No glass ceiling for construction trailblazer
JOHANNESBURG - A young entrepreneur has gone into construction because she is passionate about building.
The Soweto-born businesswoman Feziwe Mpaku is slowly making her mark in an industry that is dominated by men. Mpaku, 30, is the founding managing director and project manager of the 100 percent black women-owned Independent Girls Business Enterprise (IGBE), a general building, mechanical and civil works company.
She says her fortunes changed after 1994 when a new Constitution recognised the rights of all citizens.
With it black economic empowerment (BEE) and women emancipation became a reality.
Mpaku says she is a proud beneficiary of the country’s national reform process.
“I missed some opportunities because I am a woman,” she says, “but I continue to strive.”
In August 2017 Statistics South Africa reported that though women comprised 51 percent of the population, they remain relatively underrepresented in positions of authority and power.
Other recent reports on women empowerment, including the United Nations Development Programme, paint a similar picture of women being worst affected by economic inequality.
Mpaku says that is why the country needs more transformation, and not only on paper. “Opportunities have to be given to not only young people but females,” she says. “Not this one-person shines gimmick but as a collective. This country needs us working together for it to be better.”
She says the most important aspect for her is people.
“My kind of success is when everyone wins and achieves,” Mpaku says. “The ability to help people grow and become the best versions of themselves. Being able to afford
someone else an opportunity to better themselves and their family’s life.”
The Soweto-born businesswoman Feziwe Mpaku is slowly making her mark in an industry that is dominated by men.
She is a firm believer in President Cyril Ramaphosa’s Thuma Mina message. “I want the president to start really being deliberate in the transformation of placing women in the relevant offices and opportunities given to women to be implemented,” Mpaku says.
“BEE or women empowerment has a role in society in terms of equality. Those who are mandated in order to bridge the gap and truly give people a platform to work,” she says, not sounding particularly positive about the effectiveness of empowerment policies over the last 25 yeas of democracy.
She describes her approach in construction as diversification, adding that one of her strengths is her involvement in youth development.
Recently she hosted a Youth Day event in Olievenhoutbosch, a township established in the 1990s in Centurion, Gauteng.
“That resulted in the same youth being granted bursaries, training that could help them in their future endeavours,” she adds. “I have nieces and my wish for them is that they fully develop into who they were meant to be in a country that gives them a platform to shine without shame or favour.”
Mpaku says she comes from a family that has always been in business. This, she argues, has taught her a big attribute to succeed in the business – the ability to allow different influences to shape her through listening. “In primary I sold ice and in high school I sold sweets.
“Later on I had a hair salon business that failed dismally. Though I must say my passion has always been project management and infrastructure development.”
Mpaku says to her, business is another way to achieve the betterment of humankind.
She says business is about people and therefore it should be conducted to improve the quality of life for communities in which the businesses operate.
“Growing up ekasi you know the importance of what a good home brings in society, the dignity that one gets by just having a good house and that, for me, has always been my driving force and passion, to bring dignity to our people and moreover to be able to give people comfort,” Mpaku says.
She is not drifting. She has a vision. “I did a vision board in 2014. To this day, I still reflect on it. Most of the milestones there are still being achieved,” she says.
Her company, which has worked with Aveng Grinaker LTA and the Gauteng Department of Health and has renovated private homes, is a member of South African Women in Construction, a Section 21 company founded in 1999 to empower women to gain access to business opportunities, training, finance and networks in the construction industry.
She sees herself as a success in an industry that is currently facing a slump with 140 000 jobs already lost, though government has recently announced a R100 billion infrastructure fund which will likely benefit companies like hers.
Workers prepare beams for construction platforms at the under-construction large-scale crude oil storage and blending facility, operated by Hamburg-based Oiltanking GmbH and local companyMOGSOil & Gas Services, in Saldanha Bay, outside Cape Town, South Africa on Friday, Feb. 15, 2019. What started as a strategic oil storage for South Africa during apartheid is now gearing up to attract the biggest traders as it turns into a global center for crude. Photographer: Waldo Swiegers/Bloomberg
Mpaku is also a consulting business coach. In this line of work, in collaboration with the University of Johannesburg, she helps entrepreneurs with the ideation process, business etiquette, business development principles and how to achieve their goals and vision.
An occasional public speaker, Mpaku says her mother used to incentivise them to do better by promising to buy her and her twin sister chewing gum.
“This made me realise that in life if you want great things, you have to work hard because anything less will be mediocre,” she says.
“I have the most supportive family structure rooted in faith and very open minded. What I love and have learnt from them is the power of resilience.”
A devout Christian, Mpaku says she reads different kinds of self-help books and biographies to learn from others.
She says her next big target is to grow IGBE into an international construction giant.
“I have two countries I have always wanted to visit – China and Germany,” she says. “There’s great knowledge to be learnt from these countries’ culture, technology, design and engineering.”