SA construction sisters are doing it for themselves
Despite more than 25 years of progress, South Africa’s key economic sectors largely remain a man’s world. Take construction, where only one in ten professionals is female. However, there are glimmers of hope. Across the country, women are digging deep to change the landscape. Thandeka Nombanjinji-Nzama from Soweto is one of them. Besides realising residential, civil and commercial developments worth millions of rands, she is steadily building a new gender narrative for the construction industry.
Thanks to the influence of her entrepreneurial parents, starting her own business has always featured on Nombanjinji-Nzama’s agenda. Her late father and property developer, Ligwa Nombanjinji, has been especially instrumental in this.
Whilst gender roles weren’t an issue at home, Nombanjinji-Nzama soon realised this didn’t apply to the rest of society. “When I worked as a construction intern, I realised how very few women, especially women of colour, worked in the sector, let alone heading up these building companies,” the 38-year-old recalls.
Her statements correspond with the Construction Industry Development Board’s quarterly report in October 2018, which shows that only 11% of all construction professionals are female. This figure is even lower when looking at women of colour, especially in leadership roles.
“People judged me based on my gender, assuming I would fail because I am a woman. It didn’t take long before I decided I wanted to make construction more diverse and inclusive, and fight the patriarchal challenges female construction professionals face. I knew I had to do this from the inside out, meaning I had to start my own business,” she says.
In 2008 this led to the launch of Mbokodo Building, a 100% female-led and -owned general and civil engineering company that has realised R200 million worth of projects. In the meantime, the company is working hard to fulfil its gender gap mandate, which revolves around the training, empowering, upskilling and employing of women in the sector and helping them to excel. So far, more than 80 women have been given work opportunities, with more on the cards as the company grows.
“Look, the time to talk is over. We have spoken about gender inequality for decades. It is time for us to walk the talk,” Nombanjinji-Nzama says, noting that empowering women and getting them working is not just beneficial for women and their families, but also for the country as a whole. “As Michelle Obama once said: ‘No country can ever truly flourish if it stifles the potential of its women and deprives itself of the contributions of half of its citizens.”