Entrepreneurial pharmacist’s women-powered business ready to soar

Growing women and inclusivity in SA’s healthcare supply chains

Thursday, August 13 2020

Ever since she was studying to be a pharmacist, Phumeza Langalibalele dreamt of launching her own healthcare enterprise. Years of studying, hard work, and difficult decisions along the way to realise her dream of starting up a healthcare supplies business, are now reaching fruition for Langalibalele’s brainchild, Mlungisi Healthcare, thanks to a supportive corporate.

“The vision when I registered the company in 2011 was to start a local business manufacturing pharmaceuticals but I came to realise that the barriers to entry were too high, even for someone who has always been restless to achieve success. I therefore decided to start a supplier business instead, and this turned out to be a blessing in disguise,” she says.

Langalibalele, who qualified as a pharmacist before embarking on business management studies including completion of a Management Development Programme (MDP) and a Master of Business Leadership programme, resigned from a high-powered job and worked on a contract basis to secure an income while she set the wheels in motion to launch Mlungisi Healthcare, which started operating in 2015.

“I employed two women at first, and we struggled financially for 13 months before we secured our first contract. Even when more orders came in, as a start-up business with limited capital, we battled to finance the volumes we needed to compete with the bigger, more established suppliers of surgical consumables,” Langalibalele recalls.

Pic: Owner of Mlungisi Healthcare, Phumeza Langalibalele, took a leap of faith to launch her own healthcare supplies company. In 2018, Netcare offered Mlungisi Healthcare a bridging loan and support to help grow her business through an enterprise and supplier development partnership which simultaneously helped Netcare to advance inclusivity in its healthcare supply chain. According to Langalibalele, this made it possible for her business to secure contracts not only with the Netcare Group, but with the public health sector and other private healthcare providers as well.

“I put everything I had into the business, matching and even exceeding the levels of service that our multinational competitors could offer. However, the capital I needed to meet our obligations on a scale that would enable the business to grow and compete on a more level playing field still remained a major stumbling block.”

In 2016, as part of Netcare’s strategy to drive greater inclusivity in its own healthcare supply chains, the private healthcare group began discussions with Mlungisi Healthcare, a 100% black women-owned small business, adds Dr Nceba Ndzwayiba, director: transformation of Netcare.

“We immediately recognised that, with a little incubation and mentorship, Mlungisi Healthcare had the potential to grow and become a competitive player in the supply of surgical gloves and related consumables.”

Netcare started purchasing surgical consumables from Mlungisi Healthcare, and in 2018 granted the fledgling business a bridging loan of R20 million that would enable them to purchase stock in greater quantities to fulfil larger contracts.

Langalibalele says: “Netcare made it possible for us, with very favourable conditions, to acquire the stock we needed. This enabled us to sell not only to the Netcare Group and the public health sector, but to other private healthcare providers as well. From there, it has been a steep learning curve but our business has taken flight.”

According to Dr Ndzwayiba, Netcare’s enterprise and supplier development (ESD) partnership with Mlungisi Healthcare included exposure to experts who specialise in the import of surgical consumables, negotiations with the distributing company, and guaranteed access to the Netcare market as a sole supplier for surgical gloves, suction liners and canisters for all Netcare hospitals across the country. The business also received assistance with formalising its financial management and accounting systems, which are a crucial foundation for growth.

“At one stage, Phumeza presented her projected growth for the business and we suggested that the forecast was too optimistic, but she amazed us all however, and Mlungisi Healthcare managed to achieve the growth which she had set her sights on.

“We helped Phumeza to enrol on an enterprise accelerator programme to attain the necessary knowledge and skills to develop her business acumen rapidly to match the pace of her company’s growth. We are delighted that Mlungisi Healthcare is fast reaching the point of graduating from its incubation period towards growing its operations sustainably and independently.”

In addition to the productive value of small, medium and micro enterprises (SMMEs) and their direct contribution to socio-economic development in South Africa, Mlungisi Healthcare is also creating opportunities that empower women and contributing towards improving gender equality in the workplace.

“We only employ women, and I am passionate about making a difference in the lives of persons working at Mlungisi Healthcare,” Langalibalele says. “Wherever possible, for each formally qualified woman we recruit, we try to also employ an unskilled person who is interested and eager to learn. This provides immensely valuable practical experience and opportunities which foster the personal growth of these individuals, while also growing the skills base within our company.

Pic: Phumeza Langalibalele, owner of Mlungisi Healthcare, says that her business employs only women and looks for opportunities to develop raw talent wherever possible. Langalibalele (left) is pictured with Anda Buka, senior administrator at Mlungisi Healthcare.

“When the person is trained and has shown their affinity, it is not surprising that they are sometimes ‘poached’ for the skills they developed at Mlungisi Healthcare, and in fact this fills me with joy.”

Mlungisi Healthcare has refined its operations through the use of digital technology, and diversified its product range, including the expansion of its personal protective equipment (PPE) range and other products which are much needed in this time of fighting the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“The value of the relationships we have built with our manufacturers, suppliers and the companies which buy from us, particularly Netcare, is immeasurable. The increasing scale of the orders we are placing as our business grows has demonstrated the local demand for certain products. One international manufacturer has expressed interest in the possibility of opening a factory here in South Africa, which would be a wonderful opportunity to create jobs for South Africans,” explains Langalibalele.

Dr Ndzwayiba adds: “Langalibalele and Mlungisi Healthcare have achieved remarkable progress so far. It is humbling to partner with an SMME that has made the most of every opportunity to equip itself for sustainable growth, while in turn making a contribution to developing individual women. With a mentor like Phumeza, I have no doubt that these women will make their mark too.

“As a responsible South African corporate citizen, Netcare is committed to supporting the economic inclusion of black owned and black women-owned enterprises in its supply chain; and we have significantly increased our procurement spend on these supplier categories in recent years to over R4 billion for majority black owned enterprises and R2 billion for black women owned enterprises, and these meet and exceed the targets set out in the B-BBEE codes.

“Over and above our core business of providing the best and safest care, Netcare’s transformative initiatives help in the building of small businesses, which are the lifeblood of our communities and our country’s economy,” he concluded.


Issued by:           MNA on behalf of Netcare and Mulungisi Healthcare
Contact:               Martina Nicholson, Graeme Swinney, Meggan Saville and Estene Lotriet-Vorster
Telephone:        (011) 469 3016
Email:                   [email protected], [email protected], [email protected] or [email protected]