Ntomboxolo Mrubata – South Africa

Date: October 29, 2015
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Living as a Winner

“Things have a way of falling into place when you least expect them to happen”

My journey with Gender Links (GL) started in 2013, but it was very informal , I remember the former gender coordinator at Bitou Municipality, Sylvia Mtshamba informed me that Gender Links would be visiting her council. She also told me they were doing a verification process, and wanted to visit the Bitou Joy Laundry Project. Little did I know that was going to be the start of my journey with Gender Links!

I started the Bitou Joy Laundry with a group of other women, in fact let me tell you how this all began. I was married in 1999 my husband and I were happy in our marriage we even got blessed with children. However two years later things began to change. His behaviour changed and he started to become abusive towards me. I ignored it thinking that he was stressed at work as he was having problems. However that was just the start of the abuse, things became difficult. He would be abusive towards me even with the children around this took the form of beating me and swearing at me all the time. Then he demanded that I stay at home and look after the children and become a full time housewife. At that time I had a part time job at a local supermarket and it was nice. I enjoyed meeting other people that came into the supermarket, and also interacting with the customers. My husband became jealous and told me I was secretly meeting my lovers at the supermarket and he told me to stop working. That was difficult as I had no financial freedom, I had to rely on him for money for groceries and maintaining our family. At times he would not give me money and I would have to ask my neighbours for food. In 2003 he became ill and never told me he was HIV positive, I found out by mistake through looking at his medication, I confronted him and he disclosed.

However that motivated me to start being independent and to gain my voice back, he passed away in 2005. I was unemployed, and HIV positive and also not sure how I would raise my children. But I knew that I had a passion for business. I then met with a group of local women in 2006 and we started a food gardening project; these women were also HIV positive and unemployed. The food garden became a source of income for us, but in 2012 I was approached by a local councillor who shared the idea with me of starting a laundry business. I was very scared, I thought how will this operate, people will not want to give their laundry to me and the other women, most people are also unemployed. But I took that first step and the Municipality of Bitou donated a vacant building space to us and also assisted me in setting up the laundry.

I received two washing machines as a donation, and three dryers and ironing boards. I hired three women to help me out. This was in 2013. I was then informed about the Gender Links Entrepreneurship training late in 2013, and I remember how excited I was about joining the project. Unfortunately I missed the I-Stories session, but I was able to develop my business plan. I remember when Juliana Davids, the consultant from Gender Links, first taught us about the “Tree of Life”. That exercise made me cry and it made me very sad. That was the first time I realised how abused and how broken I was as a person, but I had chosen to ignore my pain.

The Phase 1 training with Juliana really opened my eyes. I also learnt the importance of having a proper business plan and strategy. I had never attended a course on entrepreneurship before so I did not know some of the things that Juliana had taught us. I also had to develop a personal development plan. This plan was going to be me, looking at myself in the future. The exercise that was done by Juliana and made me think about a lot of things, it also made me realise that I needed to be serious about my business and my growth too as a person. But it was also a period that helped me realise that I had actually survived and lived through a violent and ugly marriage and that I had survived and made it to the end. When Juliana later taught us how to use the computers I was very scared. I had never been confident with computers and I was afraid that I would make a mistake, but she was very patient with us and helped us to understand it easily. When I started working with Gender Links I was also not sure what they wanted from us, very often we feel used by people that come into our communities promising to help us and they fail to honour their word. But I felt comfortable with Juliana and I knew that this was help that had come at the right time, my laundry business needed to also have a further boost.

My friends have also started to notice how different I have become; I have become more dedicated and serious about growing the laundry project. We also now have hired an additional three staff. In total we are eight people working at the laundry; these are women who are also part of the food garden project. I feel that working with Gender Links has helped me to gain confidence. I also think I was avoiding dealing with my pain for a very long time. There have been many challenges along the way too. I remember when I had applied for a personal loan from a local bank and the loan was rejected I took it badly. There were also personal challenges at home at some point, I felt defeated and was really losing hope but then Juliana called and gave me good news that I had been selected to present my best practice at the SA National Summit in Johannesburg. This was such a welcome surprise and it boosted me a lot, it was the first time I had been to Johannesburg and catching a flight was an amazing experience.

I came back from the Summit with more energy and feeling motivated to do my best, I have also started thinking about how I can take my business to the next level. I have also been approached by the Department of Social Development to assist them to think of helping women in Khayelitsha, Cape Town, to start a similar project that will be funded by the department. This is something that I did not expect at all, I was informed that the Department found out about my project through the local newspaper that had done an article on the Gender Links Entrepreneurship training.

Things have a way of falling into place when you least expect. I am able to provide for my children, I am also able to hire and employ other women to work in the laundry. My life has changed for the better, I have gained my voice I have always been a loud and confident person but I think I was also hiding my pain. The training I have received from Gender Links has boosted me so much, I wish that they could help us even further and linked to more opportunities and more training sessions. I have high hopes for my future, I want the laundry business to grow.

I would love to have three more businesses around Bitou and Knysna. I want to employ more women, but most of all I just want to be happy and content. My future is certainly looking very bright.


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