Young entrepreneur Singalakha Bongela-Jojo stepped out of her comfort zone and worked odd jobs overseas to fund her studies in order to carve a niche for herself in the architectural industry.
Bongela-Jojo, 31, says she quit her corporate job after 10 years in the industry to become her own boss.
The businesswoman is founder and director of Sakhiwo Architecture, headquartered in Houghton, Johannesburg. The former pupil of Clarendon Primary School for Girls earned her Bachelor of Architectural Studies from Nelson Mandela University (NMU) in Port Elizabeth in 2007.
Bongela-Jojo says she grew up in a strict household and that both her parents were firm believers in education.
After all, her mother Xoliswa is a retired school principal-turned-businesswoman, while her father Dr. KS Bongela was a literary giant, who authored numerous novels including the classic Alitshoni Lingenandaba and The Silent People, among others.
Bongela-Jojo, who attended Port Rex Technical High School in East London, worked as an intern at NN Architects after earning her undergraduate degree.
She took up a weekend job at Debonairs Pizza to raise capital to further her studies.
Having saved enough money, she packed up her bags and left for England on a two year working visa in 2008. She worked as a waitress for a month before getting a job as an architectural assistant at Miller Bourne Architects in Brighton.
“I saved every single cent. I would eat the simplest of meals,” she recalls.
“I was getting paid £1 500 a month so I managed to save about R80 000 by year end.”
She came back to South Africa in 2009 and registered for a Master of Architecture degree at NMU, graduating in 2011. Bongela-Jojo says she then registered as a candidate architect and went back to work at NN Architects. In 2013 she registered as a professional architect with the South African Council for the Architectural Profession.
The following year she registered her company Sakhiwo Architecture and started doing small housing projects for relatives. The company is also registered with the South African Institute for Architects, and the Gauteng Institute for Architects. In 2016, Bongela-Jojo says she was headhunted by Arengo6, a multi-disciplinary infrastructure consulting company, as head of architecture.
“I was overseeing four architectural technologists. This is where I learnt how to manage a business, basically,” she says.
“I was responsible for the architecture business unit. I had to learn how to motivate people.”
She quickly learnt how to analyse cash flows for the business and network with potential clients, among other things.
“I had a sense of being able to stand on my own. I was exposed to the essence of running a business, something which we don’t get at varsity.”
She left the company last month to focus on her fledgling Sakhiwo Architecture.
“Why after 10 years, you might ask?” she says.
“Well, after 10 years of making someone else’s dream come true, I thought it was fitting to start making my own dream.”
Bongela-Jojo, whose areas of expertise include design, project coordination, project execution plans, and contract administration, among others, says black people are not quite familiar with the architecture profession.
“I have always wanted to push boundaries. I always question why I shouldn’t be in certain environments. Once you tell me you I can’t do it, my mission is to prove you wrong,” she says.
Her company has branches in East London and Kokstad in KwaZulu-Natal. She says she recently renovated a house for a neurologist in Lonehill. “I was also fortunate enough to do some designs for Sportsbet shops. They are renovating some of their shops in Gauteng.”
In the next five years she says she wants to be a living example of a successful South African story. “What we need as a young people is to believe in ourselves and get out of the thinking that we are inferior or can’t do it.”
She wants young people to dream big and do what they love.
“There are two important days in one’s life. The day you were born, and the day you realise why. What were you put on this earth to do? Find it.”