Mpuma women ready to take Women of the Year awards

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Hazyview - Two women from Mpumalanga have made it into the finals of the 2011 Shoprite Checkers Women of the Year awards.

The awards celebrate exceptional and visionary women in five categories, namely: health care-givers, educators, socio-economic business developers, good neighbours against crime and youth movers.

Mpumalanga will be represented by Dr Tina Cowley from Emalahleni, who is a finalist in the educator's category, and Phumzile Sihlangu from Mkhuhlu near Hazyview, who is a finalist in the socio-economic business developers category.

Sihlangu, who runs the Samkelisiwe Farming Project, started farming in 2008 after losing her husband in a car accident.

"My husband was killed in a car accident in 2007, and since he was the bread winner, the responsibility of maintaining our three children was in my hands," said Sihlangu. "Poverty encouraged me to go and do something about the situation."

She farms a range of vegetables from cabbage to tomato and butternut on her 21-hectare farm.

She said her farm yields 1 000 butternuts per hectare, which are supplied to big supermarkets around South Africa.

"It all started in Mkhuhlu, but Samkelisiwe now supplies big supermarkets in the country," said Sihlangu.

The 37-year-old said her farming and business skills improved when she went for training at the Mpumalanga Agri Skills Development and Training Company (MASDTC).

"Through the help of the Small Enterprise Development Agency, Sihlangu was taken through an incubation programme, which helped with her farming skills," said MASDTC business development officer, Thobile Maphosa.

Maphosa said received seedlings from the provincial government, which she used to plant cabbages and grow them commercially.

"The government provides seedlings to commercial farmers in the province with the intention to assist their farming projects. Sihlangu has come a long way, with the momentum she's on, she is slowly but surely reaching her dreams," Maphosa said.

Sihlangu, who employs 17 people, seven permanent 10 temporary, said although she was on her way to success, running her farming business was not so easy.

"My biggest challenge as a farmer is that I do not have a car, which results in it being difficult for me to transport the vegetables and perform duties which require a car," said Sihlangu.
She said her dream was to export her products and that she was already in the process of getting a permit from the South African Revenue Service.

"If I win the 2011 Shoprite Checkers woman of the year award, I will employ more people to assist in the farm," said Sihlangu.

Dr Cowley, who started the Tina Cowley Centre, has turned 25 years of her research into a successful business model in which students with learning disabilities are successfully taught how to read through a network of 101 franchised enterprises in urban and rural areas throughout the country. Of the franchisees 94% are women-run.

"I was persuaded to do research in South Africa and internationally because of my son who struggled with reading. It was the love of a mother that led me to do the work I do," said Dr Cowley.

She said she started helping others at her home when other parents requested that she help them.

She said her research was first tested at Panorama Primary School in Emalahleni, which brought phenomenal results seven years later.

"My husband built a proper reading centre in our home; unfortunately it burnt down together with our home in 1998," said Dr Cowley.

After Dr Cowley lost everything in a fire, the community of Emalahleni donated everything the centre needed, including a new reading centre in town.

"The centre in town was accessible to people in the neighbouring community, who then started coming to the centre to improve their reading skills," said Dr Cowley.

The winners in each category will be announced on Saturday at a gala dinner at Emperor's Palace in Johannesburg, Gauteng.

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