3 Female Entrepreneurs Take On the Diamond Business

women in diamond mining south africa

Collectively known as the ‘Diamond Collection’, Munirah Desai, Thoko Zwane and Mosibudi Jo Mathole are the proud owners of their own diamond businesses. The three women are playing their part in helping the diamond mining industry to achieve the transformation targets it seeks.

They are among five black South African diamond cutting and polishing companies that earlier this year graduated from the first phase of the De Beers Group’s Enterprise Development Project for Diamond Beneficiators for entrepreneurs programme which not only seeks to empower women in the mining sectors, where males are typically dominant, but also to help transform the diamond cutting and polishing industry in South Africa.

The three-year programme was facilitated by business incubator, Raizcorp. The curriculum covered business strategy, finance, sales, marketing and personal development.

As part of the programme, each participating company received an allocation of rough diamonds from De Beers Group, in line with its market requirements and capacity. Participants also received additional support in the form of local and international market access and were sponsored to participate in last year’s Hong Kong Jewellery and Gem Fair and JCK Las Vegas trade shows.

SME South Africa speaks to the ‘Diamond Collection’s’ Thoko Zwane, Mosibudi Jo Mathole and Munirah Desai to find out about their journeys in the diamond industry and what it takes to tackle the challenges the industry presents. 

Thoko Zwane – ‘I used my savings to buy my first stone’

Thoko Zwane

Name of Business: Thoko’s Diamonds
Location: Rosebank

How long have you been in operation?

I’ve been in the diamond industry for over a decade, but I have been in the mining industry for over two decades on the manufacturing side of the business.

What does your company specialise in?

Our company specialises in cutting and polishing of all types, shapes and sizes of diamonds.

Who are your clients?

Our company buys locally and sells both locally and internationally. Traditionally our clients would be jewellers and other diamond dealers, as well as private and walk-in clients.

Why did you choose the diamond industry?

After several unsuccessful attempts seeking a job, my journey in the diamond industry came as a “calling”. Coming from New Castle, working in the textile industry seemed to be the way to make a living, but all failed when I tried looking for employment there. One afternoon going back home I saw an advertisement for a job at a well-known diamond cutting and polishing factory, it was the word “Diamond” that stood out. A word that I fell in love with.

How did you get your start in the diamond business?

I used my savings to buy my first stone from a subsidiary of De beers, called Diamdel. Eventually, my relationship with Diamdel had grown to a point where they trusted me enough to give me rough diamonds on credit. This helped to grow my business step-by-step to what it is now.

What have been some of the biggest challenges that you have faced in this industry?

The challenges I have faced include limited sources of finance as well as trying to penetrate the market. This includes identifying potential and consistent end users. The volatility of our unstable exchange rate has also posed a challenge.

Any particular challenges with being a woman in the industry?

As a business woman in a male dominated industry, it has always been a challenge. I’ve had to put in more effort and remain determined all the way. I needed to allow myself to be driven by the passion I have for success.

What do you attribute your success to?

I would align my success to the passion and determination to work harder than most, making sure that things always get done. My integrity to this promise has made my business a success.

What was the biggest impact that the De Beer, Raizcorp programme has had on your business?

Raizcorp has taught me that it’s not just about business growth, but personal growth, which in turn helped me to successfully manage my company professionally, improved my communication skills and instilled confidence in me gradually.

What would your advice be for other women entrepreneurs seeking to enter the mining industry?

My advice to emerging young entrepreneurs is to make a commitment to education, to learning as much as you can, as this will gear you to be more focused and ready for any hiccups this industry has to offer. Accept failure as something that makes you stronger and be able to absorb negativity.

What words of wisdom do you have for other entrepreneurs?

The words I would pass on to other entrepreneurs are:

• Find the courage to do things you’re not ready to do
• You don’t have to be fearless, just don’t let fear stop you
• You cannot have a voice without the risk of criticism
• You cannot succeed without the risk of failure
• Respect everyone

Mosibudi Jo Mathole – ‘Have a thick skin and fight’

Mosibudi Jo Mathole (right) with company director, Khomotso Ramodipa.

Name of Business: Kwame Diamonds
Location: Bedfordview

How long have you been in operation?

Since 2008.

What does your company specialise in?

Cutting and polishing of rough diamonds.

Who are your clients?

TFG and private clients.

Why did you choose this industry?

I have always been keen to challenge the male dominated industry, this happened to be one of them, coming from a stockbroking industry which has similar trades made it quite interesting for me as I wanted to break away from your normal 9-5 job.

How did you get your start in the business?

Previously, I had worked in a highly pressurised environment, which began to take a toll on my personal life. Upon searching for new career opportunities, a family friend had invited me to visit and experience his mine.

What I learnt at the mine sparked my interest in the diamond sector and I thereafter enrolled for a course in evaluation and sorting of diamonds, applied for a license and had access to legal trading.

What has been some of the biggest challenges that you have faced in this industry?

The diamond industry is quite closed off in the sense that it is usually a family affair, and therefore difficult to break into. Without a family legacy, funding is tough considering the capital intensive, imported equipment that is required. Additionally, market access can be a challenge as I’ve learnt that to succeed you need to earn your stripes and be a trustworthy individual/business.

Any particular challenges with being a woman in the industry?

The industry is historically male dominated and so welcoming a woman into the industry proved a huge adjustment. I felt that as a woman I needed to prove myself much more, in order to be trusted by my male counterparts and customers alike.

What do you attribute your success to?

Perseverance, there have been instances when I thought that this line of work wasn’t for me and I thought about giving up, but I didn’t. I pushed, fought and persevered. It was all worth it.

What was the biggest impact that De Beers, Raizcorp programme has had on your business?

Raizcorp assisted with the structure of my business, financial well-being and focus. They ensured that I was in the right space to run my business successfully. De Beers opened the doors for my business by providing access to international markets.

What would your advice be for other women entrepreneurs seeking to enter the mining industry?

The mining industry is not for ‘sissies’, they need to know that they are entering the lion’s den and they must be ready to face daily challenges – often because your work ethic and value in the industry are questioned because you are a female. Have a thick skin and fight.

What words of wisdom do you have for other entrepreneurs?

Believe in yourself, keep pushing even if you are feeling down. Keep moving because stopping isn’t an option. Have the courage to face every negative and positive experience. Entrepreneurship is a tough journey, but you need to keep your head up.

Munirah Desai – ‘Our diamonds are polished and cut in South Africa by South Africans’

Munirah Desai

Name of Business: Diamonds Africa
Location: Krugersdorp, Mogale City

How long have you been in operation?

I’ve been in operation since 2000, making that 19 years.

What does you company specialise in?

We specialise in rough and polished diamonds over 1.00 carat. We offer consistent supply of Kimberly-processed, conflict-free, legitimately-sourced stones that are certified and graded. Our diamonds are polished and cut in South Africa by South Africans.

Who are you clients?

Industry players from across the world.

Why did you choose the diamond industry?

When I was a young spunky girl of 21, I became the bride of a handsome prince. I received a gift of love in the form of money. This was the means of a dream and yearning that could now be fulfilled- I now had the money to buy the diamond I’d always wanted.

I was determined to buy my Diamond directly from DeBeers, and after much perseverance I was directed to a DeBeers Diamond dealer. My experience with the diamond dealer lit a fire in my heart.

How did you get your start in the diamond business?

The start of my business and the unquenched thirst to learn every single aspect of diamonds was a result of my interaction with this very first diamond dealer, who became both a friend and a mentor.

We came to an agreement that I would sell some of his stones for a small profit while learning about the nuances of the diamond trade. Initially, it was just a hobby but when my children had grown up I decided to turn it into a full time career.

I completed the course offered by the Harry Oppenheimer Diamond Trading School and also qualified as a GIA graduate. I knew that if I wanted to buy and sell diamonds seriously I needed a partner. At that point, I was advised to approach Raizcorp. Little did I know that it would be the best thing to ever happen to me, catapulting me into the diamond industry with my business.

What have been some of the biggest challenges that you have faced in this industry?

Walking into a corporate world as a previously disadvantaged small home run business, I found systematic management and financial structures a challenge. I remember asking myself, “these giants in the diamond world with systems and processes, how will I ever fit in?”

Any particular challenges with being a woman in the industry?

Most people make the gender of a person an issue. People say working in a male dominant environment means you have to fight harder. Personally, in my opinion, gender does not matter. If you persevere, love what you do, abide by strict principles of truthfulness and good business ethics, being a woman does not affect your business unless you allow it to.

What do you attribute your success to?

The guidance I received through Raizcorp and the De Beers Enterprise Development programme played a significant role in my success. The De Beers Enterprise Development project for Diamond Beneficiators sought to optimize interventions in all aspects of the my business pipeline from a bespoke rough diamond supply and state of the art manufacturing to marketing and distribution.

Additionally, as a selected participant of the project, I received invaluable assistance and hands on support from Raizcorp, an academy of entrepreneurship learning.

What was the biggest impact that the De Beers, Raizcorp programme has had on your business?

My enjoyable and exciting journey into a world, fraught with tears, laughter, success and finding myself had begun through the programme. Today I can tell you exactly who I am – a question that is vast and beautiful.

Raizcorp very quickly instilled in me a professional and systematic approach to every aspect of business, to the extent that I could now easily relate and negotiate professionally, with major industries worldwide. My approach to Global Industry changed. I was now equipped with a new mindset.

I want to thank Mr. Allon Raiz and each and every guide involved in pushing me into thinking and thinking, and actioning and actioning. Thank you for pushing me to walk the talk and for being my guiding light.

What would your advice be for other women entrepreneurs seeking to enter the mining industry?

Behind every man, is a woman, and behind every woman is a woman. Be the woman you are made to be. We are the mothers of men, women, kings, queens, presidents, CEOs – strong enough to be the mothers of a nation. As entrepreneurs we are the leaders, steer your ship as leaders, with no fear. Viva women!

What words of wisdom do you have for other entrepreneurs?

If you love what you do, you won’t work a day in your life. In order to have a successful business, a person should carry the following characteristics; passion, perseverance, pride, humility, integrity, ethics and dignity.

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Lebohang Thulo
Lebohang Thulo
Lebohang Thulo is the editor of SME South Africa. She enjoys keeping up with the country’s exciting and fast developing entrepreneurship ecosystem. You can find her at @lelele3