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Fortis Hotel Malaga in Waterval Boven, one of the most picturesque areas of South Africa, is headed up by General Manager Ozwane Mahlungu. Over 20 years of experience in the hospitality industry has made her a formidable leader who not only has much wisdom to share, but also an inspiring story of overcoming adversity to get to where she is today.

Ozwane was born, one of eight children, on a farm called Windhoek near Dullstroom where her parents were labourers. She learned Afrikaans as a young child and excelled at school. She explains, “In those days, there were not enough teachers or facilities, so many kids of different ages were all schooled together in one class. In 1985 I was in Standard 4, together with Standards 3 & 5, but I refused to complete the work for Standard 4 as it was just too easy for me and I would only answer for Standard 5. Eventually in April that year I was promoted to standard 5.”

Even though Ozwane’s marks were excellent, there was unfortunately not enough money to send her to high school and so she began working at the age of 14. During her teens, Ozwane worked as an au pair, then as a cleaner and a merchandiser. She was 18 when she had her first child and got married at 19 and had a second child at 20.

Her journey into hospitality started when she began working on a farm called Waboomkop in Dullsroom which is known today as Walkerson’s Private Estate. Ozwane says, “I worked my way up from being a cleaner to housekeeping in the hotel, then waitress, bar lady, receptionist, reservationist, wedding organiser, assistant manager and to then to General Manager today. “She joined Fortis Hotels (then known as the Boulevard Group) in 2014 as Deputy General Manager at Protea Hotel Highveld. Ozwane then moved to another Fortis Hotel, Fortis Hotel Malaga in 2017 and was promoted to General Manager in 2017. She describes Fortis as a big happy family and is relishing her new position. Ozwane says, “But this kind of story doesn’t just happen to everyone – my father taught me that I should never say no to something and to accept every challenge in life. He taught me that tomorrow will be always better than today which has stood me in good stead.”

Whilst working and raising her family, Ozwane managed to study through Damelin via correspondence. She completed every grade with flying colours and received her high school exemption at the age of 40. “Sipho Hotstix Mabuse was my inspiration when I started studying part time as an adult, as he was 60 in 2012 when he did his matric. I never stopped dreaming and have always wanted to have my own hotel which I still plan to achieve one day. I love hospitality, I love hosting guests and it has always been my passion. This industry changed my life. Working with so many different people and meeting with guests on a day to day basis taught me a lot about social dynamics, business and culture.”

Ozwane lives at Fortis Hotel Malaga and is an exercise enthusiast who enjoys long walks exploring the scenic area. She loves spending time with her children and family, worshipping at her church and curling up with a good book.

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