A powerful force to be reckoned with…words that perfectly describe an Eastern Cape entrepreneur, wife and mother who is the proud owner of not one but two Engen service stations in the East London.
Thembela Dlokweni, self-described as a “Do it yourself kind of woman”, grew up in Mdantsane and was schooled at Thubalethu High School in Fort Beaufort, where she was a boarder.
“I think I gained my independence at boarding school,” says Thembela, who later graduated from university with a B.Admin (Industrial Psychology) degree, followed by a post-graduate honours degree and an MBA.
Thembela says her keen interest in business surfaced when she started working at the age of just 11.
“My life has always been about business because I worked in the school holidays as a cashier in our family’s shop and I think that is where my flair for business began.”
After graduating from university, Thembela spent 10 years working for Telkom, before joining SITA as a Project Manager, all while running a home, a kids clothing store called Adorable Kidz in partnership with a friend,and assisting her husband in the evening with finance and administration for his construction business.
Juggling so many balls was extremely stressful and incredibly challenging but also a valuable learning experience.
“I had to face harsh reality when after three years of operating we decided to close Adorable Kidz as it was not profitable,” reflects the mother of three.
“I learnt some very constructive lessons and vowed never to repeat the mistakes that I made, which is why I urge all women who might not have succeed in the past to always pick themselves up and continue trying.”
While failure is never easy to digest, Thembela understood that as one door closes, another opens, and opportunities abound if you know where to look.
Everything changed for this born survivor when an opportunity arose for her to purchase Engen Mdantsane Retail Centre in Mdantsane in April 2014.
“Mandla, my husband and biggest supporter, motivated me to embrace the challenge,” she recalls.
“We’ve been happily married for 21 years and he has always believed in my potential.”
Owning her own business brought balance to her hectic life as it allowed her to personally manage her time.
“With good planning, I was now able to be a wife, cook at home, run my business and still watch school activities for my children.”
Not that running her own service station was easy, at least initially.
“Being a woman with no experience in the petroleum franchise industry was scary!
“Engen however supported me, offering training courses that taught me everything I needed to know about running a successful service station, and their support has been ongoing.”
Thembela and the Dlokweni family haven’t looked back.
Five years after taking over Engen Mdantsane Retail Centre, Thembela purchased Engen Vincent Park Motors in East London in the year prior to the onset of Covid-19.
But while running a business during a pandemic has been challenging, it has moved the born-again Christian closer to God, giving her time to reflect and introspect.
“Prayer has always been a big part of my life and plays an important role in many women’s lives as way of coping and believing in the Almighty God.”
Thembela also credits Engen for their unwavering support over the course of the Covid-19 pandemic.
“We would not have survived without payment plans and other relief, which has been remarkable in making our businesses survive.”
For Engen, August being Women’s Month, is the perfect time to acknowledge the skill and determination of a powerhouse such as Thembela Dlokweni.
For Thembela, it is a chance to celebrate and appreciate women for their uniqueness.
“Women are born nurturers and we need to be comfortable in our own skin and embrace who we are and not seek to imitate men.
“Nurturing comes naturally to us and this applies to the way that I run my businesses.”
Thembela is justifiably proud of her achievements.
“Simultaneously running two profitable service stations is no mean feat,” she reflects.
“I am happy with who I am and see myself as a woman of faith and integrity: a wife, a mother and a businesswoman who is honest and true to herself.”
Her message to the sisters of South Africa this Women’s Month is a powerful one: “As women, we are born with an inner strength that we should not be afraid to use to change situations, so be conscious and intentional in offering a hand to those in need or are about to fall.”
This Women’s Month, Engen congratulates Thembela for her phenomenal success and salutes all the women of South Africa.