Enterprising twin sisters cut into a male-dominated field

Kate and Carol Repinga may have been the daughters of the man who introduced rural Nkomazi small-scale farmers to cane growing in the 1990s, but neither thought they would ever work full-time in the cane industry. Both studied commerce degrees and, with few employment opportunities in the region, both moved to Johannesburg where Kate became an IT programmer and Carol worked in the financial services industry. Yet they both desired to ultimately return home and ‘give back’ to their community in some way.

At the end of 2007, a friend sent them a tender advertisement for the supply of cane-cutting services to one of the community-based joint ventures that RCL FOODS had recently entered with land claimant communities in the Nkomazi area. As land claim beneficiaries themselves, Kate and Carol were eligible to apply – and despite their lack of sugar cane farming experience, the sisters seized the opportunity to create their own enterprise.

They presented their business plan for Kaylorac cane cutting services to the tender adjudicators with impressive professionalism, and were awarded the contract in early 2008. 

Starting the business wasn’t easy as the owners had no funding other than their pensions and some credit assistance through their family. Nevertheless they made a go of it, and augmented their knowledge with studies along the way.

Today, Kaylorac employs nearly 300 people and provides cane cutting and other farming support services to their community’s joint venture cane company (Libuyile Farming Services) and other sugarcane growers in the Nkomazi area.

Consistent professionalism and a culture of respect for their clients and their staff members, most of whom are male, have been key to their success in the industry. “Working hard, doing what we say we will do, and being able to work with both managers and cutters has got us to where we are today,” says Kate.

Through their business, the sisters are also sowing back into their community by offering employment not just in their sugarcane enterprise but in a small events company they own, which has acted as a springboard for budding local entrepreneurs.

It’s a story to inspire hope for all women this Women’s Month.