Yanga Njozela (33) is founder of Chwai Trading & Projects, a Cape Town-based construction support services and building material supplier. It is dedicated to providing solutions to uplift, specifically black-owned, construction companies.
By Eamonn Ryan | Images by Chwai Trading & Projects
Njozela is a rising star of the construction support sector, transferring his banking experience to the construction industry to help contractors find that most elusive asset – capital.
While he describes the core function of his business as the supply of business materials to medium-sized contractors, he says the heart of its operations is advising them in areas where they struggle: accessing finance; rental services for site set-up; bookkeeping and legal services; as well as project management and diversifying their sources of revenue. “That’s a value-add at present, something we don’t charge for but it enables us to grow together.” Not all that advice is available within the Chwai business, but Njozela helps them source it as necessary, and it has also partnered with a hardware franchise, the Brights Group.
“The impact I seek to make in society is one of assisting historically disempowered individuals, and especially creating employment through the assistance we offer them. When measuring our broader impact, we take a societal and human view. We’re involved in the business of building homes for individuals – it’s not just a numbers game. We measure our success by how well our contractor customers are doing. We’ve contributed to the development of more than 1 000 homes over the past three years, and have much more in the pipeline.
“Access to credit and building material was one of the issues we saw as a challenge and we are trying to address it at Chwai in order for contractors to complete their projects timeously. However, lack of access to the industry, particularly within the private sector, by experienced, skilled and capable small-to-medium sized contractors is the biggest challenge. The greater part of the construction industry lies within the private sector and access to this market is very limited and challenging. Those that are involved are mostly sub-contracted to offer just labour. Government is trying to bridge the gap, but the transformation and available opportunities are still sparse,” says Njozela.
“I was born in the former Transkei in Engcobo and raised by my grandparents who moved to Cape Town, Gugulethu, in pursuit of greener pastures. I quickly learned hard work and perseverance from by grandfather who was a crane operator at Murray & Roberts,” says Njozela. “I was fortunate to receive a scholarship to study Business Administration at TSIBA (Tertiary School in Business Administration, which aims at aspiring entrepreneurial leaders). This is where my love for business and entrepreneurship was cultivated.
Due to personal reasons, I was unable to complete my degree and immediately started working for Nedbank where I started off as a teller and later progressed to a Services Manager position within the Business Banking division, where I was exposed to information about large businesses and how they operate, financial management and more. This only further fuelled my desire to get into business for my own account one day.”
Chwai’s smart sourcing solution is the foundation of the business. “We supply and deliver building materials and engineering consumables to state-owned entities; municipalities, private developers and large construction companies that subscribe to the broad-base black empowerment policy. We enlist as a vendor with the supply chain department and tender, on request, for quotation and large tender projects,” says Njozela.
Getting into the industry was by pure chance. “An opportunity to make an impact presented itself and I was sold. Today we work with private developers, private homeowners and medium-size contractors in the RDP housing space, which is dear to my heart. Providing safe homes and building communities is our main objective and mission.”
Njozela says his operation has considerable empathy with emerging contractors because his own business struggled to get going. “We battled to raise finance to bridge our customers’ purchases in the traditional way. My banking experience enabaled me to look at the relationship in a different way. These are contractors that do an exceptional job but struggle with finance and issues such as time management,” he says. “I recognised that we could make an impact here.”
He lists among his accomplishments every complete RDP house his company has helped build. “It is always a great achievement for us. Seeing the sheer excitement of beneficiaries who have been living in informal housing for years is always a heart-warming experience. That’s our greatest success, building lives is what we call it.”
His message to others is, “Whatever you do in life, add value. Make an impact and the rewards will follow. Building lives, building families and building communities is my life’s objective: I wake up every day to make a positive impact in the lives of the people on the ground and the clients we work with. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
“We are going through a challenging time in the economy of our country right now and with such a young democracy everyone is going through something, but we all have a choice. A choice to choose between hope or despair, negative or positive. I choose to be an agent of hope every day, I make a choice to be positive, it allows me to see opportunities. A positive mindset is a problem-solving mechanism, most importantly you are happy when you are positive.
“Your mind is like a garden, weed out the negative thoughts and water the trees and plants that will bring you the fruits to keep positive in your endeavours – prepare for the worst and hope for the best,” he says.