Thinking about the construction industry in Africa could well bring images of bricks, cement and men in overalls and hard hats to mind. In an industry that is largely male dominated and characterised by stiff competition, the story of Faith Tshepiso Mabena is all the more inspiring, proving that dreams and passions cannot be dampened or discriminated against.
Mabena is an award-winning businesswoman and trailblazer in the Western Cape construction industry, whose efforts are being recognised during Women’s Month in South Africa.
Born and raised in Soshanguve, Pretoria, Mabena and her family were quite nomadic before they settled in Midrand. Her mother was a determined single parent, who treated her children equally and various household chores knew no gender. As a result, she says her brother is an exceptional cook and she feels at ease about working in construction.
Mabena obtained a BCom in Marketing from the University of South Africa (UNISA) in 2009. In addition, she completed a National Home Builders Registration Council (NHBRC) Women Empowerment Programme through the Gordon Institute for Business Science; an eight-month course in Project and Financial Management, Entrepreneurship, Legislation and Technical acumen at the Eskom Contractor Academy and finally, an Entrepreneurship and SME Growth Strategy course via the University of the Western Cape which was sponsored by the MBA Western Cape. It is clear that her journey into the construction industry was not a linear path.
Mabena did not start off in the construction industry. “When I completed matric, I had to start working due to financial constraints. My first job was as a receptionist, before I was promoted to customer service representative and then account manager. I then moved to Cape Town in a marketing director role before quitting to start my own business.”
The construction industry “found” Mabena in 2014 after a few failed business ventures and she ‘stumbled’ into construction by chance and has never looked back. Her company – Nokhanya Services – employs 20 permanent team members and creates jobs for hundreds more people when her projects are in the construction phase. The business has completed numerous projects such as the subsidised Infill Development of 450 units in Mfuleni, Bardale, which was awarded in 2015.
Having recently been promoted to a full member of the Master Builders’ Association in the Western Cape, Mabena says she is now part of an organisation whose members are encouraged to work to the highest possible standards – aesthetically, technically and ethically at all times.
She says being a contractor in a male-dominated industry hasn’t been easy. “It takes a lot of hard work and dedication and I’ve had to prove myself every step of the way. That said, I believe women are just as capable of operating in the construction industry as men. We are good at inspiring people. We are observant, pay attention to detail and communicate well. And finally, we are patient and know how to multitask.”
She suggests that young women not be daunted by entering the construction industry. “Unless we do something about it, the industry won’t change. We are the game changers and while this is not an easy journey, it is worth it. The key to succeeding is being relentless. The difference we can make in the industry is immense. Just remember: anything is possible, the impossible just takes longer.”
With women who are brave and willing enough to be the change that they want to see in the world, Mabena has shown that there is space for women in construction. All that needs to happen is for women to lay the first brick themselves.