A burning desire to do more to uplift her community led Lelly Mntungwa to resign as a retail store manager- a position she held for 10 years- and instead start her own business.
The 38-year-old from Msinga, a rural community, saw a gap in the market when a leading retailer closed down to establish a clothing factory.
In an effort to reduce the unemployment rate and poverty in the area, she grabbed the opportunity to empower the Msinga community through job creation and skills capacitation.
“In my community, young girls being abducted and forced into marriage even at the age of 16 is commonplace as is dropping out of school to run child-headed families. The situation compelled me to intervene and develop these ‘young wives’ through skills transfer,” said Mntungwa.
She added that a partnership with the Department of Higher Education had been forged to assist learners dropping out of school to complete their matric at no cost and 216 learners were already part of the programme.
Without any financial assistance, she began her entrepreneurial journey and now affords more than 60 people a living.
“It has taken me five years to be where I am today. Expect challenges and delays with whatever you do in life. They exist to make you stronger,” she proudly stated.
Mntungwa has a national Diploma in Marketing from Damelin and undertook various courses aimed at capacitating herself in the areas of clothing and textile and leather processing.
The mother of two was raised by a single parent and has four siblings. She completed her primary and secondary school education at Domino Servite School in Kranskop in the Natal Midlands.
“Women in remote areas don’t have access to information and resources to thrive and are hence, neglected. Rural life is still very much dominated by a patriarchal system where women find themselves working harder to prove themselves,” she explained.
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She said perseverance and hard work were her recipes for success in life and that the onus was on the individual to take advantage of the opportunities to succeed.
“I am not afraid of a challenge and I am somewhat of a risk taker. I believe skills transfer is a sustainable gift – it can empower people to become income generators and survive during difficult situations,” she added.
Trade & Investment KwaZulu-Natal (TIKZN) whose mandate is to promote KZN as an investment destination provided Mntungwa with much needed support and business guidance.
“The turning point in my career was in 2016 when TIKZN did an Umzinyathi District Municipality Roadshow. I was given an opportunity as an up-and-coming entrepreneur to deliver a presentation at the roadshow. Even though I probably had the least experience in the room, I capitalised on the opportunity given to me by TIKZN to expose my business,” the inspirational woman stated.
According to Mntungwa, people often look down on individuals from rural backgrounds as they make the assumption that they hare clueless but this was not the case with TIKZN.
“The investment promotion agency encouraged me to view my business on a much larger scale and to identify opportunities to market my products internationally,” she added.
She said she had obtained a wealth of knowledge from TIKZN about the clothing and textiles industry in which she works.
“The success and growth of my business will have a positive impact on the local economy as Msinga is one of the poorest parts of KZN,” she concluded.
Her appreciation of classical music to soothe the soul is her way of taking a break from the hustle and bustle of life.