When women venture into male-dominated industries, they are often faced with challenges of degradation, stereotype and discrimination by men who feel that women are not worthy of those positions. Mbali Sibeko, who is not afraid to get her hands greasy, has had to stand up for herself many times to make a mark in the auto mechanics industry – one stripped car at a time!
Born and bred in Ratanda, a small township in Heidelberg Gauteng, the 24-year-old go-getter owns and runs Ms Fixit Autoshop; a garage that fixes and services vehicles, and also deals with the buying and selling of car parts and accessories, especially for Volvo and Ford ST models.
A typical day for Sibeko sees her opening the shop in the morning to clean up and make sure that everything is in order before a hectic day begins. Although she spends most of her day doing car parts and accessory deliveries, she also enjoys rolling up her sleeves and getting her hands dirty by helping her team of workers with many cars that need fixing or servicing.
She has achieved this success through the mentorship of Thapelo Mogapi who has been her motivator and guide from day one. Mogapi has been instrumental in teaching Sibeko the customer service aspect of the business, and initially gave her two of his own cars to dismantle, as part of her very first lesson. Sibeko says that she will never forget his words that day when he said “Take these cars, start working on them and you will thank me later.” After that day, she never looked back and her strong desire to challenge herself and seek something unique propelled her to start the business in 2016.
“I want to show other young women that we can do what men can do and that the saying that our place is only in the kitchen is nonsense.”
Although she is happy with where she is now, and even though the saying ‘What a man can do, a woman can do better’ is promoted today, she explains that she still struggles with being undermined as a young black woman in the auto mechanic business. From being questioned as the real owner, to being hit on by male customers who view her as an object by unapologetically undressing her with their eyes or verbally harassing her, she does not allow such indecencies to bring her down.
“I even get ladies who would ask me if this is really what I do. They ask me if I really like to get my hands dirty because they believe that this work is for men only,” she says.
Sibeko further explains that her emotional intelligence plays a major role in such instances because she has had to calmly explain to sceptics and mysoginists that being a woman does not mean she is inferior to a man and that women deserve the same respect as their male counterparts. Vehemently advocating for women empowerment, she encourages other women to remain resolute in character and continue to denounce gender inequality.
Sibeko plans to grow her business and also improve her employee’s mechanical skills by enrolling them into various short courses. Her dream is to one day have female-dominated staff.
Ms Fixit Autoshop is located in Johannesburg South Steeldale. To contact Mbali, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org
~ Thabile Shange