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Two women, known as the “sisters in steel” in Pretoria are making impact through mostly hiring female-owned businesses as suppliers. Monika Pretorius and her partner, Gwendolyn Mahuma met in 2012 and shortly thereafter decided to found the steel company, BBD Steel Suppliers.
BBD Steel Suppliers (Basadi Ba Ditshipi – means Women of Steel in Tswana) is a 100% women-owned company. It won the ‘Women-owned Businesses’ category award at the fifth annual South African Premier Business Awards earlier this year.
According to Mahuma, she met Pretorius while both of them were on the board of another steel company. “We found out of an opportunity to supply Transnet with steel products. We partnered with a big steel supplier and tendered. We were fortunate enough to be awarded.”
Today the duo has 30 employees at BBD Steel and 13 at Advanced Laser Processing (ALP). The company ALP is 62% owned by BBD Steel. ALP offers cutting and bending services of steel, says Mahuma.
Many of our suppliers are black women-owned businesses. This includes with our transport, promotional items and accounting services
Empowering women in steel
In an interview, Mahuma said they are the largest empowered women-owned steel merchant in South Africa. The company was formed to promote gender empowerment and to enable women to become major role players in the steel industry.
Their website reads: “We are passionate about women empowerment and believe that women have a dynamic role to play in all areas of this traditionally male dominated industry.”
BBD Steel is 75% black women-owned. Their services for example include cutting stainless steel aluminium and copper from as thin as 0.5 millimetres to 30 millimetres thicknesses, with their sheet laser cutting machines.
Doing business with women
Mahuma says although the steel industry is still male-dominated, they are now seeing women slowly coming up. “Many of our suppliers are black women-owned businesses. This includes with our transport, promotional items and accounting services.”
She adds: “We give opportunities to women who approach us for assistance where possible.”
Mahuma says BBD Steel has also set up QDT Transport as their enterprise development initiative.”QDT is a 100% black owned transport company (and 50% of it owned by a black woman). We utilise their truck on local trips. We also gave them a small interest free loan to assist in them acquiring a second vehicle,” explains Mahuma.
A family of entrepreneurs
Mahuma grew up in Garankuwa. “I went to school in Pretoria at ST Mary’s DSG. I studied further for a BCom and a BCom Honors at the University of the North West in Mafikeng,” she shares. “My first job was with IBM SA in 1996.”
The now mother of four children says she grew up in a family that ran businesses. “My grandmother used to informally make and sell clothes and leather hand bags. My mother ran her own dry cleaning businesses for decades. Currently she operates a branding business based in Garankuwa.
“I saw the benefits of running your own business from them and wanted the freedom that goes with that.”