Winning Women: Lady with a bright plan

2013-04-14 14:00

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Gugu Manzini lives a challenging and fulfilling life with a company that enables us to power our lives one watt at a time, writes Anelisa Ngewu.

Most of us don’t think twice before switching on lights or reaching for the kettle to make coffee. But Eskom subcontractor and company owner, Gugu Manzini, does.

She has made it her business to ensure that everyone, from small households to large industrial companies, has safe access to electricity.

Her business, Indanyane Traders, digs trenches and lays electricity conveying cables before connecting them to the main electricity distributing substation.

The softly spoken Eskom-approved quality controller, Manzini, is in blue overalls, a hard hat, safety boots, goggles and heavy-duty gloves as she oversees her teams on site.

She leaves nothing to chance “I insist that my staff maintain the highest levels of quality,” she says, adding that they cannot afford to make a mistake as lives are on the line if they do.

She’s hung posters detailing how to handle power safely all over the walls of her warehouse, which is about the size of two tennis courts.

It’s situated in a semi-industrial area just outside Germiston on Joburg’s East Rand.

Electrical construction is a far cry from the diploma in business software she obtained from the then Damelin Computer School, and the secretarial certificate she obtained from the Kelly Greenoaks Secretarial and Business College in the early 1990s.

Unable to get work thereafter but entrepreneurial by nature and spurred on by calls from the newly elected ANC government for black people to play a more active role in the economy, she registered a company, Indanyane Traders, in 1996.

Her only skills, apart from her courses, lay in the cooking and cleaning she had learnt while growing up.

So she began cleaning, landing her first contract in 1998 to do municipal offices in Sandton and Bryanston.

Her staff was initially only her husband Victor and her two younger sisters.

“We would stay up all night cleaning, while my elder daughter, Zamashesha, played with her infant sister, Zinhle,” she fondly recalls.

“Now when they stay up late studying, we joke that they couldn’t go to sleep early even if they tried because we took them along on those night shifts.”

Those little girls are now teenagers, in matric and Grade 11, respectively.

Manzini ran an efficient outfit and the company eventually employed 14 cleaning and 20 grass-cutting staff, signing up Alexander Forbes, then City Parks and other government departments as clients as they grew.

But, other entrepreneurs had the same idea. By 2009, there was such an abundance of similar enterprises flooding the cleaning market that it was not uncommon for close to 100 companies to bid for the same contract, she says.

Her electrician husband Victor and an associate of his had formed an electrical construction company, Cikela Electrical Contractors, in 2001.

She was a co-owner of Cikela and did the office administration, managed human resources and, additionally, made a point of learning all about their on-site electrical work.

By 2011, she felt confident enough about her knowledge of electricity to venture out on her own, and she registered as an Eskom service provider.

It enabled her to be selected for a leadership and development course that the utility offered in conjunction with the University of Limpopo.

She also opted for Eskom courses where she obtained technical training in subjects ranging from the safe use of electricity to working with high voltage systems.

Thus armed, and with the nine years of experience she had gained in dealing with the parastatal while working at Cikela, she changed the focus of her own company, Indanyane Traders, completely.

She began to function solely as an Eskom subcontractor.

“I really like challenges,” she says of her decision to drop the cleaning side of her business and to venture into the electricity field.

Her move was also motivated by her desire to find out exactly what she was capable of as a businesswoman.

A few months later she landed a three-year contract to install mini-substations, electrify Eskom clients and assist households to change to prepaid meters in central Gauteng.

Fairly soon after that, she applied to join the Goldman Sachs-Gibs 10?000 Women project.

She was thrilled to be accepted and last year her business plan was honoured with the Overall Business Plan Award.

Never in her wildest dreams could the little girl who grew up hoping to become a bank teller have imagined that.

She grew up helping her grandfather with his livestock and timber farm work, as well as planting vegetables and learning what hard work was all about, near the picturesque farming town of Estcourt in KwaZulu-Natal.

She also absorbed the rudiments of business from her mother and grandmother, helping them to sell vegetables and amasi (fermented milk) while she was in grade school.

Today she has ambitions to expand Indanyane by providing services for Eskom in other regions such as Pretoria, Bloemfontein and KwaZulu-Natal.

She also plans to work with telecommunications companies, and ultimately to focus on other markets in the Southern African Development Community as well as looking north to Uganda and Nigeria.

Last year, in addition to juggling work and home responsibilities, Manzini found the time to complete a diploma in ministry through the Rhema Training College.

When she wants to unwind, Manzini relishes taking her daughter out for “Sunday night specials” and they can choose the dinner spot.

She lives a challenging and fulfilling life with a company that enables us to power our lives one watt at a time.

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