When you decide to make the leap

In 2002, with a daughter at a Technikon in faraway Pretoria, a helper’s salary for her young son, bond payments and the cost of travelling 100km daily to and from work in Butterworth, she was taking home R650. Fed up with her situation, she took action.


BD: How long have you been in business?

NM: I started in 2003, on my own so this year is my twelfth anniversary.

BD: What was it like getting started?

NM: It was not easy. In 2002, the Department of Public Works was looking to empower women by offering them training in the construction industry. When I heard this, I rushed off and bought a shelf company so that I could qualify and then attended the course. We received training in bricklaying, carpentry, plumbing, painting and plastering. I finished the course on 17 December 2002 and started the business in January 2003! My first job was renovating Grey Hospital through Public Works. The brief was to paint the maternity ward.

BD: How did it go?

NM: It was not easy because I did not have enough money. I had to borrow money from a money lender in town to buy material and to pay the workers; I borrowed R5000 at 20% interest! I had no choice but to take it. I finished the job in time and the client was happy. After paying the money lender, I saved the rest for the next job. I did not want to borrow again. After that I grew.

BD: Have you ever faced discrimination?

NM: Sometimes you face it as a woman. People tend to undermine you as a female, especially when I was starting off. Worse, I did not have a car. I used to catch a taxi to go to site, carrying the wheel barrows and other equipment in the taxi! Today, I own six bakkies, 3 trucks and a TLB which I bought through DTI and I would like to publicly thank them for this. I employ 12 permanent staff and about 110 on contract.

BD: Where do you draw your staff from?

NM: In my industry, you support the local community wherever you are doing a job. It helps us to create skills and jobs in the process helping to alleviate poverty.

BD: Thereafter?

NM: My second job was a fencing project for the department of agriculture but the most difficult job thus far was a conference centre for the department of tourism through COEGA in Craddock. It was a R6,5 million rand job and it took me a little over 9 months to complete.  Another difficult job was the renovation of the Grahamstown Magistrates court for the Department of Justice. There have been a lot of other jobs and I have just finished a multi-purpose centre for DUTYWA in Idutywa for Social Development through Public Works. This was a R10 million job.

BD: Where were you born?

NM: I was born in the rural area of Tsolo in the Eastern Cape and went to school to Saint Cuthberts Senior Secondary School, an Anglican Church school.

BD: After school?

NM: After matric, I did a six month typing course and was then employed by the Department of Foreign Affairs and was placed in Johannesburg for five years from 1984 to 1989. It was difficult for us to get our kids in to white schools. They wanted us to take our kids to the townships and this was during the riots. I returned to the Eastern Cape after my tour of duty until 1994 after which I went to Department of Education doing the same job.

BD: What made you leave what would be considered a stable job?

NM: It is about taking risks. I was just taking a risk. People say you are secure when you work for government. You have a pension and all that but everything is about taking a risk as far as I am concerned and look at where I am now. That is my philosophy.

BD: Family?

NM: I have two children. My daughter Vuyiswa works in the media in Johannesburg and my son Vuyisanani is in Grade 11 in Grahamstown.

BD: Why did you choose similar names?

NM: I was happy when I had the kids because that is what I had wanted so I gave them names that denote happiness and celebration.

BD: Do you have any advice for single mums today?

NM: It is not about being married so that you can afford to make ends meet. Even if you are single, you can do it. It is all about hard work and commitment because without these, there is little you can do. I acknowledge though that not everyone has the same character. I have tried to help many other female contractors but not everyone is cut out for this.

BD: So where do you get it from?

NM: My grandmother is the one who taught me to work hard. My dad died when I was 11 and I was the first born child. She taught me to be on my own. There was no grandfather, because she was widowed so she gave me a good example. Without her, I wouldn’t be where I am. She died in 1986.

BD: Have you engaged in succession planning?

NM: My daughter is charting her own path and has a production company in Johannesburg. I can train her but she is fairly set in her determination. She comes here to East London every holiday and shows interest in the sites and whenever I have finished a project I send her pictures. I will train my son and see how we go with him.

BD: What is your involvement in the Accelerated Schools Infrastructure Delivery Initiative (ASIDI)?

NM: I have built four schools for the programme in the Eastern Cape, two through implementing agents Coega and the other two through DTI.

BD: Where do you see your business in five years’ time?

NM: You see, I have managed to get to a CIDB (Construction Industry Development Board) ranking of Grade 6 GBPE. This means I can also bid for Grade 7 jobs. So in five years, I see myself competing with large contractors and mixing with the big guys! I also want to own a plant. I do not want to hire equipment anymore as this takes away a huge amount of profits. I am making progress in this regard and thankfully have my own TLB through DTI and want to publicly thank them for this.

BD: Is there room for more women in this business?

NM: Of course! Tell you what; the reason we do not grow is we tend to take the money from the first job and spend it on personal things. I ploughed back every cent in to the business and once you do that, you can take off as a woman. Always tell yourself this is business money. It is not mine.

BD: Give us an example.

NM: Now that I have a higher CIDB grade people wonder why I do not drive a luxury car but I make sure that I buy something like a bakkie because I can use it in the business.

Nobesuthu Matomane can be contacted on 043 685 2026 or 0833606496 and email nobesuthu.m@vodamail.co.za

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