WOMEN have historically battled to establish themselves in a male-dominated engineering industry, having to exert themselves harder to claim their deserved place in the sector.
Port Elizabeth-based Kagiso Mchunu is one of a select group of women pushing the envelope and making waves in the Eastern Cape engineering industry.
The Pretoria-born mother of two studied mechatronics at the Tshwane University of Technology (TUT), and worked as a student assistant at the university’s chemical workshop before she joined Volkswagen in Port Elizabeth.
In 2014 Kagiso resigned to work at Siyalungisa Engineering Consulting as an engineering manager- but the company was liquidated in November that year and by 2015, Kagiso found herself unemployed. This was the push factor which led her down the entrepreneurial path.
She had already registered a business that she used for tenders but lay dormant because of her demanding work schedule. Finding clientele was not an issue as she had already established a relationship with some of her previous employer’s clients and offered the same services. After she was retrenched, she took some of the best of the Siyalungisa staff to work for her. Lebenyane Trading had clients before they had premises to operate from.
“Business was something that I knew I would end up doing from a very young age. Opening a business in petroleum and engineering was something I had always had a passion for. It’s a passion moulded when I was still a student at the Tswane University of Technology and my husband had always pushed me to start my own business.
“This meant I had to dispose of some of my assets including my home in order to kick-start the business. Although we now had a workshop and the work was coming in, the business needed equipment and material to do the work. I approached the ECDC and I was approved for an R941 000 loan which helped the company get the needed materials and pay the salaries of staff,” says Kagiso.
Lebenyane Trading now works with clients such as Transnet refurbishing diesel tanks by cleaning and maintaining the pumps. Although their core business is the refurbishing of diesel tanks, they also do air-conditioning installations, wastewater pumps (install and refurbish) and steel structures that they install and manufacture in-house.
ECDC account manager Wayne Mahoney says Lebenyane Trading is an example of resilient Eastern Cape small businesses who continue to thrive in a tough economic environment.
“This is an indication that the business has the fundamentals in place. ECDC’s impact is real when its interventions lead to the development of sustainable and competitive entrepreneurs such as Lebenyane,” says Mahoney.
Mahoney says ECDC also places special focus on the development and support of youth-owned and women-owned enterprises.
“Although businesses have been closing down all around us, we have kept afloat and are growing steadily in a very challenging economic and operating environment,” says Kagiso.