When Pfunzo Tshilate realised that she could no longer rely on her parents for financial support, she used her family’s farm to help find her feet. She did so not by farming, but by making red bricks which in turn has helped her employ 14 people since 2018. Tshilate who is the founder of Tshilate Enterprise, which is based in Limpopo, is a flexible businesswoman.
Not only does she make bricks, but before that, she started providing decorations for parties and weddings in Tshisahulu near Thohoyandou. And she now proudly supports her parents. “I didn’t start with making bricks. I started doing decorations, but when I saw that the business is seasonal, I decided to try something else,” she told Vutivi News. “I sat my parents down and talked with them about using the piece of land that they were not using to farm so that I can start my business making bricks.”
Tshilate’s company manufactures about 7000 bricks per day. “We mix the red soil and the water. We then use a brick tray to shape the bricks and afterward we leave them to dry for three days,” she explained. “Once they are dry, we burn the bricks. This process hardens the bricks, turns them red and ensures that any living organism in the soil dies from the intense heat.”
Her company supplies bricks to people to build their houses, to shops and to local student campuses to build hostels. “What I like about my business is that I use the natural ingredients that are around me, like wood, red soil and water from the nearby river,” she said.
But as with many women in construction, Tshilate’s gender has often worked against her. “… I learned that there is a lot of antagonism for women in the construction business. “On many occasions, my work is undermined for the simple reason that I am a woman,” she told Vutivi News.
“I normally give my customers a 10% discount per 1000 bricks, and sometimes they push their luck a little too far by trying to squeeze out another discount from me.” But the businesswoman continues to strive on. “Even when men tell me that this brick-making business is a business reserved strictly for ugly men and not beautiful women like me, I don’t pay attention to them at all,” she said.
Tshilate is also careful how she deals with her friends. “I don’t give people I know a discount more than what I normally give my customers. When it comes to business, my friends are not my friends because friendship cannot feed the 14 employees I have in my business,” she said. Being independent has bought Tshilate much joy. “Not only am I happy that I can stand on my own, but I am also glad that I can support the family that supported me when I wasn’t independent,” she said.