At 27, life was going as it should for Siphiwe Zwane. The primary breadwinner in his family, he worked as a technician for a telecommunications company. Then fate dealt him a cruel blow. Zwane was the victim of a brutal hijacking that culminated in him becoming a paraplegic. He was medically boarded, and faced with the dilemma of how to support himself and his family.
“I was hustling, surviving on grants and moving from job to job,” he recalls. “I needed to be positive, I needed to pick myself up and put my family first.”
Zwane spent a short period supplying stationery to companies, but the growing hype surrounding infrastructure caught his attention. “I tried to learn as much as I could about the infrastructure industry; I tried to research it and learn as much as I could — I read a lot about it,” he says. In 2005, he completed a construction management course and SKC Business Solutions — which is involved in the construction, electrical and civil maintenance industries — was born.
The company’s first big break came when it was awarded a contract for general building maintenance by the City of Johannesburg. Since then, there has been no looking back. SKS Business Solutions has 25 full time employees. It also employs up to 20 additional people on a project-to-project basis. The company is involved in everything from the construction of low cost housing, to electricity metre audits, to maintenance of hospitals and clinics. It boasted a R50-million turnover for the 2014/2015 financial year, and Zwane is expecting the official figure for the 2015/2016 year to be in the region of R29-million.
Much of the company’s work is acquired through tenders. “Me being on a wheelchair and being black helps,” says Zwane. “There is a lot of focus on empowering women, the youth and the disabled.” But a large part of the company’s success can also be attributed to grabbing opportunities with both hands, he adds. “When you have an opportunity to do work and you do it well, this helps,” he explains.
The SKS Business Solutions headquarters are in Soweto, with additional offices in Roodepoort, Rustenburg, and Mpumalanga. Zwane points out that the company hires the majority of its workforce from townships, and purchases its materials from hardware stores situated in townships.
For Zwane, the Township Entrepreneurship Award win is meaningful in that it will serve as a means of inspiring people with disabilities. “It will show them that they can do something — because often we see people on wheelchairs and think that they can’t do anything. When I was hijacked I thought that I had lost everything — but it was really a question of being positive, being in the right space and positioning myself.”
In his view the township economy is growing in the right direction. “People are starting to take the township economy more seriously,” he says. “It’s definitely transforming mainly from being made up of informal businesses to now including more formal businesses.”