47-year-old Limpopo-based Winny Vilankulu is a proud director of Senatla Panelbeaters, a thriving motor body repairer in the area.
Having taught initially at a rural secondary school in Limpopo for 10 years, this was never her first choice of industry, but having a husband in the industry sparked her interest after helping out in the shop during her leave.
“It wasn’t just the cars that attracted me, but more the challenge I saw black motor body repairers faced in the sector and I was determined to get involved and show them that not only could I succeed as a black person, but also as a women in a traditionally male-dominated sector,” she says. That was in 2010 and today she is part of a thriving business that does both structural and non-structural repairs.
Vilankulu admits it has not always been easy and she has had to work hard to adapt to the many challenges, constantly hitting her ‘reset’ button. She tries to always focus on the positive and working with what makes sense at the time, even if it has involved cutting costs and working with less margin. Working through hard lockdown was certainly challenging and taught her to plan and adapt to the unexpected.
But in spite of the challenges she has really grown to love the sector. “I particularly love dealing with people who are looking for help after their prized possession has been involved in an accident. Helping them work through the processes until the job is complete is very rewarding.”
She still faces some bias when dealing with customers who prefer dealing with a man but she has nevertheless pushed through and addressed this bias in the best way she knows how – by equipping herself with more knowledge and providing the best service she can.
When asked if she feels it is a good career for a women, Vilankulu is positive and would like to encourage more women to work in different sectors. She would also love to see more black female-owned businesses. She says women need to stand up and embrace these challenges and never stop believing in themselves because the sector provides so many opportunities for personal growth. “One can start in sales and admin and then through hardwork and studying and practical training work up to a technician and then motor body repairer.” She thinks being part of an accredited organisation like the South African Motor Body Repairers Association, a proud association of the Retail Motor Industry Organisation (RMI), has definitely helped with credibility and leads but she would still like to see more educational workshops being offered to expose women to different career opportunities in the sector.
Her final advice to those interested is to always believe in yourself and not to let anyone else undermine your value. “You need to develop a bit of a thick skin towards discrimination,” she smiles. “But the trick is never to give up and always to follow your passion.”