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Khato Civils: forged in fire

Mrs Phiri, director, corporate services, South Zambezi
It has not always been rosy for multi billion construction and engineering trailblazers, Khato Civils and South Zambezi.

In fact their beginnings were just as painful as the traveiling labour pains-rejections for funding by banks, shortage of experts, acute shortage of equipment and vehicles, but the early struggles were to be turned into experience’s invaluable lessons with which to gradually forge  an unshakable construction and engineering giant committed to only excellence in South Africa, and beyond into Africa as the first African owned  entity executing large scale projects.

As Khato and South Zambezi celebrated a rare milestone by any African  owned entity in South Africa last Friday as a pioneer  boasting of its own world class multi million headquarters in Centurion,   fellow director,  Ms  Sikanyisiwe Phiri, corporate services director with South Zambezi told the delegates that  Khato’s reputation and image as a renowned record performer was forged many years ago at its infancy when they were given  the Lawly Extension 2 housing project that involved connecting some 1713 low cost housing units to clean water and sewer reticulation in 2011. It was not easy. Ms Phiri says with many limitations and the odds stuck against them Khato Civils took off humbly  in 1998 before it bought a struggling  grade 4 construction company  in 2010 that had no assets, untill it built itself up into one of the very best construction and engineering companies in South Africa today .

According to Ms Phiri the Lawly project,  with its many challenges  would define the company’s vision of dedication to the best service. She says the founding director Simbi Phiri,  an engineer by training would often get home very late at night with bruised hands because he would assume multiple roles as a labourer, plumber, trench digger, site agent,  as well as project engineer.

“ On a few occasions I would  drive there to see for myself; I tell you the commitment you see today in him and at the company was moulded  by those hard times back then, we never allowed the situation to get the better of us; instead lessons were learnt  and  that project was delivered in record time and we left other companies that we found at the site there, companies more experienced than  us; it would open doors for future projects”, eulogised Ms Phiri. While today Khato Civils counts among the few indigenous African  owned construction and engineering companies with billions of Rands in turn over, Ms Phiri says back in the beginning things were tough for the then fledgling company with grade 4 rating, as equipment hiring companies often wanted money upfront, while banks were also reluctant  to fund an emerging black owned company.

When they could not raise a loan facility for a bakkie they needed for the project for the project,  Ms Phiri says they had to persevere and raise the funding through savings and managed to buy the bakkies cash.

She also recalls that their level of performance was also threatened  by payments delays  of up to four months, that led to unpaid workers sometimes refusing to work without pay.

In some instances  equipment hires would demand to be paid upfront, while in some instances paying for the equipment hire was no guarantee  that they would be availed on time as the supplier would sometimes take weeks to deliver equipment to the site.

Their success at Phase 1 of the Lawly project saw Khato proceeding to be awarded the next phase of the Lawly project, this time involving  1017 stands that Khato completed in record time in eight months.

The early success saw the Tshwane municipality  awarding Khato the tender to construct  a water and reticulation  system for 2903 households  in Hammanskraal  Extention II, a similar project in Johannesburg’s sweet waters would also follow; with the success breeding other  high profile projects such as the  more sophisticated Giyani  water project in Limpopo,   the multi billion pula  pan African project-the Malawi water project, while the company remain confident of similar  projects  in Botswana,  Namibia, Ghana and South Sudan where they have already expressed interest and set up country offices.

Ms Phiri reckons that the joining of the team by the current CEO Mongezi Mnyani in  2006 had been a critical game changer in the journey of Khato Civils, as Mnyani went on to have  an invaluable contribution to the company.

Narrating the evolution  of the engineering and consultancy  giant that is South Zambezi, which is a multi million Rand entity today, Ms Phiri says they bought the then Hadebe & Khumalo in 2008 and rebranded it to South Zambezi. Ms Phiri says the engineering and consulting company had no assets but today boasts over 60 fulltime engineers that make  a dynamic team ready to design the future.

They have already been involved in Sefoke dam engineering designs, Giyani water project, the Malawi water project, bridge designs and many others they are working on, and others on the pipeline.


Secret of Success

In his speech, executive chairman  Simbi Phiri revealed

the secret of the success of his company which is now involved in several multi-million dollar construction projects in several African countries.

“We have professional experts. We have also invested in training. Our success is heralded by the best personnel we have,” he said.

On equipment, while many companies hire equipment, Simbi Phiri revealed that in order to deliver quality work and avoid delays, Khato Civils and its sister company South Zambezi implement projects using their own equipment.

“We have achieved great success by acquiring our own best equipment and hiring the best personnel. We do everything by systematic planning and not by accident.Apart from various projects executed in South Africa such as the M1 Double Decker Bridge rehabilitation and upgrade in Johannesburg, Giyani Water Project, the company has also been appointed to carry out US$500 million Lake Malawi Water Supply Project,  designed to pump and deliver 100 million litres of potable water from Lake Malawi into the capital Lilongwe and some neighbouring districts.


Smear Campaigns

Much as Khato Civils (Pty) is rated as one of the best and most capable companies to undertake all sorts of projects, its rivals in South Africa, Malawi and Botswana have of late been running a smear campaigns against it. “When you are excelling in your work, some people will actually embark on sinister smear campaigns against you. I am happy that all our detractors have been proved wrong, as courts have vindicated us” Phiri said.“It is a pity that when you fly high as black entrepreneur, people create all sorts of stories against you. Some even look at you as someone who is corrupt. When people learn you have secured a huge contract they assume all the money goes into your pocket. They forget about your obligations which include procurement of equipment, payment of salaries and taxes,” said Simbi at the gathering that attracted over 700 guests.

He said it is strange that when a company from Europe or Asia wins the same contract, everyone else shuts up.“We as black Africans have one problem. We are not happy to see another black person making it big in business.

It is high time we learn that we are competent and have huge potential to succeed in business.”

“Let me emphasise this. No matter what your condition is in the beginning, there is room for achievement and success,” Phiri said.The soft-spoken entrepreneur said apart from smear campaigns mostly emanating from their competitors, bureaucracy is another challenge the company is facing in some African countries.

“The process of business registration and accreditation process is slow in some African countries.” He observed.


Govt praise

Top government officials from South Africa, and the continent were among the dignitaries that attended the unveiling ceremony of the new head office.

South Africa’s Gauteng Province Premier David Makhura praised Khato Civils and its sister company - South Zambezi for demonstrating that they are a powerful and serious minded company. “Khato Civils should inspire all well-minded Africans that it is possible to reach great heights in every industry.…The government is committed to support private sector investment,” he said.

Makhura lauded the company for creating employment in several multi-million rand projects it is implementing in South Africa. “I am congratulating you for empowering the youth in South Africa through job creation. Your partnership with local construction companies who serve as sub-contractors is also commendable,” Makhura said.


The company

Khato Civils (Pty) Limited, headquartered in South Africa is a design and construction company involved in the development of large scale infrastructure. The company initially established itself as one of the leading black emerging construction companies within the South African market besides spreading its tentacles to other countries in Africa.

Having complied with all statutory requirements, the company is accredited with the following Construction Industry Development Board (CIDB) rating of 9GB 9CE. The company is also a member of the National Home Builders Registration Council (NHBRC), South African Forum of Civil Engineering Contractors (SAFCEC), South African Institute of Civil Engineers (SAICE), Engineering Council of South Africa (ECSA) and Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS).

“CIDB rating of 9GB 9CE achieved through delivery of major projects built by an experienced professional team that adheres to the highest building standards simply tells about our story. We are the best,” Simbi said.

He added: In addition to PE 9GB and 9CE, the CIDB has now awarded us the following grades, PE 9ME,9EP and 1EB. These gradings reflect Khato Civils’ competencies and assure our clientele of our commitment to quality and growth.”



The company’s business model thrives on making tangible investments in countries it operates. The company’s CEO Mongezi Mnyani said they have so far acquired land in Botswana for building their offices while in Malawi they are constructing an 11-storey building in the capital Lilongwe.



By offering building excellent infrastructure projects in Africa, Khato is providing solutions which Africans face in the transport, education and water and sanitation sector.




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