Over the age of 60 and having no education didn’t stop this resilient businesswoman

Ellen Shabangu. Image: Supplied.

Ellen Shabangu. Image: Supplied.

Published Sep 21, 2023


At 66-years-old and having faced many hardships in life, Ellen Shabangu has overcome it all to run a successful engineering business and at the same time assist many other women in her home town.

Shabangu, who her peers describe as an embodiment of resilience and determination, founded Pitja Engineering in 2017 with the goal of challenging the male-dominated engineering field.

Shabangu told Business Report that through strategic collaboration with partner company U&L, Pitja Engineering has not only broken barriers but exceeded expectations.

She said her extensive leadership experience, nurtured through community involvement, had enabled her to guide the company with unwavering purpose.

The businesswoman’s efforts to combat youth crime and empower local women in agricultural projects has made her a champion in the Mapela mining community.

Her company offers various services in the mechanical engineering sector such as bucket repairs, hard face bucket, conveyor extensions, manufacturing of drive and tail end pulleys, manufacturing of chutes, pipework and general steel work.

Shabangu says she believes strongly in community upliftment.

“I have engaged various youth in crime awareness and contributed to the community as a whole,” she told Business Report.

She is affectionately known as Nkone by the Mapela mining community.

“I refused to venture into cosmetic and kitchen businesses historically reserved for females. I cracked the hard nut into the engineering world that is usually dominated by males,” Shabangu said.

Shabangu’s life story is one of hope and tenacity.

“I was born into a world of displacement due to mining, and I faced early struggles and was denied an education,” she said.

Despite tragedies, such as her husband’s death, she never gave up.

Instead, she founded Pitja Engineering, defying gender norms in a male-dominated industry.

“We had struggles with capital to buy engineering equipment, materials and general overheads because most of the equipment is quite expensive. Another challenge that we were faced with was securing new business from clients because the industry already has big players in it that are not shy to intimidate smaller players like us. It was particularly tough because there was also a lack of support from local businesses since we were new in the industry,” she said, talking about some of the challenges she faced in getting her business up and running.

Sharing some wisdom with up-and-coming entrepreneurs, she said, “Have confidence in your abilities and believe that you can excel in this field. Your gender should never be a barrier to your aspirations. Understand that challenges will come your way, but view them as opportunities to learn and grow. Perseverance is essential. Stay resilient in the face of adversity.”