and Cape Coloured people began immigrating illegally to the then-designated "whites-only" area.

When the Group Areas Act was officially abolished, the area around Temple Israel was already pretty much all black. The white exodus from the inner suburbs led to Temple Israel closing in the early 1990's, but Forman intervened and prevented the sale of the historic building. In 2014, she said in an interview: "So long as Jews come to us, we must stay open. This is the true purpose of Judaism: to live our values by helping those in need." Due to the congregation's small numbers, they cannot afford a full-time rabbi, and it is difficult to convince Jews from the suburbs to come there and worship.[3]

Jewish community leader[edit]

Forman is sedert 1998 lid van die Suid-Afrikaanse Joodse Raad van Afgevaardigdes se Gautengse raad en nasionale uitvoerende raad, erelewensadjunkpresident van die Suid-Afrikaanse Sionistiese Federasie (SASF), waarby sy in 2002 aangesluit het, en lid van hul bestuurskomitee asook voorsitter van Israel Now Tour van die SASF.[4][5]

Forman has been a member of the South African Jewish Council of Delegates Gauteng chapter and National Executive Council, as well as the honorary president of the South African Zionist Federation (SAZF), which she joined in 2002, and a member and occasional chair of the management committee for the Israel Now Tours of the SAZF.[4][5]


  • Hayes, S.V. (ed.) 1998. Who's who of Southern Africa 1998. Johannesburg: Who's Who of Southern Africa.


  1. "Reeva, back behind the counter again". 13 August 2013. Retrieved 15 November 2017.
  2. "History of Temple Israel from their website". Retrieved 14 November 2017.
  3. ""The end of Jew-hannesburg?"". Retrieved 14 November 2017.
  4. ""Go-getter Reevas has always retained hatikvah"" (PDF). SA Jewish Report. 15–29 April 2011. Retrieved 15 November 2017.CS1 maint: Date format (link)
  5. "South African Union for Progressive Judaism". Retrieved 14 November 2017.

External links[edit]

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