Woman on top – Kegobotjeng Makua
KEGOBOTJENG MAKUA, 38, is using her interior design skills to create unique and uplifting hospital environments.
“YOU MUST FIGHT FOR PERFECTION AND NOT SETTLE FOR MEDIOCRITY.”
Kegobotjeng Makua is an interior designer whose company, e5 Creations, specialises in interiors for the health sector. When her brother, Sabi, passed away from a brain tumour in 2008, she was inspired to change the spaces she’d come to know in the years her brother battled his illness. “I wanted to make hospitals more homely and warm,” says Kego, as she’s affectionately known. “After Sabi’s passing, I felt my energy being directed towards making the healthcare space more comfortable.”
Kego was born in Soshanguve in Gauteng and comes from a tight-knit family. They moved to Cape Town when her mother got a new job in Parliament, and moved back to Gauteng in 2001. “Sabi was the oldest, then me, then another brother and sister. We siblings have always been close.”
Kego studied fashion design at Cape Technikon (now the Cape Peninsula University of Technology). After varsity, she and Sabi, who had studied marketing, took their mother’s advice not to work for anyone but themselves. They founded e5 Creations to merge their skill sets and passions. They moved back to Soshanguve in 2001 after Sabi was diagnosed with the tumour so that he could undergo surgery. “We started the company together in 2001 from our home so that Sabi could have chemotherapy, sleep off the effects and go back to work after lunch. We designed and made the demo items ourselves, even printing the fabrics. We focused on designing and manufacturing for offices and homes. My mother backed us financially, and my sister, who is a chartered accountant, did the books.”
e5 Creations now employs a team of seven and has moved to bigger premises
in Parktown Estate in Pretoria. “On the one side of the premises is my mother’s home, and on the other is the office,” she says. “Now my mom wants to move, so we can turn the entire space into offices.”
Sabi went into remission for a while, but then his cancer resurfaced and he succumbed to the illness in 2008. He co-owned the company, and Kego thought that doing it alone would be too hard – until she channelled her grief in a new and positive direction.
“I was depressed. Then I realised that I’d seen so many hospitals during Sabi’s illness. I ended up transferring my pain to those images, and that’s when the idea came to me to refurbish hospitals. I did a proposal for the Busamed Health Group and explained that I wanted to bring warmth to the private hospitals they were running. I know they’re clinical, but they can be homely. I shared my vision with Busamed’s director, Dr Diliza Mji, who loved my concept. I got a blank canvas to create and do what I wanted.
“I have to think about aesthetics as well as functionality – for the patients, staff and visitors. I juggle my budget with quality that will last for many years. I always keep the people and lying there in mind. For instance, the theatres are purple because it’s a colour of strength, and you want the patient and the doctor to feel that. Colour is very important.” So are the details, she adds. “It’s the little things – from the signage to the floors and walls, through to knowing which fabrics to use in certain spaces, and so on.”
Clearly Kego loves what she does. “I’ve had to fight to be taken seriously because I’m a young black woman. I’ve had rows at site meetings to stop people from bullying me. I have to be firm and say, ‘I want it this way, and that’s final’. I’ve learnt that you have to know and understand the value you bring to the project. You must fight for perfection and not settle for mediocrity.”
“My first commission was Busamed Paardevlei Private Hospital in the Western Cape and to see my work still standing is amazing. But what gives me butterflies is going back to visit hospitals like the one we designed in Modderfontein, and hearing that the staff love their new environment.” Kego is now looking for opportunities to venture out of the private healthcare sector and create more comfortable spaces in government hospitals too. “I love healthcare. I don’t want to go back to what we did before. I love this niche because we keep abreast of the times. Going forward, I’d welcome the challenge of working on public facilities.”
As an entrepreneur and a successful businesswoman, Kego lives life to the full because losing her brother showed her how short life can be. “I love being my own boss. Having my family involved in the business makes life easier. I set my own working hours and have fun at work. I don’t take life too seriously. Life is meant to be lived, and that’s why I travel at least once a year.”
Kego is also a mother to a fiveyear-old son. “Having my family around makes it easier for me to be away for months at a time. A great support system is important for any careerwoman. I love what I do because it doesn’t feel like a job. The day it does, I’ll know it’s time to quit!”■