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Tswelopele Group: Bongane Madondo

Midrand-based engineering company is set to become a major player in SA and beyond.

Monique Verduyn

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Bongane Madondo of Tswelopele Engineering

Soweto-born electrical engineer andentrepreneur Bongane Madondo gave up a lucrative scholarship that had himstationed in Secunda in 1993, because he simply could not adapt to life in asleepy industrial town. It was to be the best career move he could have made.He was taking some time out when his mentor, nuclear physicist Gordon Sibiya,advised him to finish what he started and put him in touch with engineeringsolutions company IST. Madondo started a new life in Pretoria and went on tocomplete his studies at Tshwane University of Technology while working for IST.

“The first democratic elections had comeand gone and everything was falling into place for black entrepreneurs,”Madondo recalls. When IST began looking for an empowerment partner, he was thelogical choice. He had completed a course in entrepreneurship as part of hisstudies, and was seeking to launch his own company, Tswelopele Engineering. He co-partnered with IST to launch the business in1997. Tswelopele Engineering has come a long waysince its early days. Madondo recounts how it was R120 000 in the red in yearone, and R600 000 down in year two.“Everything we had went into launching theventure,” he says. “We kept our costs to a minimum and my partner and I wereradically underpaid, often earning less than our employees.”

In 1999, Tswelopele signed a distributionagreement with USelectrical equipment manufacturer Cooper Power Systems. It was a deal thatliterally fell into Madondo’s lap. Since then, the company has averaged aturnover of R20 million a year. 2008 may be the best year yet, with R30 millionprojected. Tswelopele bought out IST in 2005, bringing an end to what had beena successful partnership. Oneyear later, the business diversified its operations by setting up a new companyspecialising in mass access control and ticketing systems, TswelopeleSolutions, headed up by Daki Nkanyane. Today, Tswelopele Engineering serves the electricity supply industry in South Africaand neighbouring countries. Madondo acts as Tswelopele Group CEO, and is at thehelm of a black-owned and predominantly black managed and staffed business thathas established itself as one of the country’s top suppliers of voltageregulators, surge arresters and auto-reclosers.

The company set itself apart by investingin research and development. “The only way to survive was to stop being areseller and to create and develop our own intellectual property. SouthAfricans tend to import everything when we should be developing our ownproducts.” Since 2003, Tswelopele has been ISO9001:2000 certified. Madondo is proud of this achievement, as the standardprovides a tried and tested framework for taking a systematic approach tomanaging an organisation’s processes so that it’s products consistently satisfycustomer expectations. Looking ahead, Tswelopele Group is aimingto share its good fortune by acting as a start-up incubator. “Jobs are diminishing,but opportunities are increasing,” says Madondo. “Entrepreneurship is the onlyway to create employment in this country and because we have learnt so muchabout the highs and lows of business, we are optimally placed to help otherswho are just starting out.” Contact: +27 11 315 7104; www.tswelopele.co.za

Monique Verduyn is a freelance writer. She has more than 12 years’ experience in writing for the corporate, SME, IT and entertainment sectors, and has interviewed many of South Africa’s most prominent business leaders and thinkers. Find her on Google+.

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