JOHANNESBURG - Simphiwe Mncube is as comfortable in the automotive industry as she believes she’d be behind the wheel of her dream car, a Jaguar F-Pace. Ironically, it was several bad experiences with her own car repairs that led her to opening Baleka Motors in 2018, albeit with a Masters Degree in hand, but no mechanical experience.
“After numerous disappointments with repairs done to my car I realised I needed to start a business that would speak to, cater for and solve the frustrations women are faced with when it comes to vehicle maintenance,” she explains. “My partner, Jabu Biyam, and I started doing some research in 2018, which took a couple of months, and we opened for business in September that year. Our mission is to provide shared value for customers and staff, provide quality and reliable services using high quality parts that exceed manufacturers’ recommendations.”
Mncube, who hails from KZN, has always loved cars.
“My brother and I would play a game in the car called ‘name the coming car’. I would look up and learn all the makes and models and always win the game. This is how I developed an appreciation for the various models but I didn’t think too much about the mechanical side of things.”
Having previously worked at numerous financial services institutions (insurance companies and banks) and held several leadership roles, Simphiwe is now the full-time head of sales and marketing at Baleka Motors. The business is not yet a member of the South African Motor Industry Workshop Association (MIWA), but she says she recognises the value the body offers the industry: “I visited the RMI offices a couple of years ago to find out how we can become a fully accredited member of MIWA. At the moment we are a basic member of the RMI but well on our way to becoming a full MIWA member.”
“I get a mixed bag of reactions when people find out what I do for a living; running a workshop. Some are of course shocked and think I’ve lost it. But I love the industry - mostly because it is still so male-dominated, which means it gives us women the opportunity to stand out and ultimately change the status quo.”
There are challenges, she admits.
“One of these is a lack of trust from male colleagues and customers. Somehow, they have a challenging time accepting information given to them purely because you are a woman. This is understandable though, since the industry is male-dominated. I think it will take some years to correct but we’ll get there eventually.”
On opportunities for women in the automotive industry, Mncube is encouraging: “It is as fulfilling as any other career, provided that you are passionate about what you do. It is a misconception the industry is only for men. We need to change that narrative by more women entering the industry and more male counterparts encouraging women to take up these jobs.”
Her advice to women wanting to enter to the industry is to do research and gain as much knowledge as possible: “You will sometimes be judged and doubted because of your gender, which is why knowledge is power and will help you withstand these stereotypes.”
The Covid-19 pandemic and lockdown restrictions have impacted Baleka Motors, but Mncube keeps a positive mind-set by reminding herself why she started the business in the first place: “I consciously remind myself too that this dream is bigger than me. And, speaking of dreams, I hope to one day expand the business to other areas of the country and even go international one day.”