From software to hardware
Vuvu Bokwe began her career in IT and moved into enterprise architecture before registering her construction company five years ago, writes SUE GRANT-MARSHALL
In the beginning
Vuvu Bokwe grew up in King William’s Town and Port Elizabeth, the daughter of parents who had degrees in theology. In addition, her mother was a medical doctor who had her own practice as a GP.
“This gave me the idea early on that it was good to work for yourself,” says Bokwe.
Her family is musical – her grandmother was a wellknown South African singer – so it was no surprise when Bokwe sang in the Eastern Province Children’s Choir between 1994 and 1997.
“Every 18 months, the choir would tour an eastern European country. We went to the Czech Republic and Hungary. And we had students from London and Chicago who sang in school choirs there, coming to sing and to stay with us. So early on in life I was exposed to other cultures,” says Bokwe, who used to play the piano and flute.
After completing her matric at Queenstown High School, she obtained her national diploma in IT from Cape Technikon (now the Cape Peninsula University of Technology). “I loved IT and software development,” she says. In 2005, Alexander Forbes offered Bokwe a job as a junior software developer, which resulted in her buying her first car. “I was earning a good salary,” she says.
She worked at Stats SA, then at Deloitte. She moved up in terms of her skills into enterprise architecture, which is the organising logic for business processes and IT infrastructure, and reflects the integration and standardisation requirements of a company’s operating model.
“This enabled me to do a two-and-a-half-year project at Macsteel Service Centre,” she says.
It was while she was at Macsteel that Bokwe decided to register her own company, Qelani Trading, in 2008. But she subsequently moved into construction on the advice of an uncle.
“My cousin Nono Bongco joined me. So then we became Qelani Construction and had a great break when the City of Johannesburg asked us to do repairs and maintenance of all their community development divisions.
“We worked on swimming pools, sports fields, and so on.”
Bokwe finds that as young women “we’re often not taken seriously in this industry”.
She also struggles with cash flow problems when government “doesn’t pay on time”.
“I’m assertive, persistent and I stand my ground. I never quit,” she says.
Bokwe’s company has finally broken even financially, but when they need money, it’s the private sector they “get it from”.
“We’re embarking on a project to build ‘green’ houses with insulated panels. In other words, environmentally friendly buildings that are not made with bricks and mortar. We’re going to build them in the OR Tambo district municipalities in the Eastern Cape.”
Bokwe believes this will give Qelani Construction good exposure to government.
“We specialise in the foundations of RDP houses because we have a new machine that has a much faster turnaround time. And we’re also building conventional RDP houses in Pedi, Eastern Cape.
“We have strategic partnerships with quantity surveyors, health and safety officers, and civil engineers,” she says.
Bokwe plans to study quantity surveying next year at Wits. Last year, she did short courses on construction project management and structural engineering.
“We’re also project managing for two clients in the Vaal and Nigel areas,” she says.
Dreams and goals
“I want to sell Qelani Construction for a fortune in about a decade and I want to get it listed on the JSE.”
The NHBRC is important because…
“The Gibs course that we are doing, thanks to the NHBRC, will allow my company to feel the pulse of the regulatory element of the housing sector. It will allow us to influence building legislation,” she says.
ON THE UP AND UP Vuvu Bokwe plans to list her company on the JSE