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AC Pipeline Project Builds a Place for Women in Construction


For Lungisile Mabude, owner and contracts manager of Old Town Investments and winner of this year's National Construction Industry Development Board (CIDB) Awards for Women in Business, holidays, high heels and power suits are a no-no.

"When I get up, I don't think about wearing anything but my safety boots because I know I will be on site," says this Umlazi based businesswoman who climbs into her 4 x 4 every morning and heads out to the areas in Umlazi where her company is working.

Mabunde attributes her achievements - and the award which came with a R30 000 cheque and a trophy - to the Mentorship Programme that was put in place by the eThekwini Municipality to ensure that small contractors working on its R1,6 billion AC (Asbestos Cement) Pipeline Replacement Project between
2008 and 2010 grew and developed sustainable, viable businesses.

Monitored according to industry norms developed by the CIDB, the Mentorship Programme provided training on all aspects of business. Contractors involved applied to the CIDB for an upgrade once defined standards were reached. Three of the programme's participants were recognized during this year's CIDB Awards.

Mabunde said the mentorship programme had taken her from being a despondent teacher who could no longer bear the poor marks and bad attitudes of her Grade 12 learners to the head of a growing contracting company.

"I can't describe how wonderful winning this award makes me feel. I was over the moon as all my hard work had been recognized," she said shortly after receiving her award from then National Minister of Public Works, Gwen Mahlangu Nkabinde, at the SAX Arena in Centurion, Pretoria on August 31.

120 nominated businesses across all nine provinces were scrutinized by members of the CIDB and industry stakeholders. Companies had to be +51% women owned with CIDB registration. Company leaders were interviewed on various aspects including leadership vision, profitability, financial management and business growth and development.

Mabunde bought the shelf company Old Town Investments in 2001 and started activelyoperating in 2005. Graded CIDB 1CE/PEshe concentrated on small maintenance contracts for the eThekwini municipality. Having won tenders, she employed qualified artisans to complete the projects. "Gradually, as I gained experience, the municipality gave me more plumbing work. eThekwini Water and Sanitation (EWS) requires contractors to employ qualified people with the correct paper work. Where people did not have the right paper work, I made sure they did their trade tests and were certified."

At start up, Mabunde employed two plumbers and two labourers. Now, she has
22 permanent staff and 40 labourers. Initially, she worked from home but now has offices in Umlazi Industrial Park.She has bought second hand plant and owns a truck, tipper truck and excavator.

For her, the turning point was being awarded a contract by eThekwini Water & Sanitation to work on the AC Pipe Replacement Project. With a staff of 200 during this period, she developed her business to the point where it attained a top CIDB 5CE/PE rating. "This job took us so far. Our mentors even came to our homes to help us. They were there for us every step of the way and coached us on every aspect of running our businesses. They taught us to read drawings and complete certificates. Eventually, they suggested that we hired a shipping container and worked from that."

Philisiwe Mthethwa, who heads Abangani Projects and was placed second in the Category 1 - 4segment was also a beneficiary of the AC Pipeline Mentorship programme. (She received a certificate and a voucher for Incredible Connection and has bought a laptop.)

Abangani Projects started out in 2003 and had grown considerably by the time it was appointed as a sub-contractor on the AC Pipeline Project in 2008. Mthethwa started out studying civil engineering but dropped out when she fell pregnant. After her baby was born, she qualified as a plumber, travelling to and from work by taxi and walking long distances between taxi stops and construction sites. She registered with EWS in 2002 and tendered for maintenance contracts that covered small repairs such as burst pipes and sewer problems.

Along the way, she has learnt many hard lessons. "After our first big job, I managed to buy a second hand bakkie so that I could get around. At the beginning, I didn't know I needed insurance. However, whilst working, we damaged a cable and the claim was R24 000. I had no public liability insurance and so I had to pay off the R24 000 over 5 months. It wiped out all my profits. The mentorship training taught me what I needed in the way of insurance, health and safety as well as how to run my own business."

When Mthethwa started out, her staff comprised just herself and one labourer. She now has 15 permanent employees and 30 general labourers and employs a quantity surveyor to check contracts and prepare payments. She has risen to a CIDB level 4CE/PE rating."Every woman, no matter what age or colour can do it. You just need passion, dedication and willingness to learn
- oh, and lots of courage!"

AC Project Executive, Alan Kee, said all involved in the AC Pipeline Replacement Project were delighted that Old Town Investments and Abangani Projects had been recognized for their considerable achievements. "The AC Project provided a steady flow of work as well as access to a structured learning environment. The contractors involved have benefited from the expertise of larger contractors employed on the project as well as input from their mentors."

He said this initial mentorship mentorship project had not only equipped all of the 16 sub-contractors that worked on the project to tender for work on larger projects in the future but also paved the way for future mentorship programmes as part of large contracts awarded by the eThekwini municipality.

"We regard the development of emerging contracting businesses as a priority for eThekwini. Assisting them to move from subsistence to sustainability is the primary objective of the programme. Ultimately, building stable communities and generating income in previously disadvantaged areas is at the heart of our strategy," he explained.

Kee said an added advantage was that the eThekwini municipality could build resources for future projects. "Mentorship involves more than just coaching. Company managers must put new found knowledge and principles to the test in actual business situations. The most successful small contractors are those who have committed to the process and put in place sound business foundations, chief of which is a commitment to building a solid human resource base. Those who have applied themselves and participated fully in the programme are reaping the rewards of their work as Old Town Investments and Abangani Projects has shown," he said.

This information is circulated by Aurecon, Programme Managers, on behalf of eThekwini Water and Sanitation, Sanitation Project

For more information contact:

Evan Smith (Lead Project Manager) on 031 714 2554 or 083 635 8236

Distributed by Shirley Williams Communications 083 303 1663

AC Pipeline Project Builds a Place for Women in Construction

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