Opportunities for Women: Sophia's Driving School

The Zimele programme is one of the ways in which Forevermark, as part of the De Beers Group, supports business initiatives in diamond-producing countries.

Forevermark supports four Zimele hubs in South Africa. ‘Zimele’ means ‘stand on your own feet’, or ‘be independent’. The programme helps local people by facilitating the creation, promotion and expansion of sustainable businesses through funding and mentoring. 

Meet Sophia Mphuthi - one of dozens of beneficiaries from the Kimberley hub.

Sophia started her driving school from her home in Kimberley in 2009 with the support of the programme. Funding from the programme enabled her to buy a truck as well as a car, so that she could also offer truck driving lessons.

Sophia’s business has flourished with every passing year. In 2011, Zimele stepped in again and financed a second truck. In 2014, Sophia received Transport Education and Training Authority accreditation, which has helped her to develop her business further. The following year, her Excellence Driving Academy was awarded a skills programme to train 50 unemployed young people in the Northern Cape region. Business is booming, and Sophia still conducts driving lessons herself.

“My business has achieved the highest service levels in this industry, due to the fact that I started my business with brand new vehicles and was able to give the best possible service,” Sophia says. “I have learnt a lot of business skills through the Zimele mentoring programme and I have learnt how to create possibility, even where there is none.”

Sophia’s results speak for themselves. In 2014, she trained 503 people, with a 90% pass rate in the driving exam. More than half of the learner drivers were women. She also runs her own social responsibility programme, offering free tuition to women and young people from the community who cannot afford to pay for driving lessons.

“It is very important in Kimberley, in the Northern Cape actually, for us to have driving schools because every company nowadays requires joiners to have a driving licence,” she says. “We must help our children to get their driving licence; it increases work opportunities for their future.”

A trained fire fighter, Alice Mandiwana struggled to find employment in her field, so she seized the opportunity to join the De Beers Group, receiving full training to become an engine operator at the Venetia Mine in Limpopo.

She was the first woman to join the mine as an engine operator in 2011. Alice recalls: “I was shocked by the size of the trucks, and I wondered how I would manage to operate such a big vehicle.”

After six months of training, Alice was ready to operate the specialist mine trucks. Now one of the most skilled operators, she trains new drivers, and today the mine is a hub of female talent. Out of over 240 operators at the Venetia Mine, 54 are women, operating some 793 Cat Haul Trucks, dozers, drill rigs, water trucks and graders.

Alice’s work on the trucks provides a living for her family. Her husband Tama lost his job and is now looking after their children, Junior and Abigail. Both children were amazed when Alice showed them a photograph of her standing in front of the machine she operates.

“I'm very proud to work for De Beers, because I am making a living for my family,” she says.

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