Eunice Bomela started Mhonko’s in 1997 with a small grant and a lot of hope.
Through hard work and sheer determination, she built her company into a leading provider of waste removal and security services to the City of Cape Town. Mhonko’s stores their trucks at XtraSpace Airport Industria, in the knowledge that they are secure and ready for collection 24/7. At XtraSpace we salute the entrepreneur. We understand what it takes to build a business. From storage to office space, we’ve got the facilities nationwide to help entrepreneurs achieve their dreams.
Business was Eunice Bomela’s family’s hobby and the backbone of their lives. Coming from an academically poor but highly skilled and ambitious family, who worked in the informal sector, she grew up helping her grandmother make and sell clothes.
“My grandpa was a very handy man. He made baths, trunks, buckets and grocery bins with zinc sheets using only his hands, and sold them. My grandma sewed clothes, pillows, caps and things such as church and school uniforms with her sewing machine. I would always accompany her to Cape Town’s Grand Parade to buy material and to help her sell her things,” Eunice remembers. “I loved the selling part and enjoyed counting money. My grandparents could not read or write but were real business masters!”
While Eunice went to school in the Eastern Cape until Standard 7, she spent her school holidays selling her grandmothers handwork in Cape Town. “Growing up in Cape Town’s Eerste Rivier, people worked in vineyards, did domestic work or worked in restaurants; that was our choice. I chose to help my granny sell her things,” says Eunice.
But after she fell pregnant in 1976, she returned to Cape Town working where she could, before getting married in 1985 and moving to Khayelitsha. “That was the time when the whole country was deurmekaar, with riots and serious calls for freedom. After Mandela's release, things changed but damage was caused. The townships were no-go areas and that caused a lack of basic services,” Eunice explains.
“As a result, heaps and heaps of waste covered our streets. After 1994 local authorities tried to find ways to remove the waste, which was a huge health risk. The City of Tygerberg invited tenders to come up with a plan to clean the area, involving communities. Consultants from Johannesburg, The Entrepreneurial Development Corporation (Tedcor), were awarded the contract and made use of locals. It was a very good concept,” says Eunice.
“I was one of nine candidates appointed - seven males and two females. We became entrepreneurs. We received training and finance was acquired for us to buy trucks. I started to drive the truck and service the area on the 1st November 1997. After that, I joined Tedcor in a joint venture, and became a shareholder, director and a board member of Tedcor Women In Waste. We secured a three-year contract servicing the Metro region, containerised waste with 12 trucks and created jobs for 150 South Africans.”
In 2009 she resigned from the joint venture and went on her own, securing a three-year contract with the City of Cape Town. In 2013 Eunice secured two contracts for Delft and Kraaifontein, creating employment for 160 people.
And since then she hasn’t looked back - only looking forward, perhaps to a listing on the JSE in future…
“The office started in the truck, with me as the driver, manager, supervisor and marketer, but today we have our own, fully-staffed offices in the heart of the Bellville CBD.
“We have 10 compactor trucks, five Mercedes Benz Axors plus 5 MAN trucks, as well as small cars for staff transportation. We are in the process of building our own depot in one of the best industrial areas in Blackheath,” says Eunice.
“Labour is the major challenge, and I overcame it by doing things the right way. I understand my rights plus my employees’ rights and I practice and preach mutual respect. Education, loyalty and honesty are the key to all challenges. Operational challenges, equipment, maintenance and cash-flow are challenges that need discipline and good business practice. Compliance and commitment also plays a big role in business,” she says.
Eunice’s advice and learnings
What are the three most important lessons you learned along your entrepreneurial journey?
Dedication, focus, customer focus and maintaining the standards of my core business. Continuous improvements to understand customer needs and also to adapt to changes that will affect my business. Being responsive and ensuring that my systems are responding to customer needs.
In hindsight, what would you do differently?
I’m not sure I would do things differently. My company rates one of the top five in this male dominated sector. It is dominated by males because of its nature and the heavy capital it requires to start up.
What advice would you give to entrepreneurs starting out now?
I advise and encourage all women in business, and those who want to be in business, to follow my footsteps and those of the other successful women, to wake up and pursue their dreams. It is never too late ladies! I tell the story about how, when I was busy driving my truck, a furious man asked me, how can a woman drive a truck? Without even thinking I answered him, "I don't need testicles to drive a truck, I use my hands". Those parts are not needed in any business, I have proven that. Women, let’s go!