From tea lady to boss lady

2007-08-11 19:19

“ALL women carry the gold and that gold is themselves.”

These are the words of Yvonne Zodwa Lungcuzo, who started out as a cleaner and tea lady and now owns her own car hire company and heads a consortium of women in construction.

In 1981, armed with only a matric and secretarial course certificate, she left her Eastern Cape village of Cata in pursuit of better prospects in Cape Town.

Life in the big city was not all glitz and she soon found herself pregnant with her first child.

“I was still naive and excited to have a boyfriend. However, he soon became abusive and it became clear that I would have to fend for myself and my child,” she says.

She left him and set up a shack in Crossroads. The shack was however, along with others, razed to the ground and she was soon back on the streets with a baby on her back.

She then heard of shacks ­being sold in Khayelitsha.

“I only had R20 in my pocket and I had to beg for accommodation and food. Eventually, I managed to get a plot in Site B, Khayelitsha.”

She says her situation forced her to get involved in community issues.

She helped form the Tafelsig Action Committee, which had running battles with the then apartheid government.

“I was also the branch secretary of Sanco, fighting the ­government on one side and the gangsters in our midst on the other,” she recalls.

It was during this period that Lungcuzo heard about job openings at what is now Cape Town International Airport.

“When I got to the offices of Imperial Car Hire, they told me the only job they had was as a tea lady and cleaner and I accepted it because it paid better than the old age home (where she was earning R150 a month).”

She soon became interested in how the switchboard worked and one day, when the switchboard operator was not around, she took over and manned it for a while.

This so impressed the management that she was asked if she could become a switchboard operator, which meant that she was “no longer washing the cars and making tea”.

She rose from being a switchboard operator to being a regional director at Imperial Car Hire’s black economic empowerment company, Ikhaya Car Hire.

When Ikhaya Car Hire folded, Lungcuzo decided to go it alone and started knocking on doors.

“It was not easy. I became a broker, referring clients to Imperial in return for commission. I only had a phone and a briefcase,” recalls Lungcuzo.

Last year, however, three banks gave her capital to start her own company, Ibhongo Car Hire, and she hasn’t looked back since.

She now manages a fleet of 54 vehicles and employs six people.

In between her battles, she has founded Siyabelana, a consortium of 50 women involved in the construction industry.

Their first project is an estate in Macassar – the first enclosed estate in a township.

“We thought it was time township people also enjoyed the finer things in life. They ­also need safe communities, swimming pools and other amenities,” she says.

Lungcuzo has also turned her plot in Khayelitsha into a creche owned by the community and regularly donates money towards its upkeep.

“Because I was fed by other people when I was down and out, I would like to give back,” she says humbly.

She says she thinks all women have it within themselves to succeed.

“We just need to change our mindset and stop waiting for the government to do things for us. The potential exists,” she asserts.

In Khayelitsha, those who knew her back when she was homeless think the Scorpions will soon be knocking on her door as she whizzes by in her Lexus 4x4.

Others have approached her to find out the secret to her success.

“There are no shortcuts and I tell them they too can do it if they also work hard.”