Constructing Opportunities

With a growing workforce built on the blueprints of South Africa’s Black Economic Empowerment strategy, Yikusasa Building Contractors is making a name for itself as one of the most sought after construction companies in South Africa.

When we asked Ethwell Morrison, chairman and managing member of Yikusasa Building Contractors what Yikusasa meant, he modestly responded with, “The Future,” which struck us as a truly fitting name for a company whose founding members were historically disadvantaged South African individuals who are now proudly running one of the preferred building contractors for the Johannesburg Development Agency.

With numerous high profile government projects in their roster of successes including the R250 million New Pretoria Academic Hospital, Morrison explains Yikusasa started in 1994 under an incubator program with the department of public works – a government initiative with the goal of empowering small-to-medium sized construction enterprises to become sustainable businesses – and shortly after began closing larger and larger projects whilst steadily growing as a company.

“We currently employ 45 permanent, salaried staff,” says Morrison. “From when we started, we now have a lot of professionals in the company, which we’ve retained after training professional and ordinary artisans on various aspects of our business.”

Standing firm in the belief of passing knowledge to empower, Morrison says that is one of Yikusasa’s greatest assets.

“Hard work and our competitive high quality have contributed to our success. But our ability to attract highly-skilled professionals, like contract managers and such, that is key.”

BEE at its best

Yikusasa is heavily involved with training the next generation of skilled workers and is involved with the National Youth Development Agency and Expanded Public Works Programme (EPWP) to mentor up-and-coming black contractors and sub-contractors in various trades related to the construction industry.

The EPWP was launched in 2004 and is a government initiative with the goal of “providing poverty and income relief through temporary work for the unemployed to carry out socially useful activities.” In essence it’s helping to nurture sustainable, empowered development and economic growth, and in its first year it aimed to create at least one million work opportunities of which 40 per cent of the beneficiaries would be women, 30 per cent youth and two per cent for people with disabilities.

“Yikusasa is unique because we are a 100 per cent black company,” says Morrison. “We pride ourselves in the training of people from training artisans to training professionals. We get them from nothing and they become good artisans and good contract managers and general foremen. We feel we’re doing a good job because we’ve managed to employ professionals and that makes us be able to get in and promptly complete contracts on time and on budget.”

This, of course, explains why Yikusasa has been so successful with the numerous large-scale projects they’ve been awarded by a variety of clients in the private and public sectors, also the national department of public works and the JDA.

“And the quality of work,” says Morrison. “Our quality is like any other big company in South Africa.”

Noteworthy Construction

Morrison says Yikusasa has been involved in everything from nature reserves to hospitals, and one of their recently completed projects was a renovation of the 100-year-old Emoyeni House, a Herbert Baker design, for the provincial department of public works. “It was really challenging. We were under the eye of the heritage foundation, who were watching every step to make sure we didn’t damage the building,” chuckles Morrison. “We were proud to complete it and that it looks as nice as it does now.”

Currently the company is working on a contract with the Johannesburg High Court, known officially as the South Gauteng High Court, building more courtrooms inside the existing structure, as well as an underground parking facility. This building was established in 1896 and is one of the 13 high courts in the country.

Yikusasa is six months into a project renovating the married quarters of the Norwood police station, as well as wrapping up a contract for Rea Vaya, Johannesburg’s revolutionary bus rapid transit system, where they have built a maintenance workshop and are adding an administration office block in Dobsonville, Soweto.

Looking to Future

Considering the careful focus that has been placed on transferring skills and providing a wealth of opportunities for the marginalized, it’s no surprise Yikusasa has nearly a perfect score in South Africa’s Black Economic Empowerment designation.

“We are now a category 8 GB PE with the Construction Industry Development Board (CIDB) and we’re going to be applying for category 9 GB PE in 2013, which is the top. There’s nothing higher than that.”

Regarding future projects, Morrison didn’t go into any specifics, but mentioned president Jacob Zuma recently announced that billions of dollars would be going into infrastructure growth. Yikusasa anticipates to be awarded some of these projects, which Morrison says will help the company grow even faster.

Procuring high-profile government projects and nurturing a growing workforce built on the backbone of a growth strategy aimed at tapping into the country’s total economic potential while helping to bring the black majority into the economic mainstream makes Yikusasa Building Contractors a truly respectably progressing company in more ways than one.

With Morrison at the helm and as the country’s economy improves and more investments are put into the infrastructure of South Africa, this dynamic company is sure to grow. Indeed, “The Future” of Yikusasa looks bright.