The sky is the limit for a Mpumalanga businesswoman, Ms Tholakele Manyaka (32) after participating in a National Furniture Design competition organised by the Department of Trade, Industry and Competition (DTIC) in partnership with the South African Furniture Initiative (SAFI), and Proudly South African.

Mpumalanga businesswoman, Ms Tholakele Manyaka. Image credit: DTIC

Mpumalanga businesswoman, Ms Tholakele Manyaka. Image credit: DTIC

The competition is aimed at identifying and nurturing furniture design talent, raise the profile of furniture manufacturing in South Africa and to grow the industry’s competitiveness by encouraging new product design and differentiation.

Manyaka was one of the eight finalists in the 2019 edition of the annual competition. All the finalists attended the prestigious prize-giving ceremony that took place at the Proudly South African Buy Local Summit and Exhibition in Sandton, Johannesburg. They also got an opportunity to exhibit their innovative designs at the exhibition, which is visited by thousands of people.

When she entered the competition, Manyaka could not have imagined the degree of positive impact that the competition has had on her company, Nape Kunene Steel Works.

Also read: Dtic’s furniture design competition gains traction

“I had a slight inkling and hope that the national exposure that my company will receive from being in the competition would probably boost the profile of the company, but not to the degree that things have turned out to be. The exposure has propelled us to another level much higher than I expected or I could imagine. We can only be grateful to the DTIC and their stakeholders for the opportunity of a lifetime. As an entrepreneur I have learnt to make the best of even the slightest of opportunities,” says Manyaka.

From working in the backyard of her house with one employee before entering the competition, she is now the proud owner of an enviable workshop fully equipped with the machinery and is providing employment to four young people. Her business has undoubtedly grown in leaps and bounds. Had it not been the coronavirus pandemic and global lockdown, she would have probably made inroads into the international market. Unfortunately, her confirmed participation in exhibitions in three African countries had to be put on hold due to the pandemic.

“My whirlwind success began soon after I was announced as a finalist and I was profiled in the media by the DTIC. Many people started calling for enquiries and orders. While walking around at the summit, I came across exhibition stands of the National Youth Development Agency (NYDA) and Small Enterprise Development Agency (Seda). And like they say, the rest is history. My new workshop and machinery are funded by NYDA. The international trips were organised by The DTIC and the Mpumalanga Economic Growth Agency,” says Manyaka.

As if that were not enough, her company is an incubatee at Seda’s Middleburg-based Mpumalanga Steel Initiative Incubation Centre and she is also a proud holder of the export and import certificate. In addition, one of her products, a braai stand, is now available at Mica Ermelo, one of Sub-Saharan Africa’s largest hardware franchises. Negotiations are at an advanced stage to have her products available at Mica hardwares nationally.

Like a true entrepreneur, Manyaka did not wallow in self-pity and misery during the lockdown period brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic. She designed and manufactured a steel hand sanitiser dispensing stand that was well-received in the market.

“As I grow my business, I am planning to assist other other people start and grow their businesses. I am already working with other NYDA beneficiaries to help young people. We already have one successful story which inspires us a lot,” says Manyaka.