Johannesburg - In December 2018, businesswoman Pamela Niemand gave her domestic worker of more than 15 years a gift she will never forget, a furnished three bedroom brick and mortar home built at the new Riverside development.
The gift was a reward for Viola Mkhwanazi and her two children for all she has done for the Niemand family.
The Mkhwanazi family of three had been staying in a single room shack until the Niemand family gave the unforgettable Christmas present.
“Life is so much better now, I have my own bedroom and the kids have their own space and they can play at a safe park, life is just so much better now,” said Mkhwanazi during an interview at Niemand’s Bryanston house this week.
Niemand, who is 39, said Mkhwanazi had been with her since she arrived in Johannesburg almost 20 years ago.
“Viola is part of my family, she came before my husband (Jonathan) and my daughter (Giselle),” said Niemand smiling.
“Viola started working for me on a one day basis 17 years ago, that was before Gisella, before my husband. I grew up extremely poor, so Viola has seen me as a youngster with nothing, but with ambition.
“She has seen me grow through the years and she has seen how I achieved my success in life. I think for a person like Viola that has been with you through this journey, she is part of your success, she is part of your life everyday.
“Her contribution to my life has contributed to my success, and that is why I thought the best way to reward a person is to gift her and her family with a home,” said Niemand.
Niemand said she grew up in a small farm just outside Pretoria and used to milk cows growing up. As a teen she would work at a supermarket on weekends and during school holidays, earning R5 per hour.
After completing school she never went to university, but she got work as an actress on Egoli and later worked at the Waldorf in Rivonia, where her first venture into apartment hotels would start.
Niemand, who has thrived in the hospitality sector, especially in the hotel apartments space, made her fortune through the success of brands such as the Capital Hotel Group and Executive Suites Group - where she held sizable shares in the businesses.
She has since sold her shareholding in both companies, and is now focused on Enigma Hotel Apartments in Sandton as chief executive, and pristine developments with Grand Hospitality Management.
But Niemand said for all her success in business, she was also proud of breaking the stigma about beauty pageants being for dumb blonde beauty queens.
In 2018, she was crowned as Mrs Johannesburg and is currently Mrs Mzantzi Afrika for 2019 and a nominee in the Women of the Year awards last year.
Niemand said since she was crowned, other businesswomen felt comfortable entering pageants and said the stigma had been broken, saying blonde business bombshells can also thrive in pageantry and make a meaningful impact in people’s lives.
“I’ve always wanted to make an impact, especially in people’s lives. As a business you make donations every year, you choose a few charities and you transfer the money but you don’t know where the money is going, you don’t really have that side of involvement.
“I tried to get involved in charity from that side and it wasn’t simple, until I got involved with Role Models Foundation who host (a number of pageants).
“The pageant world used to be seen as sort of a dumb blonde beauty contest where it was more about beauty and not brains. So I said to my husband, as a businesswoman I will set the trend where businesswomen can feel comfortable entering pageants to make a difference in our society,” she said.
Since joining the pageant world and working closely with the Role Models Foundation, she has worked closely with other organisations such as Imfundo Educare Centre, who are based in Diepsloot amongst other places.
Part of the work they do is to provide assistance to the poor, including donating clothes, blankets, pillows, food and other aid.
“We also do women empowerment programmes in townships,” she said, adding that three ladies who attended one of the programmes were in the process of starting their own hardware after getting funding from a local pastor.
“We empower women to start their own businesses. All of them have different passion, if you have passion you will do good with it. When I go do the empower, its a whole day session and we communicate on WhatsApp group chats later.
“I always remind the ladies that they have greatness within them and they are worthy, because many have inclination to be great, but no belief. I motivate them to believe in themselves and we have discussions about being the best authentic version of yourself,” she said.
Niemand said for South Africa to confront its devastating jobs and unemployment war, it needed more entrepreneurs and people who would be self-starters.
“Every person has a gift or a talent, we need those talents to make society function. We all fit into a place in society and in the economy, it is important for us to find that fit.
“(In the hospitality sector) most businesses were led by men, I have changed that scope as a woman by starting all these businesses... So I definitely think that as a woman in business, I have definitely made a change in women being in business positions and creating a career path and inspiration to other women. We need to stand tall for our kids, the youth and show them that we can,” she said.