‘I’m unshakable now’: How perseverance and hard work paid off for Henley alum Dimakatso Ramawela

From crossing the mighty Merekome River in Limpopo to get to school each day, to the halls of a global business school, Dimakatso Ramawela’s journey of success is nothing short of remarkable.

Business school means many things to many people: a place to grow your skills and confidence, a new network, career advancement, and greater prestige and recognition in the workplace. But to Dimakatso Ramawela, a forklift driver with Transnet Engineering, business school was the first place she felt truly seen – and loved. 

‘At Henley Business School, I was embraced by a community of like-minded individuals and immersed in a world of knowledge and innovation,’ she says. ‘I was amazed when they said, eat breakfast before you study, and gave me a high-five when I walked through the door. Surrounded by supportive mentors and peers, I was given love. I was welcomed. I felt at home!’ 

The experience was so profound, partly because Dimakatso’s childhood in a remote village in the Bolobedu district of Limpopo Province was anything but loving. Growing up in a two-wives family, resources were scarce. She tended the family’s goats and often went to school hungry. Because her parents and family were unable to provide a nurturing environment, she was raised primarily by her late grandmother, Makoma Malapane. ‘Her love and guidance shaped my character and resilience. Despite the initial challenges, I've grown to appreciate the strength and values instilled in me, which have greatly contributed to my personal and professional development.’ 

It was her grandmother who encouraged Dimakatso to strive to get an education. Growing up in rural Limpopo, education was not a right, but a privilege, she explains, and a hard-won privilege at that. Although teachers were supportive and recognised her innate intelligence, school was always an uphill battle, from having to study by candlelight to losing all her books in a fire at home during her matric final examination. 

Just to get to school every day, Dimakatso and her friends had to cross the ‘mighty Merekome River’, and when it was in spate, this became an impossible barrier. It’s rather a good metaphor for life and overcoming challenges, she comments. 

‘Every day, I braved the currents and pursued my education with unwavering resolve and on days when the river was high, we would hold onto one another as we went across so the water would not swallow us!’ 

Against the odds, Dimakatso got her matric. After struggling for years to find a job in Limpopo, she applied for and won an apprenticeship at Transnet in Pretoria, which she saw advertised in the library at Tzaneen. ‘I used a pen to write my cover letter – because they said it was R25 to type a document. Then, I went to the post office and mailed it. I didn’t use email; I didn’t even know about emails at that time!’ 

With a foothold in Transnet, she worked herself up with on-the-job training, achieving a blacksmith Red Seal in 2017, and eventually became a forklift driver. She was made permanent in 2020 and relocated to Port Elizabeth. It was around this time that a colleague told her about the Transnet Leaders Programme at Henley Business School Africa. 

The amazing thing about this programme is that it was open to anyone in the organisation. You didn’t have to be in a leadership role or have a strong academic track record. Anyone who thought they could benefit was invited to apply and submit a motivation letter. Dimakatso didn’t have to be asked twice. Her passionate application immediately gained her a spot on the year-long programme that saw almost 300 other young and emerging leaders at Transnet benefit. 

The programme consisted of four learning blocks. In the first, delegates were given the theoretical building blocks of business, in the second, they turned the focus inward to personal mastery. For block three, leadership was the focus. The final block, themed Africa Rising, looked outward at the importance of building a strong and thriving community around a business. 

According to Frans Van Der Colff, lead programme director at Henley, it stretched from the operational to the strategic level, with opportunities created for delegates to interact with the C-suite. 

‘It was all about building a leadership pipeline for the organisation. They wanted to invest in younger people and build their skills and knowledge to ensure that they are ready and think maturely when they get into a position of leadership,’ he says. 

For Dimakasto, the investment has clearly paid off. She says that the experience was nothing short of transformative, honing her skills and shaping not only her career but her outlook on life. 

‘I’ve changed a lot since Henley. Before the programme, if my manager asked me to attend a production meeting – I was scared. After Henley, I feel prepared. I’m unshakable now. I confidently ask questions and willingly provide answers when prompted, fostering a more collaborative and informed environment. Before I was too scared to talk.’ 

She is, she says, ready to step up into a leadership role, rating the strategic thinking, decision making and problem-solving skills she has gained on the programme highly. She knows she has what it takes to inspire and motivate others and is a natural problem solver. Leadership, she says, is not that different from tending the goats; you have to watch out for those in your care and make sure they have what they need to thrive and grow.

‘I reflect on my journey so far with profound gratitude,’ says Dimakatso. ‘My success is a testament to the unwavering support of my late grandparents, the opportunities provided by Transnet, the transformative power of education, and, of course, Henley’s healing and holistic approach.’

Not one to keep things to herself, she adds that she’s committed to using her knowledge and experiences to make a positive impact in the world. ‘I need to start using these weapons I’ve gained to fight for a better future.’

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