Solly Nhlapo “Motho ke motho ka batho” a person is a person through other persons
It’s all about football. Despite working very hard to keep the N3 motorway in tip-top condition, the chaps on the Trimalents team talk about ‘the game’ at every opportunity – Chiefs’ form, who Sundowns have just bought and Bafana’s new coach.
“I believe it is important to make a team, to bring the group together to improve productivity and get the job done well” says Solly Nhlapo, owner of Trimalents Road Construction and Maintenance in Harrismith. He understands that everyone loves soccer and that it is a good way to keep spirits high. With this in mind, he came up with the idea of a Contractors’ Charity Cup. Four times a year, teams from all the N3 Road Contractor crews gather for a tournament. Each company donates R2500 which goes to a different local charity each time and the winners take home the honour of champions. There is always a good party to celebrate – once again an important way to build a team.
Solly, has always been fascinated by civil engineering. He worked for the QwaQwa municipality for a number of years, but found it really frustrating and uninteresting. “I had to beg them to do their work. It was so difficult to improve my skills there, so I left.” During the early 1990’s he did a road building course through CSIR and started repairing guardrails as a sub-contractor. “Yo, it was so boring, but I kept going, working three days a week or sometimes for a whole month without a break”. With a busy construction yard, now crammed with equipment, vehicles and materials, it is hard to believe that when Solly first met N3TC in 2000 things were a lot different. He recalls:“I had no tools, no bakkie, it was hard in the beginning. I used to hire my friend’s bakkie and had only five people on my team.” He emphasises the importance of his relationship with N3TC, the fact that they keep their promises, keep investing in the contractors and care about communities. “My life has changed a lot, serious. Also my family’s life and the families of my workers have changed.”
A happy childhood surrounded by siblings in Bethlehem and QwaQwa instilled the importance of family. They are still close and Solly employs two of his nephews to run his office and a couple of other family members as supervisors. His son, Thabang, is studying Civil Engineering in Bloemfontein and spends his holidays in the yard learning the ropes. “He must not leave this business,” say Solly “he can take over from me. Hard work and concentration are important. We can’t make mistakes.”
Communication is the best way to build a business, he reckons – speak slowly and clearly, listen and learn. Solly regularly meets with his teams to discuss work, problems they may have come across, and ways to improve. He is not averse to picking up a shovel and getting stuck in himself. “I was a road worker before, so I know exactly how to do the job. I like to be close to the guys and show them we are in this together.” This inclusive attitude has paid dividends as some employees have stayed with him for 10 or 12 years despite the fact that contracts are renewed annually.
Solly, a Kaizer Chiefs and Barcelona fan loves nothing better than a weekend afternoon in front of the big screen. When he was a boy he was crazy about the game, and he even tried out for QwaQwa Stars.“I remember the Umtata Bucks scout coming to our school as well”, he smiles, “but our headmaster would not let him talk to us, he said these are Free State Stars, you can’t take them!”
Ever the team player Solly concludes: “You can become a big person, but only with others. You can’t achieve anything on your own. Even if you have millions of rands, you always need people and then things are easy.”