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Ex-housing minister appointed to Dawn board of directors

The Dawn Group recently welcomed a highly-successful businesswoman and political leader to its board of directors.

(November 2010): Former housing minister and influential businesswoman, Dr. Sankie Mthembi-Mahanyele, has transferred her broad range of knowledge and expertise from high-profile government administration to the private sector, after being appointed as a non-executive director at the Dawn Group of Companies in May.

Mthembi-Mahanyele brings an impressive portfolio to the construction-focused group, having served as South Africa’s housing minister between 1995 and 2002. What’s more, she is one of the highest-ranking women in the African National Congress (ANC) as she served her fulfilling role as Deputy Secretary-General, a responsibility she performed from December 2002 until 2007. She currently sits on the National Executive Committee (NEC) of the ANC.

Having won world-wide acclaim from the United Nations for her performance delivery, after successfully meeting a target of providing one-million houses to the poor within a timeframe of five years, Mthembi-Mahanyele is confident that her vast experience in this field will add value to the Dawn Group - which is centred on the manufacturing and wholesale distribution of branded hardware, sanitaryware, plumbing, kitchen, engineering and civil products.

Mthembi-Mahanyele has identified DPI Plastics - a leading manufacturer of PVC and HDPE water reticulation and drainage pipe and fitting systems - as one of the Dawn Group’s businesses that could play a pivotal role towards improving affordable housing, by marketing its products to the lower end of the income market.

“DPI Plastics manufactures state-of-the-art piping systems that have proven to be unrivalled in quality. The problem we face locally; however, is that these top-quality products are only available at the higher-end of the income market. By working on a strategy to reach lower income groups, DPI can not only ensure that better quality homes are being built for the poor, but they can also instil a strong work ethos among members of the community,” she explains.

Mthembi-Mahanyele points out that she was approached by the Dawn Group earlier in the year, and was happy to take on the challenge of providing new insight into a sector of the economy where she has gained substantial experience over the years. “Sitting in on board meetings will also give me the opportunity to learn what new strategies are best-suited to the company, following a tough financial year,” she continues.

Mthembi-Mahanyele notes that the biggest problem facing the South African economy is the skills shortage, which directly results in poor quality work. She believes that the best way to overcome this challenge is through an increase in public-private partnerships (PPP), which will integrate the private sector skills base with that of government and communities by transferring these skills to those who need them.

“It is critical that the private sector and government work together towards a common goal of improving productivity in South Africa. Skills need to be developed - from grass-roots, all the way to top-management, and this can be achieved through various training programmes,” she explains. “What’s more, through corporate social investment (CSI) projects, previously-disadvantaged groups can learn the skills that they require to build a better future for themselves and their families, while maintaining standards of excellence that will improve productivity.”

Mthembi-Mahanyele points out that this proved to be a successful strategy during her tenure in government. “The private sector answered government calls for secondment of personnel with financial skills from the private sector to provincial housing departments to assist with transfer of this particular skill. As a result, budgets and service delivery deadlines were met. If the partnership is managed well, it has unlimited potential in adding vital skills and resources to both parties,” she continues.

Looking at the civil industry in general, Mthembi-Mahanyele says that transformation is a slow process that cannot happen overnight; however, she does believe that the industry is heading in the right direction. She notes that the Dawn Group is no exception - having recently sold a 31% stake in the business to BEE group Ukhamba Holdings.

 “The Ukhamba deal shows that transformation in the industry is taking place, and that people who were left out in the past are now learning, developing and participating in the economy - albeit on a small scale. It is essential to the growth of the economy that corporations nurture these new entrants in their companies, and consciously transfer the necessary skills, so that we fill the gap created by the past social system.  In addition, entry-level employees need skills enhancement, and those nearing the end of their careers need to reproduce themselves by training others in their field of expertise - in other words, mentor the young in their midst,” says Mthembi-Mahanyele. “The economy needs to be run by a diverse range of the population, and this should be addressed sooner rather than later.”

She believes that the Dawn Group has weathered the effects of the recession reasonably well, and that there is room for growth in 2011. “The Dawn Group is broad and diverse, with some businesses being hit by the recession worse than others. The group in general has; however, stood up in the face of adversity, and can realistically look at expansion in the future.”

Mthembi-Mahanyele says that there has been a distinct improvement in the national economy following the effects of the global economic downturn, and she points out that South Africa’s role in the international community is becoming increasingly-important. “We are a high-profile country on the global scale in term of politics and economics. For this reason, we must lead-by-example in every aspect of our society. In order to achieve this, we must ensure that our skilled people remain in the country, in order to share their expertise and talents with those who want to see the country develop further,” she concludes.

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