Ozwane Mahlangu may have started her career as a domestic worker and only received her matric certificate at 38 years old. But since then, she has grown from strength to strength and today she can proudly say that she is the General Manager of a beautiful hotel in Pretoria.
Pretoria, South Africa (04 February 2023) – With passion comes perseverance. Ozwane Mahlangu, the new General Manager of ANEW Hotel Capital in Pretoria, demonstrated this by overcoming decades of obstacles. From starting her career as a domestic worker to obtaining her matriculation certificate later in life. Her story is one that serves to inspire us all.
Ozwane, affectionately known as Oz to her colleagues, was staying at ANEW Hotel Capital when she studied for her matric exams. At 38, she achieved her lifelong dream of securing a matric certificate. Now, 12 years later, she has been appointed General Manager of this very hotel.
She grew up on a farm in Dullstroom in Mpumalanga. Due to the rural nature of farm life, her access to schools during her childhood was limited. Ozwane, who goes by the name “Oz”, says her family moved in between Dullstroom and Delmas farms. She is one of eight children – six boys and two girls.
Oz’s story is one of making the impossible possible, and her determination to succeed has seen her shine during her 29-year tenure within the hospitality sector. Oz serves to inspire many adults across the country – it’s never too late.
Little did she know, she would only return to school in her late 30s as Dullstroom had no secondary education facilities.
“The year was 1986. In our culture, if you could not go to a school in your area, you had the option of staying with your aunt, uncle, or grandparents. My dad suggested I skip school. He, unfortunately, passed away in 1987.
“I started working for a family as a domestic worker. As time went on, I realised that I did not want to be a domestic, and went on to look after the family’s children. Once the children were grown up, I had to decide what I wanted to do with my future. I applied to work at a cafe.”
Oz fell pregnant at 17 and returned to the family she had previously worked for to ask if they could assist her with a job.
“In between, I fell pregnant with my second child at 19. Luckily, the father of my children approached my family for lobola to marry me. We then moved to a farm where I worked in the self-catering units. Guests often left and would speak about the service I rendered. Someone told the owner, Howard Walker, that my talent cannot go to waste by letting me clean the units, whereas he could utilise me at his Walkerson’s Hotel and Spa. Mr Walker approached me and asked that I move to the hotel.”
Oz started as a cleaner and an assistant to a housekeeper. After three months, she moved me to the kitchen as a waiter. Oz was always eager to learn and spent time learning the operations in the kitchen and menu, etc.
“There were six trainees at the hotel at the time who were doing their practical. They told me that I could still pursue grades 8, 9, and 10 – I never passed because I had quite a few responsibilities, being a wife, mother, and working. But it never stopped there for me. I analysed myself and realised I’d like to one day go into entrepreneurship. I enrolled at an institution and did my entrepreneurial course with them; I passed and got a diploma.”
Her tenure saw her growing from Waiter to Receptionist, Reservations Manager, and Assistant Manager, and then she became a General Manager.
“With the more senior role, she realised there were more responsibilities. She aspired to gain more knowledge and was determined to obtain her matric certificate. “I’m so happy that I did that. Mr Walker asked me what else I’d like to achieve, and I told him I wanted to be fluent in English and know recipes for menus and different wines. He encouraged me to buy magazines about properties, hotels, etc. and it helped me a lot. Reading a lot helped improve my English. I’ve taken on multiple courses over the years, such as a wine course, because I wanted to know more about wines. Mr Walker made so many things possible for me,” Oz shares.
All the stepping stones are finally what led Oz to pursue her matric. She said the journey was not easy as it came with a lot of sacrifices, but she was more than determined to make a success as her mission was to “obtain the paper”.
“I met a lady who guided me in this journey which saw me travelling from Dullstroom to Pretoria five times a month. In my first year, I completed three subjects – McIntyre Law, South African Law, and Ethnology. The following year, I focused on my languages – Afrikaans, English, and Zulu.
She continues: “Only six subjects were needed to complete the matric certificate. In 2012, I turned 40 and celebrated by paying tribute to my late father, who was a go-getter, motivated, and hardworking. My father always said if there’s something you need to do, work hard, and push until you get it.”
Oz became part of the ANEW Hotel & Resorts family in 2017. She says former Operations Director Kevin Burley, who is now the Director of People, Culture, and Organisational Development played a huge role in her career as a mentor.
“I’ve learned so much from Mr Burley and many of our other colleagues. What stands out for me is that as a brand, ANEW operates according to the HITEC values (Honour, Integrity, Teamwork, Excellence, and Courage). We are a team, passionate about serving our guests and creating lasting memories.”
Reflecting on her journey and the lengths it took to be seated in a management position with her matric certificate, Oz concludes: “It was like climbing a ladder because I never skipped a step. I always carry a dictionary on me because I’m determined to learn. I’m in the process of writing a book to inspire our South African people. It’s a story about my journey, the obstacles I overcame, and where I am today. I never thought I’d be a General Manager.
“I’m not scared to take on challenges because there’s always light when you go through a dark tunnel. My daughter always says whenever it’s too dark, just know that there’s going to be light. Hard work pays off.”
As featured on GoodThingsGuy