Lihle Z Mtshali
Mankwane Chakela is passionate about beauty and has been since she was a skinny four-year-old running around the dusty streets of Sharpeville.
Chakela, the founder of a chain of hair and beauty salons in Johannesburg, would apply ash on her face; black shoe polish on her eyebrows and red floor polish on her lips as her own brands of make-up when she was young.
"My mother always tells me that she knew then that I would be a beauty queen," says Chakela.
Today, she is the founder and owner of Lé Looks Hair and Beauty, which has branches in Sandton City, Eastgate and Maponya Mall.
Lé Looks had a turnover of R5,5million last year, from just over R350000 in 2003 when the first salon opened its doors.
In the next two to three years Chakela is looking at franchising her beauty business and is working with the Industrial Development Corporation (IDC) to see this goal through. "I want to partner with my staff and give them the opportunity to own their own franchises," she says.
Fifty-year-old Chakela started her career as a schoolteacher in Sharpeville in 1979.
She says her teaching background has not left her and she still applies her old methods when she trains her staff.
Besides her loyal client base, Chakela grooms a lot of celebrities and politicians.
She counts among her clients musicians Sibongile Khumalo, Zamajobe and the Bala brothers.
Home Affairs Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula and her family also get buffed and coiffed at Lé Looks.
In 2007 Old Mutual Properties invited Chakela to open a branch in Maponya Mall and she says that was the highlight of her career and the recognition validated her hard work and sacrifices. "For them to actually invite me to go and operate there, without me applying was really fulfilling for me, spiritually and otherwise," she says.
Chakela says the biggest challenge facing businesswomen, and black ones in particular, is that many have not had proper training on how to run and manage their businesses successfully.
But, she says, organisations like the IDC have been put in place to give these women support.
It is important for women to work with each other, she says.