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A circular approach to construction can help township communities, says Soweto-based entrepreneur

By Monwabisi Mhlophe 

In the vast expanse of human history, numerous cultures and societies have long been practising principles of circularity without necessarily labelling them as such. From utilising every resource at their disposal to minimising waste and maximising efficiency, these ancient traditions have quietly demonstrated the essence of a circular economy. It is a common misconception that circularity is solely a Western concept, as evidence of its principles can be found across the world, deeply woven into the fabric of various cultures. 

From grass that’s been cut and being used for the roofing of rondavels, to cow dung being used for the flooring within, Soweto-born entrepreneur, Phethuxolo Austin Ngoyi refutes the idea that circularity is a Western concept. With almost 20 years of flexing his creative business muscle to forge a self-employment life to be proud of. He has fallen, failed, and faced giving up, but his determination to succeed has stood him well. Today, Ngoyi is the man behind Vanquisher Building Solutions, a construction management company that’s championing a circular approach to construction in Soweto.  

“I wanted the business to be a building solutions company, where construction clients could come to me for the resources they need and artisans themselves would come to me for opportunities. I wanted to be the middleman that brings them together.” 

Not being one to miss opportunities, Ngoyi’s Vanquisher Building Solutions began taking on its own projects, giving him the scope to bring some of the artisans he represented in-house. Through the course of working on the projects, Ngoyi realised the need for construction waste removal services. He seized the moment, and indeed this became a lucrative arm of his business offering.  

Soon, Ngoyi realised that the waste he was collecting was valuable in other places. “I began to take rubble and recirculate it for use as material for a slab, for instance. Or I would use that rubble as a hole filler where needed. During the time of all our Construction projects, a lot of rubble accumulated, mostly solid waste. We use the rubble for a number of alternative projects when building slabs when filling unequal ground, and sandbag flood control, at times during our demolishing projects. We would reclaim bricks and reuse them in any alternate projects. We also entered the Fall Safe field where We would procure rubber granules (grinded secondhand tyres) with a special binder to create a rubber-safe surface for ECD playgrounds.” – highlighting the value of circularity in construction. 

He recounts work he did on a children’s daycare playground, where he redid the playground using existing material and waste from other sites. “We took rubber tyres, for example, made rubber granules and added a binding agent to form a rubber-like tar that we used to create a play area that was fall-safe,” explains Ngoyi. 

Ngoyi is committed to using more circular-inclusive methods in his work, noting that the recycling and reuse of materials are inherent in traditional African life. 

“There is often rubble in the wrong places when you move around previously disadvantaged communities. I believe this rubble can be used for good by adopting a circularity mindset,” says Ngoyi, who explains that locals can also benefit by selling their waste – making for a valuable source of income in low-income communities.   

Ngoyi is also committed to learning more about the safety aspects of re-using materials and waste to ensure that his work is both human- and environmentally friendly.  

“I’m optimistic about the impact that circularity will have in poor communities. I think it is an important way of addressing some of the social challenges that poor communities face and will become more relevant as the impact of the climate crises gets worse,” he added.  

Ngoyi founded his business in 2004. His first business venture was a partnership with a neighbour, but it didn’t take off. He then collaborated with another neighbour and ventured into event solutions. “The business took off this time because we sat and formalised it. Each of us brought in capital and we used that to buy the furniture that we would hire out,” reflects Ngoyi, who remembers the excitement of their first paid event like it was yesterday.