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Most people still don’t know the astonishing story of the woman who created the rest stops at Meiringspoort. A woman who never gave up being a mom in order to succeed as a businesswoman.

After being forcibly removed from her home by South Africa’s Apartheid legislation at the age of 13, Sandra Afrika made a vow she would never, ever, lose her home again. Now an accomplished and multi-award winning builder, property developer and mother of three, her life story is filled with multiple leaps of faith and moments of enviable vision as she lived out her promise to herself and those she cares for.

Sandra grew up poor, always deeply affected by the poverty that surrounded her. In Dysselsdorp near Oudtshoorn, her home since the forced removal, she became a counsellor at a local health centre because she wanted to make an impact on peoples lives. She soon realised that with 67% unemployment in the area and few options for work, she would have to do more than just offer advice.

Then, when torrential rains devastated the Little Karoo in November 1996 Sandra decided to take a remarkable leap of faith. Bridges and roads had been washed away in the Meiringspoort ravine, the roadway linking the Little and Great Karoo’s and today a World Heritage Site. Sandra saw a window of opportunity to create work for herself and others.

Having been drawn to building as a teenager doing projects at her local church, she now decided to approach the contractors who were restoring the roads and bridges in the area. She told them that she would bring in a team of local men and women and train them to do the work. They laughed her off, telling her the only job for a woman was as a road works ‘flag lady’, waving down and warning motorists with a flag to prevent accidents during construction to roads.

But Sandra had other plans and for two weeks refused to move from the building site until they offered her a chance to prove herself. Worn down by her persistence, they eventually did.

Her work, and that of the team of locals she brought in to help her, was so good that it landed her a two-year contract with the construction company. She had to learn fast though, and at first also drove an illegal taxi in order to buy materials needed for the job. Soon after, the Department of Transport awarded her tenders to build the rest stops along the Meringspoort road and then, to maintain them.

Sandra brought jobs and skills to hundreds of local people and built up her own and her family’s life through her new company Corporal Construction. This soft-spoken woman with the nerves of steel secured millions of Rands worth of contracts and is still going strong.

Enjoy this wonderful story.

With thanks to the Impumelelo Social Innovations Centre for their assistance with this story.

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