She was loving, supportive, warm and a motivator, Mapaseka Mokwele, a niece to the late Dr Thandi Ndlovu has said.
Ndlovu died in hospital on Saturday from injuries sustained in what has been described as horrific car crash while on her way to a funeral in Rustenburg in the North West province.
Messages of condolence on social media from those who have rubbed shoulders with her, or were in the same events and shared boardrooms, described the business tycoon as a strong woman who acknowledged that though life can be challenging, nothing is impossible to overcome.
Ndlovu, a doctor and Umkhonto weSizwe veteran, was the chief executive of Motheo Construction Group.
Mokwele described her aunt as a person who believed in success and working hard. She said Ndlovu championed the improvement of women, the underprivileged, black South Africans and democracy.
In 1976, while a third-year science student at the University of Fort Hare, Ndlovu felt compelled to go into exile because of the scrutiny of apartheid security services.
She went first went to Mozambique and then went to Zambia. Mapaseka said Ndlovu would then go on to receive training in southern Angola between 1977 and 1979. This was followed by a trip to Moscow to study at a school for the Young Communist League. She also served as an executive member of the ANC in Lusaka, Zambia where she served as an administrator.
In 1984, Ndlovu registered at the University of Zambia, where she obtained a Bachelor of Science (BSc) and Bachelor of Medicine, Bachelor of Surgery (MBChB) degrees.
Forbes Africa profiled Ndlovu for its women’s month issue and told the story of how when she returned to South Africa, Ndlovu interned at Baragwanath Hospital in Soweto, while she temporarily filled in at a train station in Vereeniging, Gauteng.
Mokwele said that, while Ndlovu was working at the train station, she would often ask commuters where they were coming from and a number of them would say: Orange Farm. She was fascinated by the people from there and, when she did eventually go, she realised there were no healthcare services in the area and it was there that she opened her practice.
She soon came to the realisation that most of her patients ailments were related to their living conditions, recounted Mokwele.
This realisation would spark the idea, in 1997, to establish her business: Motheo Construction. In addition to this venture, Ndlovu was also a former president of the Black Business Council for the Built Environment.
Lettie Mashau was with Dr Ndlovu in the days before her passing. Mashau began as a trainee at Motheo construction in 2005 and now sits on the board and is a shareholder in the company. Mashau told the Mail & Guardian she has learned a lot from the woman she called her mentor and hopes that in remembering her, people practise what she taught them.
“There is so much I have learned and it made me realise that all the good things we say about her we should adapt in our lives.”
“I am grateful that I had an opportunity to work with her. She was a visionary leader — and very constant on what she did; she was fearless and faced her problems head on,” Mashau said.
Mashau saidone of the biggest lessons from Ndlovu was that “life is too short and people are there in our lives for a reason, and we should cherish one another and live each day as if it were our last”.
As the family spokesperson, Mapaseka said Ndlovu’s family will miss the trailblazer’s “loud voice, her beautiful smile, her encouragement and wise words”.
President Cyril Ramaphosa took to Twitter to offer his condolences, saying: “I mourn the devastating and sad loss of a most formidable pioneering and leading woman of the construction industry. I will miss her courageous spirit. Dr Thandi Ndlovu – may her soul rest in peace.”
Deputy president David Mabuza said Ndlovu was a “phenomenal woman and leader of the people”.
In a statement, Gauteng Premier David Makhura said; “We are deeply saddened by the news that Dr Thandi Ndlovu, one of the brightest stars that illuminated our country’s path to freedom … South Africa has lost a compassionate patriot and highly impactful leader whose work positively influenced many sectors of society.”