A warm, friendly voice on the other end of the phone, with echoes of children playing and talking in the background – Divine instantly makes you feel like you are talking to an old friend. Leaving her home country of DRC and her eventual arrival in South Africa were both journeys mired in fear. But Divine is a resilient, determined woman; she has taught herself English, raised a family, found jobs in all sorts of sectors, and is planning on starting her own business. She wants to share her success and resilience with other women too.
Endings and Beginnings
Often, a barrier to integration is language. In Divine’s case, her lack of English actually helped her land her first job! “I could only say ‘good morning’. But Cross Trainer hired me because I spoke French – and that’s where I started learning English!” Divine started working at the Cross Trainer in Cape Town’s International Airport during the 2010 World Cup. It was here that her dreams of starting her own business began.
Divine was an accountant at a big supermarket back home in Lubumbashi. Her father was a CEO, but because of ethnic fighting her father lost his job. Following this, Divine and her eldest sister fled to South Africa after being attacked in their home. The journey was long and potholed: what agents promised to be a few days took more than a week – with Divine and her sister being arrested at one point – while their family had no idea where they were.
Although things seemed difficult on initial arrival in South Africa (Divine and her sister were victims of an armed home invasion) – Divine has managed to build a beautiful life. Having built up stability in South Africa, Divine is now focused on achieving her goals and assisting other women.
An array of experience
After leaving Cross Trainer, Divine worked in various different companies and positions. From an assistant manager at King Pie to a sales assistant at Exotic Persians, Divine has gained experience in an array of careers – which has helped her fine-tune her own business plans. “I like the hospitality world and I am definitely a people’s person,” she remarks, reflecting on her ultimate role as guesthouse manager.
After Divine took maternity leave from the guesthouse, she approached Scalabrini. She accessed the Advocacy Programme, then the Women’s Platform and then the Employment Access Programme – who helped Divine find employment during lockdown. Divine joined the programme with her business dream in mind. “I would like to start a sewing business. I’m good with outfits and evening wear, so I would like to start something where I can make lots of different things, and then help others who are also looking for jobs. I won’t let a woman like me just sit at home. I can help them and we can work together.”
Not letting lockdown slow her down
Like many in South Africa and across the world, lockdown has been difficult time for Divine. It had the potential to derail her plans. “Lockdown was very stressful. We have three kids and my husband is still not back at work. They were sending invoices for school fees, the kids need to eat, and I need to buy nappies for the little one.”
With the help of Employment Access Programme, Divine found employment as a front office manager at another guesthouse. “I’m enjoying it and I’m learning more every day. I like learning. Before starting my own thing, it’s good to see how to run a business – from what I’m doing today, I will be able to run my own thing.”