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Construction leads to a better future


By Nosihle Shelembe

The entrepreneurial journey of an Eastern Cape businessman who is a beneficiary of the Coega Development Corporation (CDC) program has come to an end.

Today, the 38-year-old is an investor in the Coega Special Economic Zone (SEZ).

Having established a construction company with no experience in the industry, Tando Mhlobiso runs a successful portfolio of businesses that provide comprehensive construction services to their clients.

Mhlobiso’s path to success is proof that staying the course when faced with challenges and finding solutions to obstacles really pays off.

When his plans to qualify as an internal auditor were dashed by the death of his father during his second year at university and the sudden financial difficulties his family faced, Mhlobisa turned to entrepreneurship.

Although he always had a penchant for business, he began his entrepreneurial journey much earlier than expected.

“I wanted to break the barriers of poverty and the vicious circle of our family where we can’t afford our living expenses. I saw entrepreneurship as a way for us to get out of poverty,” says Mhlobisa.

In 2005, he founded a car wash, a mobile digital distribution company and a gymnasium, but like many small startups in the country, these ventures did not succeed. This did little to deter him.

The following year, he went into business with a business partner who had experience in civil engineering, and they started a construction company. He parted ways with his business partner in 2009 due to the many challenges faced by the fledgling business.

His never say die principle kept him from giving up.

“I built the current company that is still going strong 14 years later. We started with Mantishe Construction and that company eventually funded other divisions of the enterprise that form the Mhlobiso Group,” he says.

Mantishe Construction paved the way for Mhlobiso Plant Hire, Mhlobiso Asphalt, Mhlobiso Transport, Mhlobiso Concrete and Mhlobiso Properties.

Mhlobiso Concrete is the youngest addition to the Mhlobiso Group and the company recently moved into the CDC SEZ as an investor.

SEZs are geographically defined areas of a country set aside for specific economic activities supported by special mechanisms (which may include laws) and systems that are often different from those applied in the rest of the country. According to the Department of Trade, Industry and Competition, special economic zones are a tool that promotes the development of industrial agglomeration, the construction of the necessary industrial infrastructure, promotes coordinated planning between key government agencies and the private sector, and guides the deployment of other necessary development tools. .

Coega SME Development Program

Back in 2009, Mkhlobisa registered for CDC’s Small, Medium and Micro Enterprise (SMME) Development Program where he learned construction.

Beneficiaries of the program have access to economic opportunities and benefit from its skills development programme. The program targets small and medium-sized businesses that are at least 51% black-owned with a Construction Industry Development Board (cibd) rating of 1 to 7.

Established by Act 38 of 2000, cibd is a government organization established to guide industry stakeholders in the development of construction.

“At the end of 2009, I registered the construction of Mantishe under the Coega Small and Medium Business Development Program. Mantishe Construction is now Class 6CE and recently registered 6SB, which is classified as highly specialized works,” he says.

Joining the program changed the trajectory of his business, giving him the opportunity to enter a market that at the time was mostly available to established companies.

“What Coega did was key for small businesses as they created packages for Grades 1-3 to report to main contractors and learn from established companies. They created an opportunity for us to grow.

He recalls how the program gave him a learning opportunity.

“Interacting with large companies was a learning experience because I had no experience in the construction industry. I quickly learned about cash flow, how to manage the site and the staff. I learned a lot during that time and it prepared me for contracting on my own. It made me a better contractor,” he says.

The program helps SMEs to become sustainable by raising awareness and encouraging Black Economic Empowerment (B-BBEE) compliance; assistance in obtaining a Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) certificate under the amended codes; and facilitating the promotion of suppliers in the CDC supply chain.

“The SMME training was aggressive and sometimes stressful because the site was live and there were deadlines attached to the works, all these things I had to understand very quickly. When the project was done, I knew it was what I wanted to do and I was ready to go out there, I was determined to make it work,” he says.

CDC is headquartered in Gkeberha, a Nelson Mandela Bay municipality with a strategic operational footprint in South Africa and beyond on the African continent.

As the operator and developer of the Coega SEZ, CDC’s main objective is to stimulate economic growth and create new jobs through investment for socio-economic development.

The SEZ is demarcated into 14 supply chain interoperability and integration zones that attract investment in the energy, metals, logistics, automotive, chemical, aquaculture and agricultural processing, maritime transport and business process outsourcing sectors.


Looking back on his journey, Mhlobisa recalls that the early days were difficult due to a lack of funds to finance his projects. He had to learn how to manage a general business and learn how to manage people.

“At first I was looking for a job, doing marketing and working as a handyman. I had to do everything for the company until I was able to put people in place to do it for me,” he says.

More than 100 people work at his enterprises.

“It took me a good 16 years to get to where I am now. I have 150 employees at Mhlobiso Group. All of our full-time employees have retirement savings and health care benefits to provide for themselves after retirement, including for health. This is something I am deeply proud of,” says the Mhlobiso Group founder and CEO.

He credited his family, particularly his wife Zandile, with being instrumental in the success of his business.

“I manage the business together with my wife. She has played an integral part in the success of our business since the beginning. She provided support, advice and was a source of comfort during difficult times. This is a family business,” he says.

Mhlobisa urged aspiring young entrepreneurs to “go for it” as the coming Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) offers many opportunities for them to explore.

“I see a lot of young people getting into the information technology (IT) space. There are many opportunities in this industry.”

He admitted that this path will not be easy, as it requires dedication and consistency.

“I’m happy that I started young because the younger you are, the bolder you are. As you get older, you have more responsibilities, so you always calculate the risks involved in being an entrepreneur. No one said it would be easy, but I promise there is no greater satisfaction than turning nothing into something.”

Businesses can register in the CDC database to participate in the SMME program. Application forms are available at (coega.co.za > Coega Services > SMME). –SAnews.gov.za

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