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

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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.

Get­ting started

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.”

Hur­dles

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”.

Over­com­ing ob­sta­cles

“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”.

Next step

“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.

PHOTO: EL­IZ­A­BETH SEJAKE

ON THE UP AND UP Vuvu Bokwe plans to list her com­pany on the JSE

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