- Our company believes in promoting young talent as a long-term strategy for positioning the country for greatness.
- Rural areas need water flowing consistently as a matter of emergency. These are clear opportunities for work as we go into a new year.
- A strong focus on promoting innovation must be the driver. People must love what they do and not just do it for sustenance. We work to promote the dreams of those who work in our ranks.
- We are ready to work with our clients in boosting our collective capacity so that we can move our infrastructure goals forward.
- TN Molefe wants to be the company of choice for all the infrastructure needs in South Africa.
AfricaLive: How would you describe the identity of TN Molefe and your place in the market here in South Africa?
Tumi Monkoe: I’ll start by introducing myself as the Managing Director of one of the subsidiary companies of this organisation. We are a group made up of consulting firms; TN Molefe Construction, TN Molefe Consulting Engineers TN Molefe Fleet Management and Plant Hire and TN Molefe Properties. Currently, the arms of the group that are busiest are TN Molefe Consulting Engineers and T.N Fleet Management and Plant Hire.
The rest are mainly dormant at the moment as we seek more opportunities. The DNA of the company is rooted in infrastructure development. We look to add value to the country by having qualified staff, the right skillset and proper equipment. We go out of our way to train young people to become entrepreneurial and inventive. Our company believes in promoting young talent as a long-term strategy for positioning the country for greatness.
AfricaLive: Looking at the history of the company, are there any particular milestones you have achieved that you look back on with pride?
Tumi Monkoe: We have different subsidiaries which have their niche unless we are working on projects that need all the different arms to work together.
The consulting engineering arm focuses on design and engineering work. We work with TN Molefe Construction to deliver civil projects in the roads sector as well as in water infrastructure.
We offer turnkey solutions which are often cheaper compared to the client hiring somebody else to design and structure the work before it gets handed to people like us. Ours is a holistic solution that encompasses all these aspects and we work in our multidisciplinary capacity to ensure projects run smoothly.
Our approach has led to huge successes. The consulting engineering arm of the group completed projects in the North West province working together with one of the biggest multinationals in doing freeway interchanges. This was done just before the 2010 World Cup and it was quite the learning experience for us.
The build-up to the World Cup was exciting for infrastructure projects in South Africa. It was a great and challenging experience because of the strict timelines that had to be adhered to.
AfricaLive: Coming out of a difficult pandemic period that has lasted almost two years, what are your development plans going forward into 2022.?
Tumi Monkoe: We would like to recover from the devastating effects of the pandemic. The pandemic affected lots of companies in our sector with projects going on hold. Projects went on hold because funds were redirected elsewhere and things dried up for us.
We are hopeful that things will now open up because there is a huge demand for infrastructure, especially on water supply. The rural areas need water flowing consistently as a matter of emergency.
The government through the department of water and sanitation must draw plans to deliver the infrastructure needed. We also have a huge housing deficit in the country and this goes together with infrastructure. These are clear opportunities for work as we go into a new year. The private sector has been quiet but there are some opportunities we would like to exploit. The priority for us is to fill the public sector infrastructure gaps that are needed as a matter of emergency.
AfricaLive: The African Continetal Free Trade Agreement opens up opportunities for increased cross-border trade. Do you have ambitions to have an impact outside of South Africa?
Tumi Monkoe: We have a footprint in Lesotho with a project underway already.
We had a pilot office in Zambia and we are looking out for upcoming projects. We have bid for water projects there but haven’t been able to break ground yet. Funding projects in these markets is the primary challenge. If we can get over the funding challenge, we will be in a position to execute more projects soon. The AfCFTA agreement will only work to help us expand our footprint with borders being relaxed.
AfricaLive: Are you looking for partnerships as you move to secure more projects?
Tumi Monkoe: Indeed, we have done work in Mozambique on building human settlement projects. We needed partnerships with local bodies to get around some of the challenges we were facing. We did that to great effect and success.
AfricaLive: We have published an interview with Samaila Zubairu, CEO of the African Finance Corporation, where he spoke of the need to de-risk Africa in the eyes of international investors. Do you have a role to play when it comes to de-risking Africa?
Tumi Monkoe: Yes, we do have a role to play. We must be able to convince investors that we are legitimate companies that can offer services. Many local companies can provide value and once investors get to see that, we may start to have huge capital inflows into the country.
Then we will see investment in African infrastructure demystified and our national agenda will get the boost it needs.
AfricaLive: In the SADC region, what would you consider as the priority areas for investment?
Tumi Monkoe: A largely unspoken area is the local manufacturing of raw materials. We spend so much money importing building materials needlessly. Producing our materials will contribute to the economy by creating new taxable industries, job creation and significant savings.
We have companies that manufacture on a large scale but we still need more coming up to ensure we boost the local supply chain. At TN Construction we want to work with local firms to ensure we source our materials locally so that we boost the local economy and save funds.
AfricaLive: On the need for developing raw materials, there is also the need to develop local firms through skills. A recent report noted that only 16 per cent of African projects are handed to wholly-owned African firms. The largest percentage goes to multinationals. The NGO Engineers Against Poverty have highlighted that as a potential sustainability crisis.
Do you agree that there needs to be higher participation among local firms?
Tumi Monkoe: Yes, we need to have a bigger role to play in our continent. Projects need continuity and this is why local firms are so important. Making frantic phone calls abroad to help address an issue with the infrastructure, is embarrassing. We must come of age and handle our own business in this regard.
AfricaLive: What steps can be taken to grow the local firms and ensure they are competitive?
Tumi Monkoe: That would depend on the kind of projects that we get. If some parts of large projects can be handed to smaller local firms. Such a platform would elevate the experience levels of local firms and give them a boost in confidence. At the moment, we do not have enough arrangements like that in place.
AfricaLive: We are aware of some firms committing to mentorship by ensuring 30% of project value goes to smaller, local firms. Do you believe this is a model that works for the development of the sector?
Tumi Monkoe: I think it can work. The government here is trying to promote local firms by doing the same 30 per cent to local firms. The challenge is that the 30 per cent concept is not explained well enough. A lot of times the 30 per cent is the monetary value of the work when it should be the scope of work.
AfricaLive: When it comes to skills development and mentorship, what role can the private sector play in developing the next generation of skilled professionals?
Tumi Monkoe: Starting with consulting engineers, we often get students coming in during the holidays and they learn under us. I believe we are getting it right there instead of having budding engineers staying at home and relying on only what they were taught in classrooms. We also have workshops where we seek to mentor young professionals that want to rise in the industry. We aim to boost our budgets so that we can have these programs restored and expanded. It is an issue of concern for us because we always plan long term.
The government through the Ministry of Public Works has prepared guidelines on how to structure your skills training in the construction sector. Different institutions can enhance the guidelines innovatively. Skills training is not just in manual labour, but also in other specialized and high-level technical skills. Companies that do steelworks, for example, must participate in training people in welding and other areas of relevance as well. We cannot only rely on companies to offer specialized training. We need to bring back technical colleges to help the industry get top-quality artisans.
AfricaLive: Do you see skills shortage as a threat to the construction and engineering sector in South Africa?
Tumi Monkoe: I do and that is why we have training as a focus. The education sector must lay a solid foundation in skills development while being aided by the government. The private sector can then chip in and fill any gaps present. We will then have a semblance of dynamism in the industry and can therefore secure our future.
AfricaLive: When it comes to skills development, you said you would love to see people come through your company and then go on to start their companies. How would you work to instil an entrepreneurial mindset in the youth of South Africa?
Tumi Monkoe: A strong focus on promoting innovation must be the driver. People must love what they do and not just do it for sustenance. We work to promote the dreams of those who work in our ranks. Those that have the ambition to venture out on their own can be our alumni and maybe in the future, we can partner on projects. Ensuring we don’t burn bridges can help both parties by setting up great opportunities for the future.
AfricaLive: Looking at the future of infrastructure projects in this region, we must have a focus on the environment. Commitments were made in the COP26 climate change conference to assist South Africa to move away from coal energy. Do you believe that a demand for green solutions will change the infrastructure landscape in South Africa?
Tumi Monkoe: There are opportunities for change there. Some of the buildings around the city are built with green solutions. Such a solution would need sustainability considered at every stage of building the project. Recycling should be encouraged so that we save on materials like water because water scarcity is a huge challenge in this country.
AfricaLive: South Africa has been through challenging times in the last couple of years. The country has the potential to be the hub of the fastest-growing region in the world if the right economic levers are pulled. On the other hand, challenges like youth unemployment, and political unrest continue to affect perceptions and outcomes. How confident do you feel about the future of South Africa with all these things in mind?
Tumi Monkoe: Things can look up if we deal with the challenge of corruption. The political stability aspect can be solved by a responsible government that provides a clear plan that can be trusted by the majority of the people. That coupled with an education system that works properly can help save us so much time.
We won’t need to retrain people once they get outside the education system. This will take visionary leadership and lots of patience. In a few decades, we could see our whole industry transformed. We need to develop manufacturing capability as well so that we do not remain mere consumers.
AfricaLive: What would be your message to the world when it comes to TN Molefe and the role you can play in building Africa’s infrastructure?
Tumi Monkoe: We are ready to work with our clients in boosting our collective capacity so that we can move our infrastructure goals forward.
TN Molefe wants to be the company of choice for all the infrastructure needs in South Africa. We want to work with the government and other stakeholders in coming up with sustainable solutions. Our goal is to extend our footprint into all the provinces of South Africa. To achieve this, we need commitment from the national government.
Our work with local governments has been smooth but they don’t control important aspects such as funds disbursement. We want the infrastructure spend to grow as the needs of the country become more complex. Sadly, we have funds going back to the national treasury at the end of each financial year that could have gone to infrastructure. Planning must be done right so that we can have a more sustainable sector.