Business Profiles

Motheo Group – A truly empowered, South African company

A country born out of struggle and an irrepressible determination to throw down barriers on account of race, South Africa is as progressive a country as they come in many respects. However, achieving success in so rough-and-tumble a sector as construction – a traditionally rugged male-dominated industry in any country – can still be difficult here, as it sadly is in many countries. With this in mind, it is telling that Motheo Construction has bucked the typical gender rules over the course of its 20-year history.

Not that this company should be judged or singled out on this basis – it’s record of success as one of the country’s most prominent builders of social housing speaks for itself.

The word unique is one which is often overused in business as in life. Many, many companies claim to be different to industry rivals and competitors, whether in terms of products and services or their commitment to corporate social responsibility – that X Factor, if you will. In reality, however, a truly unique company is a rare thing, but in the case of Motheo Construction use of this word is perhaps just.

Naturally, the fact that this highly regarded construction company is female-owned and predominantly female-run is, if not unique, certainly uncommon. Founded by Dr. Thandi Ndlovu – a former medical doctor and ANC activist of friendly yet formidable character, and made-up of a top-tier leadership team comprised of men and women from all backgrounds, Motheo Construction has shown over the course of its 20-year history of success that gender stereotypes are there to be turned on their heads. Empowerment is at the heart of Motheo Construction’s entire ethos, in-line with its mission ‘to bring true change, put roofs over heads and boots on feet.’ And this extends not only to gender but also age, race, and ethnicity.

On this, Dr. Thandi stated: “I sought to create a truly empowered company. A company that could be an example of the rainbow nation South Africa that Nelson Mandela dreamed of. I sought to create an ownership structure and mentorship networks that enabled new entrants (mainly young black females) to progress at pace. A theoretical background is important, be it engineering, finance and/or other related sources of endeavour, but to fully realise potential one needs experience on the job. Motheo has successfully partnered newly qualified, generally black female graduates with more experienced individuals. 20 years on we are proud that we can call ourselves ‘Truly Empowered.’ The future is bright.”

It would be unfair to measure the company purely on this basis, however. As impressive as its progressive credentials might be, Motheo Construction has preferred to let its capabilities and achievements do the talking. Since the company was founded in 1997, the company has achieved uninterrupted organic growth, and is now recognised across the board as one of the country’s premier mid-size construction and civil engineering operators.

It is common knowledge that the construction sector is a competitive one, and that even the best in the business are only as good as their last job – in this respect, Motheo Construction and its staff excel.

“We proudly employ around 150 full time salaried staff and around 2000 – 3000 waged staff at any given time. Very integral to our success has been this idea of ‘twinning’ – where we partner older more experienced staff with younger new comers – in order to assist and accelerate growth.”

The company can call upon its highly-experienced, multi-disciplinary workforce, and a dynamic, flexible management team equipped with the resources and know-how needed to provide theoretical and practical engineering solutions to a range of civil contracting challenges.

The result of this is a portfolio of impressive variation and scale. Motheo Construction’s track record of successfully completed projects includes civic structures including schools and healthcare facilities, railway stations, and civic centres, alongside factories and bank refurbishments. Additionally, Motheo’s civil engineering division has in its first year of operations been routinely contracted to take on a broad spectrum of infrastructure work, including road construction and rehabilitation, mining infrastructure, water treatment and structural concrete projects other things. Delivery of a superior customer experience is key, and each completed project Motheo has been completed on-time and within budget, to the least and last. It is no coincidence that through such guarantees of quality workmanship, professionalism, and value, the company has built enduring relationships with clients and subsequently generated much in the way of repeat business.

And yet for all its success in these areas, Motheo Construction’s bread-and-butter line of business remains the construction of low-cost housing. With a completed projects value of R5.5 billion and in excess of 80,000 homes built to date, the company is one of the country’s industry leaders in this field. The provision of affordable, homely spaces for ordinary less privileged South Africans is no longer Motheo’s sole focus as it once was, and yet it is an activity that accounts for still for 60% of its business activity. Indeed, it is this commitment to building homes on the part of Dr. Ndlovu that led Motheo Construction to open its doors for business in the first place.

Motheo Construction is a company with layers, combining commercial success and construction excellence with a powerful commitment to the pursuit of social justice, the roots of which can be traced back to Dr. Ndlovo’s lifelong struggle on behalf of her countrymen and women. Her early childhood was a carefree one, spent at school studying and playing with her three sisters in the township of Soweto. It was a humble, happy life, in spite of the backdrop of growing tension in her community – a biproduct of the turmoil that would later engulf South Africa. In 1976, the eruption of violence in Soweto led to great tragedy that turned her life upside down. This defining experience, along with the two decade-long struggle that followed, inspired Dr. Thandi’s to fight against the inequality and injustice faced by many South Africans.

After actively participating in the battle against Apartheid, during which she actively participated on the frontlines for the ANC, she then moved to Orange Farm informal settlement where she went about what in her own words was ‘her life’s work’ as the sole doctor to its more than 200,000 residents. It was here that the Motheo story began.

Dr. Ndlovu learned a great deal about construction when she set-about building her own medical practice in the region, and, appalled by the shacks that Orange Farm’s residents were forced to live in, quickly set-about working with local health committees, the government, and builders to draw up plans to quickly begin house building en masse. Fast-forward two decades to today and the scale of Dr. Ndlovu’s commitment to housebuilding is clear to see – to date, the company has built more than 80,000 housing units, in which 400,000 South Africans live and sleep each night. That’s 400,000 people who now live in comfortable, happy homes, fit for a 21st century South Africa on the rise.

These remarkable figures show just what can come from ‘blue-sky thinking,’ and an unerring commitment to pursuing your passions. Over the near to medium-term, Motheo Group will continue to grow and expand, putting roofs over heads and boots on feet. Through its ability to marry commercial success and profit with Dr. Ndlovu’s sense of social justice, Motheo Construction’s future looks bright indeed. Indeed, the company will continue to set the standard for other housebuilders in South Africa for many years to come.