Phumulani Ngwenya, a businessman from Pongola, plans to be South Africa’s next Sol Kerzner.
He owns a guest house and two hotels – Crocodile Creek, Magudu Inn and Kwalala Lodge – in Pongola, Zululand, and his property portfolio includes six other commercial properties in various KwaZulu-Natal towns leased to a variety of government departments.
His guest house Crocodile Creek accommodates 100 people; Magudu Inn sleeps 400 people and has conference facilities and gaming halls; and Kwalala Lodge is a 45- bed four-star luxury guest house and B&B, which he bought in 2017.
Like many entrepreneurs his story is a rags-to-riches one on which he plans to continue building. With the experience of running his two hotels, he aims to own a big five-star hotel that can accommodate a large number of guests in Durban.
“If Sol Kerzner, who started out small, could do it, there is nothing to stop me,” he said.
Ngwenya was the overall winner of the Ithala Development Finance Corporation’s 2018 Business Achievers Awards which recognise business achievements and excellence, their contribution to job creation and the growth of the economy. He won R100 000 which he plans to plough back into his business.
He beat 16 nominees, all Ithala clients from the agriculture, franchise, media, tourism and logistics services sectors, to take top honours.
Ngwenya, born and bred in Ncotshane township in Pongola in Northern KwaZulu-Natal, was an entrepreneur from a young age, selling boiled eggs and sweet potatoes after school to patients queuing outside a local doctor’s surgery to help his mother make ends meet.
He progressed to selling paw-paws near a local petrol station and was soon offered a part-time job as a petrol attendant.
His ability to speak fluent Afrikaans earned him favour from locals including an attorney Willy Plant who took him in and “adopted” him. He paid his school fees, bought his books and sent him to college to become an Afrikaans teacher.
After graduating as a teacher from Eskaweni College in 1991, Ngwenya returned to Dwaleni High School from which he had matriculated to teach Afrikaans.
While teaching, he pursued his business dreams and opened a fast-food tuck-shop near the school. Seeing a need for child care while parents were at work he opened a modern daycare centre. The as a teacher he realized the need to supply study guides and other materials and Siyanda Stationers was came into being.
These were just his early stepping stones and in 1999 he used his savings to build a four-bedroomed house to sell for profit.
But realising there was a demand for accommodation in Pongola he changed his mind and opened his house as a guest-house and became the first person in the area to own a B&B.
For the next year or two he struggled to keep his guest house full. Strange as it may seem, it was disease that put him on the map. When a cholera outbreak struck KZN in 2002, there was suddenly a big demand for accommodation for nurses from other provinces.
Ngwenya accommodated 13 nurses for three months and earned R220 000 in profit. Using this as capital, he expanded the property into a 20-bedroom guest house.
Tourism KwaZulu-Natal approached him suggesting he enter the National Tourism Awards. He did and walked away with an award, which enabled him to travel to the World Travel Market in London, a key international trade show, to promote his business.
To ensure tourists staying at his Crocodile Creek hotel he created a tourist package in collaboration with people in his community. This included a township tour, traditional Zulu dancers, consultations with a sangoma and local school tours.
While his efforts brought international guests, he realized he had to diversify his business as tourism is very seasonal. He has opened his facilities to government departments to host conference and workshops and business is picking up, he said.
His biggest challenge was raising finance when he wanted to buy Magudu Hotel an old 18-bedroomed hotel outside Pongola, because commercial banks would not take his guest house as security for the loan.
He approached Ithala bank who approved his loan within a month. He slowly revamped the hotel, adding on rooms and facilities. The hotel now sleeps 400 people, has dining halls and conference rooms.
When he had Kwalala Lodge in his sights last year, he turned to his financiers, Ithala Bank for assistance and this time he was able to put down a deposit and being a reliable client, the bank did not hesitate to finance him.