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Lifting Hurdles Even A Crane Can’t



The cool highveld breeze snaps the corner of her neon-yellow safety waistcoat as she steps out of the office building into the yard, the white hard hat sitting comfortably on her head.

Fortunate Mdanda takes confident strides in the male-dominated world of metal and machines. There are other women visible through the workshop doors, setting off sparks as they wield welders and grinders.

Under Mdanda’s watchful eye as CEO of Smith Capital Equipment, there is an internship program for women, and the company actively recruits female engineers.

Her background is not in engineering, but her corporate experience in business strategy, process and finance has amply equipped her for the position. If you have a mind for business, there is no need to feel restricted to more traditionally female pursuits.

“I’ve never looked at industries based on gender. I’ve looked at what one can contribute. So it’s a consolidated effort of all the right skills within the business that makes it successful,” she says.

When she with her husband Sipho took ownership of Smith Capital Equipment on November 2, 2015, the management and workforce were in for a major culture change.

After over two decades of democratic governance in South Africa, the company was still caught up in an apartheid time warp, with separate amenities for the races.

With racial and gender barriers swept aside, there was yet another sweeping change. The company’s 84 employees became shareholders.

“We created a shareholding for both management and staff, across race, across gender, so it’s inclusive, it’s a very exciting space for all of us at Smith Capital,” says Mdanda.

But change always comes with some growing pains.

“I must admit at the beginning it is a new concept when people are told they are shareholders. It comes with excitement, but they’re sort of sceptical. What does that bring? Is there money into our pocket immediately? So it took us a while to communicate the upside of being a shareholder and the responsibilities that come with being a shareholder,” she says.

“But now we’re at a space where we all really understand and are excited about being shareholders. People don’t just come in, do their work and walk out. There is transparency, there is excitement in terms of where the business is going, everyone shares in everything, the strategies of the business, the prospects, and we all share in the excitement and the challenges that we face as a business.”

The core business of this 43-year-old company is the manufacturing of on-road aerial platforms and drilling rigs used for water well and hard rock surface drilling in the mining industry and pole planting for new infrastructure. Equipment is locally designed and manufactured, with drilling rigs and aerial platforms boasting over 90% local content.

Then there is the import side of the business, with truck-mounted cranes brought in from Italy, as well as the ongoing service aspect of the business.

Through a recently-introduced rental division, the company encourages local contractors, who experience financial barriers to entry and cannot afford upfront procurement of the necessary capital equipment they need to deliver on contracts they obtain.

Repairs and maintenance as well as regular load-testing are other important facets of the business.

More black industrialists are emerging with encouragement from the government. The biggest barrier to entry has been funding.

“Now with the DFI [development finance institutions] being open to assisting entrepreneurs growing into being industrialists, I see endless opportunities being presented,” she says.

What is important here is that it goes beyond more than purely facilitating funding, but in providing support in skills-training, and opening business opportunities and new markets.

“Sometimes you find you have the best product but you can’t put it out there, you can’t export it because you find every process when it comes to structured processes that you need to go through are actually barriers to making one successful.”

The Gauteng Provincial Government and the City of Ekurhuleni, where Smith Capital Equipment is headquartered in South Africa, have made efforts to make it easier to do business.

Although the company had been exporting for years, it hadn’t been a major strategy.

“Now we’re turning that around, we’re sending units into Africa, which is very impressive. We’re getting enquiries, a lot as well, because our products are African products, not South African products. They are designed for the African terrain. It is different to sending a product anywhere in the world. So we understand what Africa is about, we understand the terrain and we understand our neighboring countries as well, so doing business with them is quite interesting and exciting and there is actually an increase in opportunities that are being presented.”

Smith Capital Equipment falls under the umbrella of Isipho Capital Holdings, which is wholly owned by the husband-wife duo. Their first acquisition was Kholeka Engineering, a manufacturer of truck bodies and trailers, based in the KwaZulu-Natal province of South Africa.

“We funded it from our own savings. All we wanted to do was to have the skin in the game and to ensure that we can prove to ourselves that we can work hard and turn the business around. That happened and then came the Smith Capital deal. A few other deals are in the pipeline, so it’s quite exciting,” says Mdanda.

Because Smith Capital Equipment required considerable investment, the Mdandas secured a loan of R41 million (around $3 million) through the National Empowerment Fund (NEF). The company has since been identified as one of the 100 Black Industrialists by the Department of Trade and Industry, has established strong BEE credentials and is ISO 9001 registered.

Looking at the day-to-day operations of Smith Capital and the commitment and enthusiasm of their 84 shareholders, the dreams and plans for an expanding Isipho Capital Holdings seem bright and achievable. The future will tell if this is the birth of a new African business dynasty.

While there is much to do in running the business and creating and building an inclusive culture, there is much industry networking to be done as well.

“Sadly, engineer-run businesses are inward looking, that’s how Smith Capital was. But, with our experiences from corporate, you learn that business doesn’t come to you, you go look for business. You go make your presence felt.”

While she has achieved much in the business arena, she defines as her biggest achievement her and Sipho’s two teenage children – 18-year-old son Luyanda and 15-year-old daughter Noluthando.

No doubt Mdanda is a great role model to Noluthando, as she actively supports the development of women in her industry. Her advice for young women wanting to break into any previously male-dominated industry is to be positive and prepared to learn.

“Open yourself to learning and embrace the opportunities. With anything you do there will be challenges, but if you’re open-minded and positive about it and put in the hours in terms of the hard work, it works out well,” says the CEO who has proven this mantra for success, time and again.


How To Become A Billionaire: Nigeria’s Oil Baroness Folorunso Alakija On What Makes Tomorrow’s Billionaires



One of only two female billionaires in Africa, with a net worth of $1 billion, Nigeria’s oil baroness Folorunso Alakija elaborates on the state of African entrepreneurship today.

The 69-year-old Folorunso Alakija is vice chair of Famfa Oil, a Nigerian oil exploration company with a stake in Agbami Oilfield, a prolific offshore asset. Famfa Oil’s partners include Chevron and Petrobras. Alakija’s first company was a fashion label. The Nigerian government awarded Alakija’s company an oil prospecting license in 1993, which was later converted to an oil mining lease. The Agbami field has been operating since 2008; Famfa Oil says it will likely operate through 2024. Alakija shares her thoughts to FORBES AFRICA on what makes tomorrow’s billionaires:

What is your take on the state of African entrepreneurship today? Is enough being done for young startups?

There are a lot of business opportunities in Africa that do not exist in other parts of the world, yet Africa is seen as a poor continent. The employment constraints in the formal sector in Africa have made it impossible for it to meet the demands of the continent’s working population of which over 60% are the youth. Therefore, it is imperative we harness the potential of Africa’s youth to engage in entrepreneurship and provide adequate assistance to enable them to succeed.

Several governments have been working to provide a conducive atmosphere which will promote entrepreneurship on the continent. However, there is still a lot more to be done in ensuring that the potential of these young entrepreneurs are maximized to the fullest. Some of the challenges young startups in Africa face are as follows: lack of access to finance/insufficient capital; lack of infrastructure; bureaucratic bottlenecks and tough business regulations; inconsistent government policies; dearth of entrepreneurial knowledge and skills; lack of access to information and competition from cheaper foreign alternatives.

It is therefore imperative that governments, non-governmental agencies, and the financial sectors work together to ameliorate these challenges itemized above.

The governments of African nations should provide and strengthen its infrastructure (power, roads and telecom); they should encourage budding entrepreneurs by ensuring that finance is available to businesses with the potential for growth and also commit to further improving their business environments through sustained investment; there must also be a constant push for existing policies and legislation to be reviewed to promote business activities.

These policies must also be enforced, and punitive measures put in place to deter offenders; government regulations should also be flexible to constantly fit the dynamics of the business environment; corruption and unethical behavior must be decisively dealt with and not treated with kid gloves. We must empower our judicial system to enable them to prosecute erring offenders with appropriate sanctions meted out. There should be no “sacred cows” or “untouchables”. The same law must be applied to all, no matter their state or position in the society; non-governmental organizations can also provide support for them through training and skills acquisition programs that will help build their capacity; they could also provide finance to grow their businesses; more mentorship programs should be encouraged, and incubators of young enterprises should be supported by public policy aimed at improving the quality of these youths and their ventures; and also, avenues should be created where young entrepreneurs will be able to connect, learn and share ideas with already successful well-established entrepreneurs.

What, according to you, are the attributes needed for tomorrow’s billionaires?

There is no overnight success. You must start by dreaming big and working towards achieving it. You must be determined to succeed despite all odds. Do not allow your setbacks or failures to stop you but rather make them your stepping stone. Develop your strengths to attain excellence and be tenacious, never give up on your dream or aspiration. Your word must be your bond. You must make strong ethical values and integrity your watchword. Always act professionally and this will enable you to build confidence in your customers and clients. 

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The Sun King Bows Out: Legendary Hotelier Sol Kerzner Has Died



Solomon (Sol) Kerzner, one of the world’s most innovative hoteliers, founder of the Southern Sun hotel group, Sun International and Kerzner International, has died of cancer surrounded by his family at the Kerzner family home, Leeukoppie Estate, in Cape Town, South Africa. Always a maverick, Kerzner was a titan of the hotel and resort industry who redefined the scale and scope of integrated destination resorts worldwide. He was 84.

The son of Russian immigrants, Kerzner was born in Johannesburg, South Africa, in 1935. The youngest of four and the only son, Sol was a working class boy from a rough neighbourhood but he would grow up to become one of the most influential entrepreneurs in South Africa. Having founded the country’s two largest hotel groups — Southern Sun and Sun International — Kerzner would go on to achieve international prominence with groundbreaking resorts that helped transform the tourism industries not only of his home country but of Mauritius, The Maldives, The Bahamas, Dubai and other important international destinations.

Kerzner’s career in hospitality began in 1962 when he decided to leave the accounting profession and purchased The Astra, a small inn in Durban, South Africa. Kerzner quickly transformed this rundown establishment into one of the most popular hotels in the area, a success that whetted Sol’s insatiable appetite for innovation and demonstrated a trademark ingenuity that would define his 60-year career.

Kerzner’s most monumental and controversial achievement was the creation of Sun City.  Here, in an area north of Johannesburg where there were no roads and no infrastructure, Sol imagined and delivered the most ambitious resort project in all of Africa. Commencing work in 1975, over the next ten years, Kerzner built four hotels, a man-made lake, two Gary Player golf courses, and an entertainment center with an indoor 6,000-seat arena, which played host to a world-class roster of artists including Queen, Frank Sinatra, Liza Minelli, Shirley Bassey, as well as huge world title fights, and many other spectacular events. Once again, Kerzner defied the naysayers to train a best of breed workforce and to operate Sun City on a totally non-racial basis. Even the most cynical of visiting overseas journalists had to concede defeat in trying to find racism behind the operation of the vast resort.

Sol is survived by his children Andrea, Beverley, Brandon and Chantal and ten grandchildren. His eldest son, Howard ‘Butch’ Kerzner died in 2006.

Sol Kerzner will be buried at a small, private funeral with only immediate family in attendance.

Back in 2014, the Sun King was featured on the cover of Forbes Africa for the 3rd Anniversary Issue of the magazine.

In 2018 he was honored with the Life Time Achievement award at the All Africa Business Leaders Awards (AABLAs).

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The French Silhouette In Africa: How This Designer Started Her Own Business Despite A Shortage Of Funds



From glamorous Paris to gritty Johannesburg, Zazi Nyandeni arrived with $2,700 and updated sartorial skills to showcase haute couture on South Africa’s racks and runways.

With just $2,700 in her bank, transferred from her savings account in France, Zazi Nyandeni returned home to the South African fashion industry with her freshly-minted talent. But if Paris was school, Johannesburg proved to be university. Qualifying was never easy.

About 53kms from Johannesburg’s OR Tambo International Airport is Constantia Kloof, a scenic, upmarket suburb in the West Rand, where we meet Nyandeni, the up-and-coming 25-year-old fashion entrepreneur whose brand, Zazi Luxury, has showcased in Paris, the fashion capital of the world.

“I wasn’t really introduced to fashion, but more so to art,” recalls Nyandeni of her early days. “Ever since primary school, I was exposed to paintings, drawings and music by my father when he would come back with artworks from his travels.”

She thought she was going to become a doctor growing up because of her choice of subjects in high school but still pursued design to stay close to art. Thankfully, her parents picked up that she was artistically-inclined and gave her their unstinted support.

In 2013, after high school, Nyandeni took the plane out of South Africa and went on to study fashion at ESMOD, an international fashion design and business school in Paris. She wanted to express herself without saying a word, and found her way. She spent close to six years there, studying full-time for the first three years and partially for the last two, whilst freelancing and interning for various companies in the glitzy city.

“I love to draw and not really to sew. For my first freelance job, I went for a company that would help me work on my weaknesses; I went to Loon Paris boutique and worked on my sewing techniques. They were very strict and meticulous when it came to sewing and I learned a lot about technique,” she says.

The intense training meant that even the inside of a garment had to be as exquisite as the outside and if the hand stitch was incorrect, she had to undo and redo it all over again.

READ MORE: Conscious Fashion: ‘So Much More You Can Do With Discarded Clothes’

“When I asked ‘aren’t we wasting material’, they would say ‘I’m wasting their time’,” she laughs.

The eager fashionista was juggling two jobs; the other was at a PR agency named DLX Paris, which was sourcing brands for international celebrities like American singer-songwriter Kelly Rowland.

She soon came to a realization that in fashion, there is nothing new, which is when she moved to fabric store Boutique Malhia Kent, a French manufacturer of haute couture.

Nyandeni has a soft spot for weaving. She clearly adores fabrics, and this is apparent in the weaving machine she has at her Constantia Kloof studio, placed in a corner of one of the work rooms.

She says her weaving differentiates her from the other designers, as she compares herself to South Africa’s Laduma Ngxokolo of MaXhosa Africa and Greek fashion designer Mary Katrantzou.

“You can make a silhouette similar to somebody else but the real interesting part is the fabric, so Malhia Kent deals with fabric customization, and this is where I learned that in the world of fabric, you are two years ahead of the industry; like Chanel orders their fabric from Malhia Kent,” she says.

That was the space she wanted to be in.

So in between jobs, Nyandeni co-founded Garbage, a business that looked into environment-friendly garments.

“We wanted to speak on the notations of how do we pick up the fashion industry and say that there are other ways to look glamorous and chic and it doesn’t have to be wasteful and terrible to the environment.”

The business ran for a year and sold a few garments, but sadly, collapsed. That inspired the birth of an idea, one that would solely work for her, a business that would include all that she had learned from fashion school and the stylish streets of Paris. She had also personally worked with Katrantzou, building a portfolio and a first collection. She was ready and had under $2,700 in savings.

READ MORE: Owning The African Narrative

Nyandeni returned home to South Africa and registered her company in 2018.

“In my heart, I thought I was going to be able to buy sewing machines and a small car to travel back and forth for business, be able to get staple fabrics that people would love,” she says.

It was not the case, but she started the business despite a shortage of funds.

“I called it Zazi Luxury because it speaks to more of the inside and outside of a garment and the technique used which is the core of the business. The inside is about matching the outside; I should literally be able to wear it inside out, and if not, it’s not [a Zazi Luxury product].”

Her first client was South African comedienne Tumi Morake referred by a mutual friend, and later actress Zenande Mfenyana, but currently, her clients are also doctors, lawyers and drawn from the corporate world.

“In the beginning, the business was focused on couture and it developed a bit more into business such as television, dressing anchors, and we also have ready-to-wear garments. We are broadening the business to other boutiques too.”

Zazi Luxury recently showcased at South Africa Fashion Week. This year, she will be working on a fourth collection that will be both couture and basic women’s workwear garments but featuring the Zazi aesthetic.

Zazi Luxury currently employs seven young enthusiastic fashionistas; one of who is Lebohang Ketlele, who has worked with Nyandeni for two years.

“I am a dressmaker and stylist. I don’t think I would know the things I know now if I wasn’t working here, we have dressed celebrities and that is a great experience,” attests Ketlele.

Inspired in Paris, but made in Africa, Zazi seems to have made the cut.

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