Rejection made Kunene more determined

Khanyisile Nkosi

Khanyisile Nkosi

Businesswoman Nqobile Kunene is a perfect example of how a woman can turn her life around with the right mindset, assertiveness and determination.

Determined to join the "big boys" in the construction industry, Kunene quit her job as a personal assistant in 2005 and registered Ndilekaluzuko Construction.

With no experience and no money she taught herself all there is to know about the industry by attending bricklaying, plumbing and project management courses.

But her lucky stars did not immediately shine on her. Her applications for jobs were rejected and financial institutions turned her down because they believed she was a risk.

But the divorced mother of three did not lose hope. She persevered until her big break came in 2006. She was awarded an R8million project to build more than 300 houses in Gauteng.

Today she employs 70 permanent staff, which includes women managers, and conducts workshops to empower other women who want to get into the business.

Q: How difficult was it to start your business?

A: It was very difficult. I had no money or experience, only determination to realise my dream. I was not discouraged when people laughed when I said I wanted to become an entrepreneur.

The most difficult year was 2005. Government departments where I tendered for contracts did not take me seriously. I worked twice as hard to prove I could do the job better because I believed in myself.

I kept going back until they gave me sub-contract jobs. That was where I learnt more about the industry because I was always on site. When I didn't have money for petrol I walked to the site

Q: How did you fund the business?

A: I used all of my savings and borrowed money from my family. My mother complained and wanted me to go back to my old job and a regular income.

Q: Why did you choose construction?

A: I heard people say that there were very few women in construction because most women who had tried failed. I wanted to prove that women could do it.

Q: Are women-owned construction companies battling to secure big contracts. If so, how have you handled the situation?

A: In most instances women are undermined and financial institutions don't believe in us because they don't see us managing big projects. We have to work twice as hard to prove themselves. I got my current project because I proved myself.

Q: What are the challenges facing women in construction? How do you handle these challenges?

A: Women are just not taken seriously. I refused to allow rejection to shatter my dream of being a role player .

Q: What opportunities are there for women in construction?

A: There are many opportunities. With 2010 coming there are plenty of jobs available. We must take up the opportunities offered to us, not sit back and say we are marginalised and we can't do it.

Q: What are the common mistakes women make in this business?

A: Some women expect special favours. They must believe in themselves and do the right things.

Some women don't want to learn about the industry and let men run their projects while they sit at home.

Q: What qualities are needed to succeed in this business?

A: Be assertive and don't take no for an answer. Make sacrifices, empower yourself with knowledge and skills, know what is expected and comply - then you will see your business flourish.