Cracking it in South Africa’s male-dominated automotive repair industry
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Harambee, Wise Cracks partnership empowers young women through entrepreneurship 

There is very limited data on the representation of female artisans in the South African automotive repair industry, but it is no doubt male-dominated. 

Youth unemployment in South Africa is hovering just above 45%, one of the highest in the world. The Eastern Cape’s youth unemployment rate is much higher than the country’s average at 52%. And while employment among young men has increased post-pandemic, the recovery in female youth employment seems to have stalled.  

Wanting to empower and offer a sustainable livelihood to young women from townships in the Eastern Cape, and test a new business model, local windscreen repair company Wise Cracks partnered with Harambee Youth Employment Accelerator to break down some of the barriers young women face in finding work, particularly as artisans. Funded by East London-based DG Murray Trust, a pilot project was launched to test the viability of creating micro-entrepreneurship opportunities for women as windscreen repairers in and around the areas in which they live.

Additionally, the project looked to expand the market for repairing windscreens instead of replacing them, which is not only more cost-effective but also much better for the environment as discarded glass takes a long time to break down. 

The project and the process 

The project provided young women with portable windscreen repair kits and supported them with technical and soft skills training needed to start their own windscreen repair business. The toolkit included all the hardware needed to repair windscreen cracks. It also came with consumables for the candidate’s first 200 jobs and an administrative book for completing invoices.

Candidates were sourced through the SA Youth platform. is a zero-rated, 100% free platform where young people can access jobs, learning, and earn-your-own-money opportunities close to where they live - without using any data. Hundreds of women applied and  underwent a stringent selection process that looked for previous sales or self-employment experience, an understanding of good customer service, demonstrated resilience, and the ability to work well with their hands.

Eleven young women between the ages of 18 and 29 were chosen to participate in a week-long technical and sales training course, after which they were entrusted with the windscreen repair kits.  Now, 18 months later, the results have been positive. While income levels have varied, the longevity of the business model is evident as 10 trainees managed to master the technical aspect of the trade and are still actively using their repair kits and skills. They also report having acquired transferable entrepreneurship skills in marketing, finance and the administration part of running a business, and are making enough money to partially support themselves—most are working as windscreen repairers part time on weekends. 

Sue Hagemann, client services manager at Harambee, says: “We saw this as an opportunity to unlock additional latent demand without displacing the current providers of that service. It’s a way to put entrepreneurship into the hands of young black women on a micro-enterprise level.”     

Wiser woman

Among the success stories is Lisakhanya Matiso, a 22-year-old from King William’s Town. While pursuing her BCom in Industrial Psychology, Lisakhanya was looking for a way to support herself and found her answer with Wise Cracks. This opportunity has not only provided her with financial stability but has also given her the confidence and skills to venture into entrepreneurship. Lisakhanya has since completed her studies and is focused on channelling her newfound abilities to expand her business further. 

Lessons Learned 

While these young women have proven they can do the work to industry standards, they’ve certainly faced some challenges, including personal safety. Candidates prefer formal sites where there is a throughput of vehicles with potential clients, which means they’ve had to be very selective in the work they take on. This has limited their ability to work within their townships’ informal sector—an unfortunate reality of the multiple challenges women face in being economically active. 

It’s also clear that giving an inexperienced young person just the tools and technical skills to start their own business, is not enough to guarantee success. They need more support in terms of running their business, including working with money and marketing their service—all of which was provided as part of the pilot. So far none of the team earn sufficient income to do this as a full time job, indicating a greater need for support in accessing clients and markets. 

“The most successful candidates were those who had access to transport and those who worked together as a team to support each other’s businesses over wider geographical areas,” says Hagemann. 

Looking ahead 

Looking ahead, Harambee and Wise Cracks plan to test the model further, try it with more candidates and get funding to take the micro-entrepreneurs to the next level. As the project develops and grows, its women will be given more assistance in accessing markets rather than leaving them to unlock demand on their own. Naamsa, the National Association of Automobile Manufacturers of South Africa, is supporting the project by assisting with creating opportunities for access to customers for the Wise Crack’s ‘team’.  

Mark van Antwerp, Founder and MD of Wise Cracks, expressed his optimism in the project, stating, “The skills and kit are highly valued by the candidates, and all indicate that they plan to put more focus on their businesses. We plan on revisiting the programme with a few enhancements, including collaborating with insurance firms, original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) and vehicle dealerships to help create market access.”

Through continuous support and mentorship, the candidates’ confidence in the business model and in themselves is expected to strengthen, with the promise of even greater success going forward. Given the right resources, South Africa’s young women show boundless potential, and that they have the ability to overcome societal myths and barriers, creating lasting change for themselves and their communities.