HEAVYWEIGHT: Businessman Senzo Memela employs 30 people at his construction company.
For many entrepreneurs the idea of writing out an invoice for a million rands is a faraway aspiration but for Kya Sands-based Senzo Memela, this recently became a reality – twice.
Memela started his working career as a flight attendant with South African Airways and after seven years was faced with the decision to complete his studies or start his own business.
“The itch was there to branch out on my own. I realised I had a strong networking base across Africa. This gave me the confidence to start out on my own.”
Memela bought his first two bakkies with his payout from SAA in 2004 and shortly thereafter started his own construction company, Memtech, to install roofing and trusses; dry walling; ceiling boards and utilities.
“I was just trying to make ends meet for my family. I bought roof trusses with my wife’s money – she was my ‘investor’. It was hard and because I had to pay my six employees before paying myself, there wasn’t much left over.
“One of the real breakthroughs I had was reading an advert in the local newspaper about TechnoServe, who were looking for people to come up with business proposals.
“I had to write about my ideas, who I am and who I aspire to be. From those early days they have become everything to me.”
TechnoServe’s mission is to work with enterprising people in the developing world to build competitive farms, businesses and industries. Memela met programme manager Mandla Nkomo.
“Mandla gave me confidence. He believed in me.”
Nkomo introduced Memela to Telco and from there Memela’s business grew exponentially. Along with the introduction came the realisation that Memela had a passion and an understanding of fibre optic cables and ICT. In 2010, with World Cup fever and new entrepreneurial opportunities available for those who were willing and able, Memela began subcontracting work on the undersea cables that connect South Africa to the rest of the world.
Memela approached Anglo American for financial aid and received a R20000 loan. He devoted every waking moment to the new projects and paid back the loan within a month.
Once the initial projects were completed, Memela was able to purchase light construction tools and this gave his company a higher profile, which boosted his clients’ confidence in his abilities.
When Memela speaks about Pip Masterson, his mentor at TechnoServe, you can hear the admiration in his voice: “Pip is more than a mentor.
“He has helped me build up my confidence and he has taught me how to conduct myself in business situations. I stutter quite a bit and Pip has helped me to speak more fluently by attending some of my meetings with clients. He helped me land a contract with Trencon (a large South African construction company).” Memtech has seen phenomenal growth and Memela’s proudest moment was finally writing his first invoice for R1m, which was almost immediately followed by another invoice for the same amount. Today Memela employs 30 people and his future plans include the expansion of his ICT infrastructure business by building new partnerships, which should in turn attract bigger clients.
Memela firmly believes that there are many new opportunities across the African continent such as in Zambia, Zimbabwe, Kenya and Angola.
“I used to think that running a business was all about money – a tangible profit – but talking to people I have realised that there is also an intangible profit – that of social entrepreneurship. I would like to give back by helping to train the guys in, Alexandra. Then, once they have finished their training, they too can join the formal sector.”