‘Devine’ inspiration for Ndhlukula

Devine-Ndhlukula1.jpg

She can afford to own as many houses as ordinary folk can only dream of.

Phillip Chidavaenzi

If it struck her fancy, she could have several cars in her parking bay.

Her purse is deep enough to afford her all these extravagances, but Devine Ndhlukula, voted by Forbes Magazine as one of the most successful businesswomen in Africa, counts all these things, in the words of the Apostle Paul, as nothing but “dung”.

Instead, the founder and managing director of Securico, a private security company, Ndhlukula gains more satisfaction from how her efforts have made a huge difference in other women’s lives; and not so much from the profits her business has raked in over the past 14 years.

“Money is no longer the issue at all because I can only drive one car, sleep in one bed and possibly eat just three meals a day,” she confesses.

“The biggest reward for me, apart from the awards you read about, is the significant difference I have made to the 3 700 families, especially the woman-headed families,” she discloses.

Despite coming onto the market in 1998, at the beginning of Zimbabwe’s lost decade, her business defied all the odds to generate revenues of more than US$20 million a year, with a balance sheet of more than US$8 million.

She has some bragging rights, too, having significantly altered the face of the security sector in the country which is now different from what it was when she first appeared on the scene.

“It was male, grey and tired.

Now there is passion, enthusiasm and professionalism. This is what reflects my values, having moved from success to significance,” she chuckles.

Zimbabweans will remember Tanga weKwa Sando and Bothwell Mhondera’s duet in the 1990s, Mahobho, which disparaged security guards. Ndhlukula says the term now belongs to the archives and is now out of circulation.

“ I identified that gap where there was lack of quality, total lack of professionalism. I am sure you used to hear the word mahobho? Do we still hear that word today? (No), because we have changed that,” she says with pride.

Ndhlukula does not even call her core employees guards because, she contends, their work is much bigger and more complex than just guarding.

“We don’t call them guards. They are called operatives because they operate different things. When you get into a bank, you’re expected to operate as a banker. We go into the mines and we’re expected to operate as miners and be able to understand the key issues in mines.

If you leave an operative at your premise, he’s the one who is going to ensure that if there is a burst water pipe, he’s going to be a plumber.  If there is going to be a fire, he is going to be a fireman,” she boasts.

Despite having climbed up the ladder of success right to its pinnacle, defying the dictates of a male-dominated society, she has not forgotten the thousands of women scraping a living right at the bottom of the ladder.

“We deliberately targeted widows and single mothers for formal employment because I knew nobody was going to employ them. I had to fight to get their acceptance in the security sector. I had to swim against the tide because clients were not interested in them. My own male managers were telling me this can’t be done. It can’t work,” she recalls.

Today, she employs the largest number of women in the country outside of the civil service.

“For me this is the biggest achievement,” she asserts.

“Some of the women have actually come to me and said, you know, if you had not given me the opportunity to be employed, I would be dead, in the grave. Why? Some of the widows are HIV-positive because their husbands died of HIV-related illnesses. More importantly, all our employees are on medical aid,”she adds. Ndhlukula is proud that Securico is one of the only two security outfits whose employees have access to medical aid.

“We are one of the two. The other had to do it because they had lost a tender to us due to that. So they (the employees) say they now  have peace of mind. Now they can educate their children and offer them a better life. To me, that is sustainability,” says Ndhlukula.

Dubbed the “Security Queen of Zimbabwe” by BBC World, Ndhlukula holds an Executive Masters’ degree in Business Administration from the Midlands State University and a Masters’ degree in Business Administration from the Women’s University in Africa. She also has marketing and accounting qualifications.

When tough situations arise, Ndhlukula says she is usually the first person to get into the office to lead from the front. She says she never does things in half measures and made a decision from the beginning that she was not going to be a small player in the business field.

Now she realises the vision is even bigger than she thought.

“Last week I was in Accra, and I am realising that the vision is going to be grander than Sadc, and even beyond,” says Ndhlukula, who was voted entrepreneur of the decade by Empretec Zimbabwe.

Offers for partnership are coming in from the African Woman of the Year 2013 from Ghana, Uganda and Malawi. Due diligence exercises for these potential partnerships are close to completion.

Although Ndhukula has won multiple business awards, accolades and honours, these are not the things that she holds most dear. She treasures her family the most.

“I am a mother of eight and granny of one, so those are things I am very proud of,” she asserts. All her children have graduated from international universities and that speaks to the sacrifices that she has made for them.

“I have worked so hard that they get the best education and have a solid and sound footing for the future,” she points out, recalling that she denied herself so much up to last year when they finished their various studies.

To cope with the pressures that come from building a successful business such as hers, Ndhlukula pays very close attention to her health to the extent that she may be considered a health freak. She reads a lot about health, researches much on health topics and subscribes to Health Intelligence magazine.

She admits she was never one to take to health supplements and would wonder, when she was in England, at her friend and daughter who religiously took supplements such as Primrose Oil, Vitamin D and C and Omega every morning.

“I would say, what the hell do these people think they are doing? Then I started reading about it because I got interested. So when I read, I decided I had to take this (vitamin) for that (ailment) and I have also been doing it religiously,” she reveals. In particular, after learning that glucomine could help with knee problems she used to have, she has been taking it religiously since 1985.

There are two other things that Ndhlukula has disovered to be very important in life; sleep and ‘me time’. She feels she now has to also focus on herself after many years of making others the centre of her attention.

“I am going to give myself the ‘me time’ that I have been denying myself. I want to rest. I want to do things I never had an opportunity to do all these years while I was trying to build my business. I want to ensure that my health comes first and I want to ensure that I have that peace of mind. Yes I will continue working hard, but I am also going to focus on me, on Devine,” she declares.

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