Patricia G built it - brick by brick

2009-08-21 14:56

CONSTRUCTION company owner Patricia Gumbi could so easily have still been

living in a low-cost house instead of owning a firm that builds them.

Today Gumbi has built thousands of low-cost houses and roads in Gauteng and

Free State.

These days, Gumbi chuckles as she draws comparisons between the low-cost

house she occupied six years ago in Doornkop, Soweto, and the mansion she owns

in the southern Gauteng town of Vereeniging.

“I lived in a one-room house which only had one door and no electricity. I

remember that I once burnt my hair while trying to light a paraffin stove to

boil water,” she says.

She says that her decision to venture into the construction sector was mainly

driven by her low-paying job in the health industry.

Before she took the plunge – and the men of the sector head-on – Gumbi earned

a monthly salary of R800 as a caregiver at the Johannesburg Academic hospital,

now Charlotte Maxeke hospital.

After work she would moonlight as a painter for a company that manufactured

flower pots.

The money she made from these two jobs was not enough to take care of her

family so her brother, who ran a construction company, helped her to secure a

contract to paint three houses in Ekurhuleni in 1990.

“I made R14 000 from this project and that is when I fell in love with the

construction industry. I realised it was lucrative,” she says.

However, her love was tested when she struggled to secure contracts in the


Eventually, a cooperative she had formed with her female associates was

awarded a subcontract by construction firm Murray and Roberts (M&R) to paint

Gold Reef City Casino over nine months.

Working as a subcontractor for M&R benefited Gumbi as she attended

workshops on tendering, laying foundations of structures, building an

independent construction company and bricklaying.

After finishing the project, Gumbi decided to purchase a small truck to pick

up the rubble from construction tasks.

The truck came in handy when she was subcontracted to paint and do minor

refurbishments during the conversion of a downtown Johannesburg hotel into

family units in 1999.

Though the subcontract motivated Gumbi to register her business as Patricia

G’s Women in Construction, it was not enough to make her resign as a


“I earned peanuts as a caregiver but I could not leave the job because my

business was unstable,” she says.

In 2003 things did not go well for Gumbi.

She was getting divorced and struggled to secure contracts.

She decided to leave her job and focus on securing lucrative government


But the divorce left Gumbi broke. The house she shared with her four children

was repossessed and her family was forced to take refuge in a low-cost

government house.

Gumbi says being the breadwinner made her to want to start running the

company on a fulltime basis.

“But I just told myself that through patience and hard work I would overcome

any challenge coming my way because I loved this industry,” she says.

Her perseverance paid off when her company secured a lucrative subcontract in

2005 to build 960 toilets in Vlakfontein, Vereeniging.

After Patricia G’s Women in Construction delivered the toilet project, the

company was awarded a tender to build 50 low-cost houses in her neighbourhood,


Patricia G’s successfully delivered the houses and the company was requested

to erect 600 more units, which were completed in 2007.

“The one-year contract was my big break because I finished it six months in

advance and proved to the industry that my company could deliver major

assignments,” says Gumbi.

Since then Patricia G’s has managed to complete several government projects,

including 960 houses in Tshepong phase one, 500 homes in Doornkop, 360 houses in

Polokong, and road construction in Parys, Free State.

The company has also been involved in sewer maintenance and water

reticulation projects in Gauteng and Free State.

Gumbi says her company makes about 10% of the value of each of its contracts.

She was reluctant to mention the value of the contracts the company has won over

its nine-year history.

Patricia G’s has grown into quite an impressive business.

She employs 20 permanent staff, including project managers, human resource

staff, foremen, supervisors and messengers, and 100 contract workers.

She adds that the industry does not handle female-owned construction

companies with kid gloves.

“It is difficult for women to secure subcontracts and direct contracts in the

sector because the males dominating the industry think of women as incompetent

and incapable,” she says.

Gumbi believes her company is thriving because she pays careful attention to

detail, especially when it comes to costs.

Gumbi empowers herself by attending entrepreneurial workshops in overseas

academic construction institutions. Next month she is scheduled to attend a

course in Brazil.

“The construction projects expose a person to a lot of money, and it is easy

to be tempted to mismanage the finances if one is not careful,” she says.

“But I cannot afford to mismanage the finances as this could lead to the

closure of my business.”

Gumbi says that she has had to rely on funding from private institutions and

state-owned financiers to expand the business.

“The loans have assisted me to purchase trucks, tractors and also to build

the company’s head office in Three Rivers, in Vanderbijlpark” she says.

Gumbi says overdraft facilities from banks helped her to cover short-term

expenses when the company did not have enough cash.

And now Gumbi has big plans. She wants to build a company that will compete

with large industry players over the next 10 years.

She says the only thing standing in her way is the fact that private

companies are still reluctant to award her company construction contracts.

“I have even lost count of the number of times I have applied for private

contracts,” says Gumbi.

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