Centurion-based civil and structural engineering consultant South Zambezi Engineering Services has grown substantially since it was acquired in 2014 by conglomerate Khato Holdings, helping Africa deliver sustainable basic infrastructure on time and within budget to promote socioeconomic development.
Starting with less than ten engineers, the black-owned company has grown to include 60 registered professionals and aims to become a leading force in the engineering design and project management industry in the continent.
“We believe we are here to stay and, in the coming years, will be counted among the industry's formidable players, not only in South Africa but also in the continent,” declares South Zambezi projects director Makoko Makgonye.
Besides South Africa, South Zambezi has offices in Botswana, Namibia, Ghana and Malawi, and is focused on setting up a presence in other African countries in future.
Working in the private and public sector, the company has, in the past 12 months, grown by 70%, Makgonye tells Engineering News, noting that the company is expected to grow between 60% and 70% for the 12 months from January to December 2018.
He emphasises that this growth is not just quantitative but also qualitative, emphasising the calibre of staff South Zambezi employs.
Zimbabwe-born South Zambezi corporate director Sikanyisiwe Phiri says the company foresaw growth in the market five or six years ago and needed new offices to increase its capacity to cater for this growth.
Celebrating this milestone, on December 8, the company will officially launch its new office in the Midway Industrial Park, in Kosmosdal, Centurion, where its staff of registered professionals offer engineering consultancy in civil and structural works, quantity surveying, architecture and town planning, geotechnical and environmental services, project and programme management, as well as electrical and mechanical works.
Phiri attributes the success realised by South Zambezi to the company treating the customer as king; having sound leadership, highlighting the input of construction company Khato Civils’ chairperson Simbi Phiri and CEO Mongezi Myani, as well as South Zambezi’s other directors; and priding itself on delivering sustainable high-quality, innovative solutions to its clients in record time.
Passionate about the work it does in the engineering and construction sector, Sikanyisiwe Phiri says South Zambezi gets “joy from the feedback of the communities whose lives are improved by our projects”, providing them with access to previously unavailable amenities, such as tap water and flushing toilets.
“As a black-owned company, we are duty-bound to help deliver infrastructure in the continent, which is behind in terms of delivering water, electricity and roads. We feel our services will change people’s lives in the continent and don’t expect companies from outside the continent to do so.”
Having a passion for designing spaces, Sikanyisiwe Phiri is not a qualified engineer but is eager to grow her knowledge of the consulting engineering industry, emphasising that everyday is a learning curve, with there always being a new and exciting project to work on.
One such project is the Lake Malawi Water Supply Project, one of Malawi’s mega water supply projects, which South Zambezi is undertaking in conjunction with its sister company Khato Civils.
To provide potable water to the two-million residents of Lilongwe City, current water sources will be augmented with water from Lake Malawi. The augmentation project will abstract, treat and transfer 100-million litres of water a day from the lake. This project is not only expected to have a positive impact on public health, but contribute to water-reliant industrial and commercial business enterprises.
Valued at about $500-million, the project is billed as one of Africa’s largest engineered water transfer systems and is expected to
be completed by 2018/19, says South Zambezi.
For the benefit of the whole
Africa is facing a massive backlog in terms of rolling out basic infrastructure (water, sanitation, roads and social amenities, such as schools) for its socioeconomic development, and presents significant business opportunities, despite the risks involved.
Makgonye highlights that almost 80% of the continent has inferior roads and sanitation, stating that there are still sections of Egypt and Botswana that require development.
As a business, as much as South Zambezi is about making a profit, the company feels obliged to contribute to the development of the continent. “We see Africa as a whole; the development of one country is to the benefit of the rest of the continent,” he notes.
Building roads will help contribute to the interconnectivity of the continent. “If you build a road in Ghana, to some extent, you are benefiting the economy of Cote d'Ivoire and Togo,” adds Makgonye.
Engaging our clients on the provision of high-quality and sustainable services, as well as innovation, South Zambezi offers an engineering, procurement, construction, management and financial (EPCMF) solution for its clients that do not have the financial muscle to develop projects. “We are able to go to the open market and source funding. Therefore, we not only design and perform feasibility studies, while our sister company Khato Civils constructs the project, we also help secure funding.” And, Mkgonye states, if this project is a road, we will toll it, thereby ensuring that the project finances its capital needs going forward.
“We want to take our EPCMF offering to the rest of Africa, as the continent's governments do not allow the fiscus to fund the development of their countries,” stating that EPCMF is a new direction in which African countries are moving.
Besides public-sector projects, Makgonye highlights that South Zambezi also works with the private sector, which includes property development companies, such as Century Property Developments, which is undertaking a low-cost development in Linksfield, Johannesburg.
In this regard, South Zambezi is involved in the delivery of bulk services, specifically power infrastructure for the supply of electricity and gas. The project is at the initial stage of design and has been under development for the past two years. Makgonye expects the design work to be concluded in the next year or two.
“We should have been further along by now, but there were delays, owing to the developer needing to self build the substation for the development. Rightfully, this infrastructure should be built by municipal power supplier City Power, but the Johannesburg municipality is experiencing challenges with its budget.”
Without Century Property proposing to undertake the design, sourcing and build of the substation, the cost of which City Power will need to repay the developer over time, Century Property would need to wait five years for the substation. Makgonye hopes the substation design will be concluded by January, adding that, given its size, the residential project could take ten to 15 years to complete.
The key to the success of South Zambezi is the company's values and attitude, says Makgonye. “We ensure that when we deliver projects to our clients that don't compromise on quality, timelines or cost, aiming to constantly exceed the expectations of our clients.”
South Zambezi always strives to deliver a project in 60% of the time estimated for its finalising, saving on costs as a result.
He also emphasises the need to consider the sustainability of projects, looking at whether in ten years’ time the solution will still be fit-for-purpose, considering the growth of the population and the development of the area. “The client should not have to worry about having to constantly upgrade the infrastructure to ensure adequate capacity, but rather concentrate on its maintenance.”
Emphasis on Skills Transfer
The company looks to employ the best individuals the market has to offer while also ensuring a mix of experienced staff and “young blood” to facilitate the transfer of skills from one generation of engineers to the next.
“We believe in motivating our workforce so that people feel energised when they come to work and give their best, because the output presented to the client is the result of our employees’ input,” explains Makgonye.
In terms of job creation, South Zambezi has made an effort to employ young unemployed professionals to work on projects, offering them on-the-job experience. Some of these individuals have gone on to be permanently employed by the company, while the others have been added to a database and categorised according to their performance and attitude towards work for when their services are needed for future projects.
South Zambezi continues to invest in the individuals it employs, helping them broaden their skills base through credible institutions to help grow the number of the few professionally registered black engineers in the industry.