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‘Iron Lady’ of automotive mechanics…

… Scoops the 2018 MISA Woman of the Year Award

Breaking the shackles of poverty to becoming the “cream of the crop” amongst her peers became a catalyst for success for a young woman from the small town of Bizana in the Eastern Cape.

Zukiswa Mlilo-Sithole, an Automotive Technician Apprentice at Tavcor Volkswagen dealership in Port Elizabeth, has given meaning to the saying: “Strength and growth come only through continuous effort and struggle.” She won the Motor Industry Staff Association (MISA) Woman of the Year Award for 2018.

One of the benefits of winning the award, Mlilo-Sithole explains, was being sent by MISA to attend the National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA) show held in San Francisco, United States of America, in January this year.

“My experience at the show was phenomenal. I drew great inspiration from speakers such as Carey Lohrenz, the first female F-14 fighter pilot who explained that working in a high-pressure and male dominated environment taught her to develop a ‘killer instinct’ in her work,” she says.

Mlilo-Sithole says receiving the accolade is one of her greatest achievements.

“I come from humble beginnings and believe that it was through hard work and resilience that I won the award,” she explains.

Raised by a single mother who was a domestic worker, Mlilo-Sithole says she also started work as a domestic worker upon completion of her matric, but did so in order to raise funds to further her education and assist her mother financially.

She studied Mechanical Engineering up to N4 level at Port Elizabeth College in 2014. While studying, Mlilo-Sithole continued to work as a domestic worker for some of her lecturers and sold vetkoek to pay for accommodation and transport to school. In 2015, she was amongst the students chosen to undergo experiential training at a Nissan dealership in Port Elizabeth during school holidays. She was later offered apprenticeship training by Tavcor Volkswagen Port Elizabeth in 2016, funded by the merSETA.

“I am currently doing Level 2 in my training and plan to complete it by 2020,” she explains.

Mlilo-Sithole’s triumph in the midst of struggles and tribulations led to her being invited by the college to give motivational talks to other students.

“I share my story with young people to encourage them to work hard and not let their disadvantaged backgrounds define their future,” she says.

Her dedication is backed by her Service Manager, Justin Fourie, who describes her as hard working and energetic.

“She is always willing to learn and takes instructions and criticism with a positive attitude,” he says.

Mlilo-Sithole says it was through the mentorship of people around her that she became successful in her studies and career.

“My husband, Paul Sithole, is one of the people who were instrumental in my success and I am grateful for his support,” she says. “While I was studying at Port Elizabeth College, one of my lecturers, Mr Pretorius, always encouraged me to stay focused on my studies, even in the midst of student protests.”

She explains that she also received assistance from another lecturer, Fiona Gluten, who gave her a place to stay, relieving the pressure of accommodation and transport costs.

When people recognise your desire to succeed in life, Mlilo-Sithole says, they open their doors for you.

“One of the speakers at the NADA show, Bill Rancic, explained how he used to sell pancakes because he had a vision greater than fear itself. His story gave me goose bumps because it reminded me of my ownjourney in life,” she explains.