Two women are shaking up predominantly male-dominated industrial occupations and doing so with flair and excellence. They offer encouragement to other women to make their mark in their chosen profession. Vuyisile Precious Kubheka at Werner Pumps has taken over the company’s TIG welding, while one of Werner Pumps’ customers, Vaneetha Govender, runs her own company called Lupini Projects, which focuses on civil and project engineering.
Over the years, Vuyisile has faced issues with people not trusting that she can weld, purely because she’s a woman. “But once they see my work, they believe in me,” she says, with a smile.
TIG welding is challenging because mistakes made are very obvious. A skilled welder needs to be able to avoid undercuts and loopholes and create a clean weld. Vuyisile welds the hydraulic tanks for the high-pressure jetting and vacuuming units that Werner Pumps builds, where the presence of even the smallest hole or weakness, could create safety issues.
She came to welding by default, after struggling to find stable work. In 2010, she had an opportunity to pursue welding training, and has been making a living as a welder since 2013. “I’d encourage other women to think about welding as a career,” she says. “It’s a skill that people need which has allowed me to support my four children.”
Wading into water reticulation
As a wholly black-owned company headed by one of the only women in water reticulation in South Africa, Lupini Projects is making waves. Its services include unblocking sewer lines; cleaning dewatering and desludging at pump stations; level control activities and extraction of soil, sediment and foreign matter blocking manholes, gravity lines and bulk lines; pipeline construction, manhole/junction boxes, and formwork; water supply, sewer line, drainage system; earthworks and pipework; and construction of civil works, including steel works.
Vaneetha is quick to note that while her skills lie in business, she has relied on input from people more experienced than herself to navigate the water reticulation industry. “Partnering with Werner Pumps has been key to my success. They are well known in the water treatment industry, being a forerunner for many years. They bring technological advancement and innovative experience to my business,” she says.
Part of the solution
She has an MBA, an Honours degree in Business Administration (PGDIP), a degree in Business Leadership Management (BML), and an Advanced Diploma in Business Management from the London Business School.
The idea for Lupini Projects came to Vaneetha while she was pursuing her Masters degree. She was studying the depletion of global water resources and its direct impact on quality of life and socio-economic development. Living close to the Vaal River, she was aware of highly publicised reports on sewer pollution in the area. This, coupled with the desire to start her own business, drove her decision to become a part of the solution in the Vaal.
Lupini Projects was born in 2015. “I have three streams of business that I run within the company portfolio,” says Vaneetha. “These are in the pharmaceutical, personal protection equipment (PPE) and the water management industries.”
The water management industry has several barriers to entry, including high capital costs of equipment, access to finance for small businesses and securing initial contracts, as well as meeting compliance requirements (which can also be costly).
Confident in their support
Vaneetha has overcome these challenges by being willing to ‘fail fast’ and learn quickly. She has also invested in quality equipment, including two Werner Pumps combination truck units. “The onsite support I had when I purchased my first vehicle was exemplary. Werner Pumps trained my entire team on the vehicle and all its components down to the oils required for each application. They further fully certified my staff as operators of the vehicle but, most importantly, I had on-site support for almost a week, with the trainer spending time with my team at their work sites, ensuring they use the vehicle correctly and that they are comfortable operating the vehicle.
“Sebastian, the MD, has been a great support. It’s rare to have direct access to the head of the company with whom you can discuss your challenges and arrive at solutions. Werner Pumps has made my transition into the water management business less daunting. Their support, coupled with the company’s expertise, has elevated my confidence to take on new challenges. They have truly empowered me as a woman in business, and Lupini Projects is ready to navigate the future knowing that we have sound business partners in the industry,” Vaneetha concludes.