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Thozeka Ntlukwane-Letuka

Thozeka Ntlukwane-Letuka

THOZEKA NTLUKWANE-LETUKA wears many hats and has been described as an eco-warrior, philanthropist and mother to all. During her varied career, she has worked as a domestic worker, market researcher, transcriber, translator, training provider and as a community liaison officer.

Her vision is: "To empower people and protect the environment through skills transfer and waste management consulting thereby creating sustainable livelihoods."

Thozeka is the founder of Big Start Training and Development, which is a 100% black owned training provider. As she has a passion for the environment, her company concentrates on providing accredited conservation and environmental awareness education and training programmes. This includes training in water supply, sewerage, waste management and remediation activities, waste collection treatment, disposal activities and material recovery.

Thozeka identified a gap in many current training programmes, which do not offer tailor made training that is in line with the age, ethnic background and the indigenous language of the communities trained. This gap results in a disconnect in understanding and lowers the value received from training.

She says, "I am where I am today by working hard, perseverance, and through a desire to change people's behaviour about the environment. People are losing their respect for nature; they pollute rivers and dump litter everywhere and have lost touch with where they have come from."

Working tirelessly

Thozeka has always been a busy woman. During her early working career, she explains that although she had a helper and a washing machine, she would wake up at 4 am to do washing and by 6 am she was at her first job in Westville. At that stage she was doing three jobs.

She added that she has achieved in her career by working tirelessly because as a woman you need to strive to succeed. "You need to be tough. However, women have a strong sense of the need to accomplish their missions. They are willing to strategise and even to fail in their attempts to succeed."

Thozeka has been recognised for her efforts and has been awarded a certificate of achievement by the Durban University of Technology and the Inter-national Centre of Non-violence for Durban Leader-ship programme.

Fostering community participation

In reflecting on her achievements, Thozeka, said that highlights of her career have included creating job opportunities in the environmental sector. She is proud of her role in fostering community parti-cipation in waste management and food production, and in encouraging communities to adopt food production techniques that focus on the agricultural sector to improve the availability and quality of food.

Thozeka is the community liaison officer for the Aller River Pilot Project, which is a 'Take Back Our Rivers' initiative run by the eThekwini Conservancies Forum. River pollution is a topic that has always been close to her heart. She says, "In the olden days, rivers were dear to everyone, our parents respected the environment and rivers were used for many things, but because people's lifestyle has changed, we have neglected this important resource."

"We need to start saving water because of climate change and we need to educate communities and schools to harvest water and recycle before it is too late. It is important to eliminate toxic waste that pollutes the rivers. This can be achieved by educating informal settlements about separating and selling waste and by not polluting the rivers."

Plastic is a curse, but it can be re-cycled and re-used. Thozeka has encouraged women in co-operatives to up cycle plastics by making hats, mats, handbags and outfits. This initiative by the Aller River Pilot Project Eco -Champ for Up Cycling, won an award at the Ecologic Awards in Cape Town in June 2019.

A wish list

While Thozeka is satisfied with what she has achieved, she has a wish list. In the future she would like to see women and youth owning up cycle shops, for Big Start Training and Development to grow and do business in neighbouring countries, and to have a Further Education and Training (FET) college. Help to realise this dream has materialised as Big Start Training and Development has been selected to participate in Seda Durban's Small enterprise coaching programme (SECP) during 2019/2020.

She would like to see more youth working or doing practical jobs because, as she explains, many of them leave schools or colleges with theory that does not help them to earn a living. "I am working with graduates, who are unemployed, to obtain practical experience in the workplace. I make them aware that volunteering helps to practice skills and increase knowledge because all companies ask for experience before offering employment and need references." Thozeka's passion for community upliftment is apparent. In 2008/9 she invested back into her hometown of Philippolis, which is a small town in the Free State. She built an old age home for the elderly who did not have anyone to take care of them.

Value time and dream big

Speaking of work-life balance, Thozeka said she did not want to get married as she felt she would not be able to do all her work and have time to spend with a husband. Now that she has done a lot for the community, Thozeka has finally settled down with her husband, a pastor, whom she describes as a perfect fit. "I have been blessed with a hard-working partner, a perfect delight."

When asked what advice she would give her younger self, Thozeka said she would say to value time and dream big. "Take one step at a time and prioritise; ask for an advice and be confident about what you are doing."

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