Fearless female warrior

Dealerfloor first met Thandeka Khumalo when she led colleagues at SMG Toyota in Hillcrest on a 16 Days of Activism against Gender-based Violence campaign. Herself a teenage rape survivor, she was selected as the 2019 Woman of the Year by the Motor Industry Staff Association (Misa) of which she is a proud member.

KZN j5 Thandeka Khumalo

Khumalo admits the 16 Days of Activism is largely a symbolic gesture, but adds “every bit of awareness helps” to lower South Africa’s high levels of gender based violence. A top seller of Siyayas to taxi owners in Pinetown, Khumalo has won a slew of monthly dealership and national quarterly awards. She said she learned the most about the auto trade while working 11 years as case manager and “dealing with irate customers and resolving their complaints to restore the customers’ faith in the Toyota brand”.

How did you move from victim or victor?

First off, you have to know I don’t like pity. People must not feel sorry for me. I got my counselling at the Pinetown branch of Open Door Crisis Centre. They helped me and many others to move from being victim to being victor and I encourage all women in abusive situations to contact them. Their website has all the numbers on opendoor.org.za.

I now give back by counseling many girls via social media. When we are young we like to take the easy way out. I get these desperate messages from girls– ‘I am 16 and pregnant’ or ‘We got no money, how can I be like you?’

I mentor these girls, telling them education is the first step to take on the path out of poverty trap, the second step is to get a learnership. I tell them to dream big and to set goals. Then plan in simple steps towards those goals. I tell them to at least finish matric and get a driver’s licence

My own mentor, I actually call her my mom at work, was Carrie-Ann van Heerden, sales manager at McCarthy Toyota. I had this badly maintained RunX which needed an engine overhaul and was on the jacks at Toyota Pinetown, where I met Carrie-Ann. She was surprised to hear I had been driving ekasi style for years, you know, just on a learner’s licence. She told me when I got my drivers licence, she would give me a job.

I was taking the bus for many months, because I really struggled with parallel parking! I failed three of my driving tests before I finally got that parallel parking right, and when I showed Carrie-Ann my licence, I got the job.

My next mentor was GM at Hillcrest Toyota, Angela Willis. Being a girly girl, I was not used to taking action to fix physical things myself, but she quickly changed that mindset! For example, when I said I’m really cold because the aircon was blasting me with cold air, Angela shocked me when she kicked off shoes and hopped onto a chair -- in her short skirt mind -- to adjust the air conditioner’s louvres. Job done.

Thandeka Khumalo
Thandeka Khumalo (front, third from left) with her colleagues at SMG Toyota in Hillcrest adding their voices to last year’s 16 Days of Activism against Gender-based Violence.

What was your first job after school?

I started as a nanny, what Europeans call an au pair, cooking and cleaning, taking kids to school, doing domestic chores. I studied sales and marketing at Unisa for a year, and then I sold insurance at Santam and Liberty Life.

My first job in the motor trade was at CMH Toyota in Melrose, where I was a vehicle finance assistant.

Now you specialise in selling taxis?

I love, LOVE my taxi owners. They are not the mafia the media portrays them to be. Yes, there are bad apples, but I don’t meet them in the associations. There you find people who run proper businesses and who do a lot of charity work in their communities.

I work with the Clermont & Kwadabeka Taxi Association, based in New Germany. The meetings always start with prayer and follow strict protocols. There is no swearing, for example. It’s all very professional. I have to book a slot in the meetings and then get to pitch to 70-80 men.

I remember my first pitch, I was so nervous, my voice and my legs were shaking. Public speaking is still not my strong suit. But those gentlemen were – and are – so respectful to me, they always put me at my ease. I take snacks and juice for after the meeting and like I said, taxi owners are close to my heart.

How did you establish this loyalty among taxi owners?

I am a Toyota Knight, which is how Toyota recognises staff who not only sell well, but do charity work in their communities. I work with the taxi owners on their charities. We support El Gibbor Kitchen, formerly Heavens Kitchens, who feed 100-180 homeless people outside Tiger Wheels and Tyres in Old Main Road, Pinetown every Monday and Thursday evening. We also give 100 school uniforms, from head to toe every year, provide a Christmas meal to 100 families and support a local old age home.

So for me being a Toyota Knight is not about selling taxis, but sharing the responsibility to build our community. This is a big part of why I love my job. I really like that my brand (Toyota) has this philosophy to care for their community.

How has lockdown affected you?

Lockdown has really hurt sales, we could only sell to essential services, and for some reason, taxis are not considered essential. So my units are way down. But I know that when I meet with the taxi owners again, they will buy. We have strong relationships and we are loyal to each other, to the point that they followed me from Pinetown to Hillcrest when I moved.

What comes next on your own goals and plans?

I was aiming to be a sales manager at 40, which is this year, but lockdown has derailed that plan! Weekends I cater at functions – with the knowledge of my employer – and I also aim to grow this side of my life.

I love feeding people, mostly doing buffets – I’m not that big on baking. But I also love my brand – no, scratch that – I am OBSESSED with my brand, so I want to grow with Toyota. And who knows where that path will lead?

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