Women in construction get Hillbrow project step-up from JDA

Dumisa Simakuhle and Sanelesiwe Ziqubu on siteDumisa Simakuhle and Sanelesiwe Ziqubu on site: not afraid of getting their fingernails dirty - or of comments from male chauvinists. (Photo: Rudo Mungoshi)

Sanelesiwe Ziqubu and Dumisa Simakuhle, women entrepreneurs in the traditionally male construction industry, got their breakthrough thanks to the JDA's efforts to involve local SMMEs in the Hillbrow Tower Precinct upgrade project. Rudo Mungoshi reports.

women smme4 300Dumisa Simakuhle and Sanelesiwe Ziqubu in their office, a temporary structure squeezed between high-rise buildings in Hillbrow. (Photo by Rudo Mungoshi - CLICK ON IMAGE TO ENLARGE)For as long as she can remember, 31-year-old Sanelesiwe Ziqubu has had a fascination with bridges and high-rise buildings. Even as a girl she would spend hours studying structures that drew her interest.

"I have always been fascinated by different types of buildings and engineering and all its processes," says Ziqubu. "I wanted to know how roads and bridges help people with their daily lives, and how buildings are built on a strong foundation.

"These interests grew as I went through school and ultimately led to my decision to study civil engineering at Mangosuthu University of Technology in Durban."

More than willing to get her nails dirty, Ziqubu is one of a growing number of women who are breaking down barriers by moving into the traditionally male-dominated construction industry.

Her plan from the start, she says, was first to gain experience and then to start her own company. And so, after seven years of working for two different local construction giants, she took the leap, leaving the security of her job in order to go it alone.

As with most entrepreneurs, however, Ziqubu found it hard going to get her new business off the ground.

JDA reaches out to local SMMEs

Her turning point came in 2015, when the Johannesburg Development Agency (JDA) invited small, medium and micro enterprises (SMMEs) from around the city to submit their business profiles for the upgrading of the area surrounding Hillbrow Tower.

The JDA's Hillbrow Tower Precinct public environment upgrade work, part of the City's drive to rejuvenate the inner city, aims to create a liveable, sustainable urban environment through the upgrading of streets, pavements, parks and other public amenities.

By inviting local SMMEs to take part in the project, the JDA was looking to grow local businesses and so to empower local communities.

It was while she attending one of JDA's briefing sessions that Ziqubu met another female entrepreneur, Dumisa Simakuhle, who had recently dropped out of a journalism course at a local college in order to pursue a different career altogether.

Two women, one plan

Unfazed by her lack of experience in the industry, Simakuhle had boldly established her own construction company. However, she had not registered it in any government databases, and had realised that she was missing out on the opportunities offered by the infrastructure upgrades taking place around the city.

Ziqubu and Simakuhle immediately struck up a friendship, and after merging their companies, submitted a stronger business profile to the JDA than either would have been able to do separately.

"There were 50 other companies competing to take part in the project, but we chose to put our trust in God," says Simakuhle.

The union brought the desired results: along with five other SMMEs, they were selected to take part in the upgrading of Goldreich Street in Hillbrow, with each SMME being allocated a section of 100 metres in length to work on.

The job involved upgrading and reconstructing sidewalks and storm-water drainage systems, and ran from August 2015 through March 2016.

'A bucket-full of learning'

Simakuhle says she and Ziqubu had taken "a bucket-full of learning from the project."

In the first place, it gave the two women an opportunity to open an account with suppliers and buy their own building materials. They then had to make sure they were on site and working by 7am, and to work on past 5pm if necessary to meet their daily and weekly targets.

At the same time, they had to endure insults from taxi drivers and passers-by who frequently mocked them, telling them to stop what they were doing and go back to school.

Challenges notwithstanding, they were the first of the five SMMEs to complete their section of Goldreich Street.

"It's such a good industry to get into, you are always hands-on, staying fit, and you are gaining so many skills," says Simakuhle.

"This has been a great opportunity and we appreciate it. We wish we had more clients like the JDA," she added. "Whenever we had a problem, the JDA was always available to assist us."

JDA development manager Celestine Mouton, who worked closely with Simakuhle and Ziqubu, said the two women had gone the extra mile to make their work stand out.

"There is no doubt that the women possess fantastic technical skills and business potential," Mouton said. "They were dedicated to the project and knew what was expected of them and delivered on their mandate.

"If given the opportunity, I would definitely work with them again."