Roma­lda Zulu grew up ex­tremely poor, play­ing soc­cer with the eight boys in her fam­ily. She used a stokvel she had joined to pro­pel her­self into the world of con­struc­tion, form­ing her own com­pany in 1999, writes Sue Grant-mar­shall

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It is apartheid-era vi­o­lence that Roma­lda Zulu re­mem­bers in par­tic­u­lar from her child­hood.

Her par­ents were so poor that at the age of eight she was sell­ing sweets at the school in KwaNon­goma where she spent her early years.

“I grew up with eight boys, my four broth­ers and four cousins, and my dream was to work like men do in the in­dus­trial sec­tor. No dolls for me. It was always soc­cer,” says Zulu.

She moved to Dur­ban to be with her par­ents in Grade 7 and at­tended KwaMathanda High School in Um­lazi town­ship.

“I had to take two taxis to get to school. There was vi­o­lence all around us. I be­came an ANC mem­ber and got in­volved in the apartheid strug­gle. Inkatha would at­tack us in our homes.”

Af­ter she ma­tric­u­lated, Zulu knew her par­ents couldn’t af­ford her ter­tiary ed­u­ca­tion. She was play­ing women’s soc­cer and was a mem­ber of a stokvel when she heard of a pend­ing con­struc­tion project through her lo­cal ward coun­cil­lor.

She sent her CV and the coun­cil­lor, im­pressed by her en­ergy and lead­er­ship, made her the site clerk.

Get­ting started

“I knew once that job fin­ished we’d all be out of work and I heard the men dis­cussing open­ing their own com­pa­nies. So I did the same and reg­is­tered Roma­lda Zulu Civil Con­struc­tion in 1999.”

Her first project was clear­ing a road in Um­lazi.

“It was worth R54 000, but I had no money, so I sat down with my work­ers and asked them if I could pay them once the work was done. They agreed.”

The coach of her soc­cer team helped her with trans­port to the build­ing site. She bor­rowed R3 000 from her stokvel with which to buy brooms, spades and petrol, and com­pleted the work on time.

“I then paid my work­ers and was able to bank R34 000. That be­came my start-up cap­i­tal.”

She reg­is­tered her com­pany on the data­base of the depart­ment of trans­port in KwaZulu-Natal. She also be­came the first woman to reg­is­ter with the eThek­wini Mu­nic­i­pal­ity for con­struc­tion pro­jects, she says with pride.

Grow­ing the busi­ness

Ini­tially, she worked on grav­el­ling roads in ru­ral ar­eas such as KwaNon­goma, Un­der­berg and Nko­mazi.

“I built a road where I’d grown up be­cause the vil­lagers there asked for one.

“I was so proud of it that I took my three chil­dren, then between the ages of six and 20, to see it.”

To­day Zulu works on pro­jects with val­ues of up to R1.5 mil­lion. Most of her work is with the eThek­wini Mu­nic­i­pal­ity and KZN depart­ment of trans­port.


The com­pe­ti­tion was in­tense. “There were only four of us small, black con­trac­tors reg­is­tered with the [eThek­wini] Mu­nic­i­pal­ity. Three of them were men and one was a woman. And that woman was me.”

Zulu found her­self ask­ing the men for ad­vice, even though she was com­pet­ing against them.

At one stage she had to hire graders, rollers and other equip­ment for a project for the depart­ment of trans­port. In spite of having paid the de­posit in ad­vance to hire the ma­chines, the com­pany did not hand over the equip­ment to her.

“They told me the ma­chines were busy else­where. It took a huge amount of en­ergy and de­ter­mi­na­tion to get them to de­liver,” says Zulu.

Over­com­ing ob­sta­cles

“I am a calm per­son and a very good thinker. So I gath­ered to­gether nine busi­ness­peo­ple like me. We formed a con­sor­tium called Club Seven, opened one bank ac­count and put any profit we made into it.

“The first per­son to get a project bor­rowed money from the ac­count and paid it back at the end of the job. We paid only 5% in­ter­est on our loans be­cause it was, af­ter all, our own money.”

Next step

Zulu wants her com­pany to grow by tak­ing on in­creas­ingly big­ger jobs “and then my con­struc­tion grad­ing will im­prove. I want a higher grade – 5CE – so I can build bridges.

“Long term, I want to work all over SA and in all ar­eas of con­struc­tion.”

Dreams and goals

“I am build­ing a legacy with my com­pany that the new gen­er­a­tion will in­herit. It means that when I re­tire, I’ll have an in­come be­cause the com­pany will still be mine.

“In ad­di­tion, I plan to build houses for two of my staff mem­bers. They’ve worked with me for 15 years and have walked with me through the dark days.”

Mov­ing on and up

“Right now I am build­ing roads in ar­eas that have not yet been de­vel­oped. In time, I want to build houses there, too.

“So I plan to reg­is­ter with the NHBRC [Na­tional Home Builders’ Reg­is­tra­tion Coun­cil] to learn more about the hous­ing con­struc­tion in­dus­try.” ‘What I’ve learnt over

the years is the im­por­tance of work­ing closely with and lis­ten­ing care­fully to my staff. They are the back­bone

of a com­pany.’


NO DOLLS FOR ME Roma­lda Zulu’s first project was clear­ing a road in Um­lazi, a town­ship on the east coast of KwaZulu-Natal. It was worth R54 000


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