Empowered building

With its strong moral compass and a commitment to social development, Motheo Construction Group has been delivering a range of South African construction projects on time and under budget, since the latter part of the 1990s.

South Africa’s Motheo Construction Group (Pty) Ltd has grown into one of the country’s leading predominantly black-owned construction companies and has become one of the country’s foremost providers of social housing.

Established by Dr Cynthia Thandi Ndlovu in 1997, the company embraces strong moral and social values, and offers its clients a broad array of services that encompass housing, property development, civil engineering, and turnkey design and construct solutions.

Motheo has worked on a wide range of projects from public facilities such as train stations and governmental departments to a selection of slum clearance and housing projects across the country.

Its head office is based in Randburg, Johannesburg, and the company has bases across South Africa’s nine provinces bar the Western Cape, with branch offices in Pretoria, Durban, Witbank, East London and Port Elizabeth.

A partnership is born

Despite having a background in medicine, the company’s founder and current chairmen Thandi Ndlovu started up the construction firm after spending many years in Zambia during the years of the ANC ‘s struggle against the apartheid government.

Upon her return to South Africa she completed an internship at a local hospital before becoming one of only a handful of doctors in a town to the south of Johannesburg.

“She started her practice and in the course of running the practice she basically discovered that 70 per cent of her clientele were there because of hygiene issues related to their living conditions,” says Motheo director Tim Potter.

“As a result, she realised the problem should be stopped at its source, so as a side line she got into applying for housing projects with a team of people she had found.

“When she was awarded these projects she found that the guys she had relied on from a technical perspective were not adequate for the job and via a contact she managed to get hold of Chris Cudmore and myself.”

Cudmore and Potter had previously worked for Murray and Roberts, a large construction company in South Africa, which had been working in the low-income housing arena. When this company decided to exit this market, Cudmore and Potter opted to remain within the housing sector.

In 1997, just one year after Thandi Ndlovu had initiated her venture into housing, the pair found themselves working with Motheo in bringing housing projects to fruition.

“By October 1998, Thandi Ndlovu had entered the process of looking for other partners, and as result of having formally exited Murray and Roberts, we linked up and began traded as a joint venture,” remarks Potter.

A few years later, in 2001, Motheo Construction and Cudmore and Potter collapsed its successful operation into a formal company, creating a firm known as Motheo, Cudmore and Potter (Pty) Ltd., which over the years mutated into Motheo Construction Group (Pty) Ltd.

A broad service platform

Motheo’s core skills lie in its ability to bring to market turnkey construction projects.

“Whether we enter into a development project depends really on whether the economic climate at the time is right for us,” says Potter.

“Development doesn’t drive our business,” he remarks. “What drives our business is general construction, because we know how to build, we know how to project manage and we know how to manage construction.”

Close to two thirds of Motheo’s business comes from the housing sector, but the company has also brought to market a range of public service projects such as schools, clinics and hospitals.

“We will look at anything below five storeys from a structural point of view,” notes Potter.

With projects taking place in the residential, rail-refurbishment and new construction sectors, the business is continuing to find new challenges to undertake.

These include housing project of between 1,000 to 5,000 units, which involve town planning, land surveying, civil engineering, civil services infrastructure, property selling and construction.

“We have been involved in projects to relocate people and move them out of shacks and into new starter homes,” says Potter.

“Typically our sector is government-subsidy run, meaning that we won’t get involved in credit-linked arrangements, mortgage finance or anything like that.

“We focus on housing projects created for people that have been battling to afford their own accommodation,” he adds.

The firm has also worked on the construction of new railway stations and station upgrades, including a major project on Orlando Station in Soweto.

“This was a new-build, 18-month exercise, which involved getting the environmental approvals, undertaking the design work, and working out where all the existing services were, because obviously an existing railway line is full signalling, electrical, water and sewer services,” explains Potter.

Power to its people

Empowerment is a significant social and economic issue across South Africa, and it has been a key policy driven through by an ANC Government working to transform the business arena by providing previously disadvantaged individuals with the chance to undertake decision making roles.

With empowerment at the heart of its operation Motheo has been rated as a level 3 BEE Contributor for its efforts in this regard.

“Thandi Ndlovu is a very independent and free thinking person, and when Chris [Cudmore] and myself came on board, we understood that she would implement empowerment as she defined it,” says Potter.

“That involved creating a company that provides advancement for individuals, but at the same time delivers on outputs that are required by any business.”

Potter says that the firm’s approach to empowerment is grounded in fulfilling business outcomes, ensuring it provides quality products on time and within budget, rather than putting people in positions of responsibility simply for the sake of it.

“The results of this approach over the past 14 years, has been that we have two black female directors in place, six black female shareholders, and an organisation with aspiring young black entrepreneurs on board,” remarks Potter.

“We provide young black workers with the experience, and the technical and commercial understanding of the business, allowing them to hold their positions in their own right,” he adds.

Over the years, Motheo has grown into a confident player within the South African construction market, and in passing on its own experiences to its employees it is ensuring young black construction workers are developing into the assertive and skilled assets that will drive the company forward into a multicultural future.