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To celebrate Women’s Month, Leadership Magazine went behind the scenes to find out more about the women who work for uMngeni-uThukela Water and its subsidiaries

UMngeni-uThukela Water is the new name for the former Umgeni Water, after the incorporation of Mhlathuze Water with effect from 01 July 2023.

Among the fundamental drivers of this change is to join forces to enhance water and sanitation service delivery to all communities in KwaZulu-Natal and also achieve economies of scale in all aspects of business functions. UMngeni-uThukela Water will provide water and wastewater and related services to other water services institutions and municipalities within its gazetted service area of 30 200 km2 which is the entire Province of KwaZulu-Natal. It will provide safe drinking water to 6.7 million people and an estimated 1.9 million households.

The entity operates in compliance with the Water Services Act (Act 108 of 1997) and the Public Finance Management Act (Act 1 of 1999), among others, and is categorised as a National Government Business Enterprise. UMngeni-uThukela Water reports directly to the Department of Water and Sanitation, through the Board (Accounting Authority) and through its functionaries, the Chairperson of the Board and the Chief Executive. The Minister of Water and Sanitation is the Executive Authority for Water Boards.

As a way to celebrate Women’s Month, Leadership Magazine spoke to four of the strong, powerful women involved in the day-to-day running of this important entity.

”Leading ethically is important to me”

Phetsile Magagula CA (SA) is the Interim Chief Financial Officer (CFO) of uMngeni-uThukela Water.

Magagula joined Mhlathuze Water in January 2023 as interim CFO, before moving over to uMngeni-uThukela Water following the reconfiguration and merger.

Key to how Magagula conducts her business is leading ethically, which is something she would never compromise and hopes to entrench within the operations at uMngeni-uThukela Water going forward.

“I lead ethically and set the tone which will hopefully bring a redress to the organisation’s past mishaps and create a culture of doing things the right way. This remains one of those things that I am resolute on. I hope to make headway into running a clean administration,” she insists.

With the newly-formed uMngeni-uThukela Water, new opportunities are there for the taking. Magagula believes that she is now in a position to being part of a collective that will bring about positive change—and that is something she is looking forward to.

”Being a member of this new EXCO has put one in a space where decisions of where this new entity is going to go are made. I feel like we are just in the midst of making history. It’s a single water board for KZN. Fresh with a new name.

“This hasn’t happened before. So, I think we have been given an opportunity to chart a new course; set a new organisational culture, set new standards of ethics and excellence, improve and streamline operations that will advance service delivery and benefit a lot of people,” she states.

“It is important to have a voice in a strategic position and I do not take that lightly. So, my hope is to continue to lend my knowhow, skills and expertise and be that force to bring that change.”

As it is Women’s Month and with Magagula being a strong female leader, the question around women empowerment at uMngeni-uThukela Water is a poignant one.

For Magagula, one simply has to look at the various spheres of management within the entity to see that uMngeni-uThukela Water is getting things right and giving worthy women the chance to stamp their authority.

”You just have to look at the board itself; it has had a history of women leaders. There are also quite a number of senior females in the executive level here, and we have a good representation within middle-management. I have experienced the fact that they are not shy to make sure that they create the necessary balance,” Magagula says.

Moreover, uMngeni-uThukela Water believes in the need to support all women, not just those within the organisation. This is evident in their supply chain initiatives and enterprise supply development initiatives, which support women-owned enterprises and create opportunities for them to thrive.

In closing, Magagula reveals that competence, education, and the desire to do and learn more about the business you work in are so important to those looking to get ahead in their careers, as stagnating has never done anyone any good.

”Gone are the days where CFOs were just concerned about the numbers without giving much focus on the rest of the business operations. I had to adapt and get to understand the connectivity between organisations mandate; strategy, risks and its stakeholders; so as to give context to the financial performance I report on.”

“I strive for competence, I teach myself, I challenge myself, I get continuous professional development, I get myself more exposure, and I learn about the entity. This allows me to come from a place of strength and in turn add value.”

”I love seeing growth in people. I always encourage my subordinates to study, put their hand up for new exposure and learn more about the business, as that’s what will get you ahead. I have had a lot of feedback from the people who reported to me around just how much they learn, because I want them to learn, think, challenge me and understand what they are doing. I need to make sure that I am not a superstar on my own, but my team too,” she concludes.

”I want to add value in people’s lives”

Moketenyane Moleko is the GM, Corporate Services for uMngeni-uThukela Water.

In her role, she is responsible for the human resources department, which deals with all matters related to employees. In addition, she is responsible for the information technology department, which provides systems for the organisation to function.

Moleko admits that she is extremely proud to work for uMngeni-uThukela Water because of what the entity is able to provide to the people of her province, as without water, there is no life.

She expands: ”There is no substitute for water. You can have loadshedding and light a candle or you have solar, but if you don’t have water, then there is no substitute for water. So I believe that we are a very important entity and the provision of water is one of the most important things that we do.”

While Moleko has entrenched herself within the entity, there is always room for growth. That growth can come in various guises and Moleko’s idea of said growth is something we need to see more of in our society.

”What I would like to achieve in life is to add value in people’s lives. One day when I leave the organisation, I want to leave a mark through my passion for facilitating the development of the human capabilities within the organisation.

”When I retire, I would love to see a woman taking over my position. However, they should not take over just because they are a woman—they must take over because they are capable. For them to be capable, they need to go through a development process where they are mentored and guided in terms of what is required to be in a leadership position—which is something I am passionate about helping them achieve.”

The experience which Moleko has garnered over the years has made her a vital component of uMngeni-uThukela Water.

However, it has not always been easy in her career to truly make her mark—a problem many women face in the world of business.

She explains: “As a woman in a male-dominated entity, you face challenges such as not being seen as an equal. I have been the one woman in most of the EXCOs during my career, and you always have that challenge where you have to prove yourself as a woman—that you are just as capable as the men around you.

“If you look at my portfolio managing human resources and IT, sometimes those areas are looked at as the ‘softer’ part of the organisation. However, I believe they are the most important part, because without human resources and IT systems, the organisation would not function or achieve its goals.”

For those dreaming of reaching the heights she has, Moleko believes that having self-belief and self-confidence are key to achieving your career goals.

In addition, she says that leadership should never be looked at as a competition between men and women, as that pushes the realisation of equality further and further away.

“You must believe in yourself, firstly, because once you doubt yourself, then you find that you are not able to deliver and you lose focus. We must also stop wanting to compete with men and wanting to lead like men. We need to know that as women, we need to lead the way that we want to.

“The most important thing is to understand the business, look for opportunities, and then seize those opportunities—all while making sure that you prove that you are as capable as the men folk are, if not more,” Moleko concludes.

Nandi Sikutshwa is the Senior Manager: Strategy Management for uMngeni-uThukela Water.

Among her responsibilities is guiding the organisation in setting up its planning processes in a logical manner, to avoid customers being left without what they have been promised.

This is especially true now that uMngeni-uThukela Water has gone through a reconfiguration of its structure, meaning the entity is now responsible for more people than ever before.

She explains: ”We need to be able to assist in guiding the organisation in terms of identifying quick projects where we are able to turn around situations such as people having to share water with animals—they must get sufficient and quality water.

”From a strategic point of view, for the next couple of immediate months, we need to be able to set up operational planning processes, a strategic plan for the organisation that will ensure that the organisation is able to hit the ground running, because where we are at right now, we have perfected the game in the areas we were in, but that needs to be true of all areas we are moving into.”

Sikutshwa is a highly-skilled and highly-valued member of the uMngeni-uThukela Water team. A big reason for this is the values which she holds dear to her heart; values which have been instilled in her by her mother, who she considers to be her biggest mentor and the driving force behind her success to date.

She explains: ”My mother always says, ‘before you take any actions, think about us’. This means that the implications of your decisions must always take into account that they have a bearing outside of yourself.

“So, before I make any decisions, I always think about how what I am going to do is going to affect the next person. It remains my main principle in life; at work, outside of work, and in the community.”

Sikutshwa has clearly become a strong, conscious woman thanks to the influence of her mother, which is only going to serve the next generation of women well.

For equality to become a reality, we need more women like Sikutshwa imparting their knowledge and strong foundations on those rising through the ranks—as that influence will breed more women of her ilk.

But for that to happen, women need to be focused and ensure that certain principles are adhered to and held onto tightly.

”Women must always remain focused in principle. That’s always been what has driven me over 20 years of experience, especially in public service at management level—staying focused and principled.

“Once you do that, it helps you to focus on what the ball is and not play the man, because as women we easily get distracted instead of playing the ball, which means delivering on what you are expected to deliver,” she avers.

”Then it’s about paying attention to detail and ensuring quality. Once you have that, you mustn’t cut corners. That is the most difficult and the most dangerous thing that has set others up to fail.”

While the above is so important in forging a path for women, a final piece of advice from Sikutshwa pertains to something which many of us take for granted—and often it is far too late to remedy once we realise.

”There is no rank that is more important than your health. While you are being focused and principled, and trying to achieve certain targets, do not trade your health for any target, because if you are unhealthy you will not be able to deliver the quality service that you are expected to deliver,” she concludes.

Mbali Ndlovu is the Managing Director of Msinsi Holdings, which is 100% owned by uMngeni-uThukela Water.

Msinsi Holdings deal mainly with water resource management and are responsible for the management of the dams that belong to uMngeni-uThukela Water.

This means that they have to ensure good quality water and a sufficient quantity, which entails zero pollution in the dams, as well as the removal of aquatic birds and all alien plant species.

Ndlovu is loving life in her position as Managing Director. She is especially grateful for the opportunity to show what women can do when given the chance to fill positions which for too long have been dominated by men.

”I am appreciative to uMngeni-uThukela for giving me the opportunity to be the Managing Director for their subsidiary and doing the work that is mainly perceived as reserved for our male counterparts,” Ndlovu reveals.

”Being an MD in a water and resource management company is quite exciting for me and I am grateful to the organisation for such an opportunity. I am also grateful as they continue to develop us as women and allow us to take these positions. Now it is up to us to empower other young ladies behind us.”

Msinsi Holdings believe strongly in women empowerment, with their Corporate Social Investment programmes geared towards giving women a boost in the business world.

This is evident in their procurement spend, which is aimed at assisting black women-owned small businesses to grow and thrive, while a number of community projects aimed at uplifitng women are also supported by the entity.

In terms of their in-house women empowerment programmes, Ndlovu explains: ”We have bursary schemes to improve the education of our young ladies, and we have our young ladies participate in group young professionals programmes. We also have skills programmes that are aimed at women.

”Our equity plan seeks to address the inequalities in the workplace as far as women are concerned, so Msinsi is actively involved in the improvement of the lives of women, be it in the workplace or socially. So I am quite happy about what we do.”

While Ndlovu has managed to work her way up to the top, it has not always been plain sailing for her.

Armed with a plethora of experience, she is well placed to advise the next generation on what it takes to forge a path to the top.

She advises: ”My take is that you should never let anyone undermine your youth or gender, and make sure that you’ve got that seat at the table and that seat is a strategic one that will make your role indispensable.

”For those young women who want to follow in my footsteps, I would say they must be humble, understand other people, and just make sure that they continue to empower themselves by learning as much as they can.”

From a business perspective, Ndlovu admits that there is a lot to be excited about looking to the future.

This excitement is built off the back of growth. uMngeni-uThukela’s scope has increased, which means that Msinsi Holdings will be handed extra responsibilities—something which Ndlovu is relishing.

”For Msinsi Holdings, our future is all about growth. As the scope of uMngeni-uThukela has increased, that will automatically mean our scope will increase as well. We will be learning new things in new areas, especially as we will be inheriting a lot of new things which we would need to learn about. While our primary mandate is water resource management, we will be repositioning ourselves as a brand and that will bring organisational change. So, it is quite exciting and we are looking forward to that,” Ndlovu concludes.