Phiwo Thango – Official Website

business journey

Phiwo Thango is an inspirational man.

An entrepreneur who changed the face of Zululand, all because of a leather jacket.

His story began in 1966 when he was born in Clermont, Durban. At the age of eighteen months his father passed away, leaving his mother as a single parent to care for him, his older two sisters and brother. He attended the local township schools but ended on a low note as he failed his Matric. He re-did the year only to find that there were no teachers for mathematics. Undeterred he turned to his books, taught himself and with the help of the University of Natal’s winter school held in July of that year he achieved an A pass mark at year end. “It was tough but doable, I also inspired my class mates and assisted them with their maths”. But it really was his mother’s bribe that did it. “My mother is goal orientated and she set me a target. She said, “If you get an A in Maths I will buy you a leather jacket”. Those jackets, at that time, were a real status symbol!”

Growing up was not easy. Money for daily necessities such as the household expenses, shoes and school supplies was hard to come by so Phiwo supplemented the household income by becoming a vendor selling snacks. This, he says, he believes was the start of his entrepreneurial journey.
The possibility of attending University was the next great challenge. His mother told him she could pay for one year, hoping that he would get a bursary to continue with his course. What Phiwo really wanted to study was medicine but that was not meant to be. He was now eighteen years old and not too sure how his life was going to turn out.

He tells it like this, “Quite by chance I came upon an advert in the Ilanga newspaper. Unilever were announcing that they had embarked on a sponsorship programme for young school leavers. They would pay the full study costs for a diploma course in Chemical Engineering ending off with compulsory work at their plants for two years. I applied and was accepted. I attended the Mangosuthu Technicon for four years, graduating with a diploma at the age of twenty-two. At the same time I studied and obtained my Higher Diploma through Natal Technicon. 

As things worked out, Unilever at that time, had no position available for a qualified engineering technician but I decided to stay on as a Process Operator in their margarine plant. Here I learnt vital leadership skills. I was subsequently promoted to Shift Production Manager, learning people skills and achieving goals along the way”. In 1994, at the age of twenty-five he yet again saw another advert in a paper, this time Alusaf (now called South 32) in Richards Bay was looking for Process Engineers. He applied, got the job and he and his wife Swazi moved to Zululand. This was a specialist position. Due to his people’s skills he was laterally moved to Production Shift Supervisor and later promoted to Production Superintendent at the Hillside plant.

Now, as often happens, he says, “I reached a ceiling and that ceiling was that I was told that I was too young to qualify for any more promotions. This was obviously a blow and left me frustrated”.
However, undeterred he decided to take the plunge and do what he had always felt was in his destiny, buy his own business.

phiwo thango (10)

In 2000 he identified a business named Morecare Engineering who were doing work for Alusaf (now called South 32) at the time. Phiwo bought 49% of the business with the owner retaining 51%.The start was a challenge as he had to take a substantial cut in salary but his wife worked as a Chief Clerk at Transnet at the time which greatly helped the family finances. However, just as Phiwo was embarking on his new journey she was offered a substantial promotion, in Johannesburg! Not being in a position to refuse meant that he would spend the next couple of years apart from his wife and his three children.

The family decided that the sacrifice would be worth it. As it subsequently turned out, they would live in different parts of the country for thirteen years. As an aside, he says, “It was actually such a very good thing that happened as my children grew up in Johannesburg and they were able to attend top schools with my daughter now a fully qualified doctor and my son accepted in the Sharks Soccer Academy, and studied a Durban University of Technology and later moved to the United State of America to play college soccer in Johnwood College. Next season he is moving to a second division where he will play for South West Baptized University. If he had not gone to a top sport-loving school he would never have been accepted by the Academy”.


Morecare prospered and in 2013, thirteen years later, Phiwo was able to buy his partner out.
Also in 2013, two new partners joined his business. One of them his wife Swazi, her expertise lying in finance, project management, logistics integration, research and business reporting. The other partner was his boyhood and life-long friend Mathanda Kheswa bringing in much needed skills in the mechanical engineering field.

A number of investment businesses have grown out of his involvement in business, namely Bingelela Investment, Bingelela Investment Consortium and Bingelela Capital that bought the old Bayside Casthouse together with Hulamin which is now called Isizinda Aluminium owning 60% of the shares. Interestingly Bingelela Investment was funded through a Stokvel-like scheme. Bingelela Investment Consortium, made up of various partners, bought into RBM, holding 0.86% of the shares.
Phiwo’s eyes light up when he talks about an initiative, the Nothani Education Trust, started in 2009 that has grown out of Bingelela Investment Consortium. He says it’s their way of ‘paying it forward’. It is also honouring what Unilever did for him those long years ago and what their sponsorship meant to him.

The Nothani Trust selects matric students who wish to study further, for either a degree or diploma, who have achieved good results as well as University exemption and come from a household where the total household income is below R6,000 per month. The Trust offers a full bursary scheme that includes accommodation. To-date four students have qualified, two are in their second year of study and four have been selected for 2017.
Phiwo says, “My strength lies mainly in seeing the potential in people and bringing them in as this has assisted me in achieving my goals and in some cases grown the level of expertise when needed”. One of his passions is to mentor people thereby encouraging them to reach their full potential.

“I have had to face failure but it does not scare me as it helps build me”

Phiwo has achieved much and has done other things in his life apart from running his considerable business. He was the Chairman and President of the Zululand Chamber of Commerce and Industries (ZCCI) and SMME Forum and was on the board of the Zululand Chamber of Business Foundation (ZCBF) and the Downstream Aluminium Centre for Technology (DACT). He was also, for many years, a member of Rotary in Richards Bay. Currently he mentors business people through Shanduka Black Umbrellas.
“I have had to face failure but it does not scare me as it helps build me” are brave words from a very courageous man. He says that his faith and belief in God are the cornerstones of his life, quoting the Scripture passage from Jeremiah 29 verse 11, “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future”. This, he says, he lives by every day of his life.

There can be no doubt that Phiwo, in these short twenty-one years, has made a significant impact on the local Zululand economy. His company is a major supplier of innovative engineering services to the local corporates be they the mines, the aluminium, coal, fertiliser, paper and sugar industries. He says he supports the local economy by sourcing and buying from local suppliers. In addition, he has had a major impact on job creation, employing a core staff of sixty individuals, growing to two hundred when projects are included. He is a firm believer in up-skilling employees.

Phiwo’s advice to business owners and aspiring entrepreneurs is, “Separate the business from yourself, I have always taken a fixed salary, ploughing the profits back into my business”.
He adds, “Having your own business is not as easy nor fancy as one may think. It takes huge commitment, hard work, focus, perseverance and determination to succeed. Never, never be dishonest in anything that you do or say nor any deals you may make. Have a 5-year strategic plan in place, be goal driven and meet weekly with staff, be it one week finances, the other week customers, internal processes the next and remember always avoid debt. “Cash is King”, without a decent cash flow things will be very difficult if not impossible”. But, he adds, “Have fun! I have!”

Phiwo Thango is an inspirational man.

An entrepreneur who changed the face of Zululand, all because of a leather jacket.

His story began in 1966 when he was born in Clermont, Durban. At the age of eighteen months his father passed away, leaving his mother as a single parent to care for him, his older two sisters and brother. He attended the local township schools but ended on a low note as he failed his Matric. He re-did the year only to find that there were no teachers for mathematics. Undeterred he turned to his books, taught himself and with the help of the University of Natal’s winter school held in July of that year he achieved an A pass mark at year end. “It was tough but doable, I also inspired my class mates and assisted them with their maths”. But it really was his mother’s bribe that did it. “My mother is goal orientated and she set me a target. She said, “If you get an A in Maths I will buy you a leather jacket”. Those jackets, at that time, were a real status symbol!”

Growing up was not easy. Money for daily necessities such as the household expenses, shoes and school supplies was hard to come by so Phiwo supplemented the household income by becoming a vendor selling snacks. This, he says, he believes was the start of his entrepreneurial journey.
The possibility of attending University was the next great challenge. His mother told him she could pay for one year, hoping that he would get a bursary to continue with his course. What Phiwo really wanted to study was medicine but that was not meant to be. He was now eighteen years old and not too sure how his life was going to turn out.

He tells it like this, “Quite by chance I came upon an advert in the Ilanga newspaper. Unilever were announcing that they had embarked on a sponsorship programme for young school leavers. They would pay the full study costs for a diploma course in Chemical Engineering ending off with compulsory work at their plants for two years. I applied and was accepted. I attended the Mangosuthu Technicon for four years, graduating with a diploma at the age of twenty-two. At the same time I studied and obtained my Higher Diploma through Natal Technicon. 

As things worked out, Unilever at that time, had no position available for a qualified engineering technician but I decided to stay on as a Process Operator in their margarine plant. Here I learnt vital leadership skills. I was subsequently promoted to Shift Production Manager, learning people skills and achieving goals along the way”. In 1994, at the age of twenty-five he yet again saw another advert in a paper, this time Alusaf (now called South 32) in Richards Bay was looking for Process Engineers. He applied, got the job and he and his wife Swazi moved to Zululand. This was a specialist position. Due to his people’s skills he was laterally moved to Production Shift Supervisor and later promoted to Production Superintendent at the Hillside plant.

Now, as often happens, he says, “I reached a ceiling and that ceiling was that I was told that I was too young to qualify for any more promotions. This was obviously a blow and left me frustrated”.
However, undeterred he decided to take the plunge and do what he had always felt was in his destiny, buy his own business.

In 2000 he identified a business named Morecare Engineering who were doing work for Alusaf (now called South 32) at the time. Phiwo bought 49% of the business with the owner retaining 51%.The start was a challenge as he had to take a substantial cut in salary but his wife worked as a Chief Clerk at Transnet at the time which greatly helped the family finances. However, just as Phiwo was embarking on his new journey she was offered a substantial promotion, in Johannesburg! Not being in a position to refuse meant that he would spend the next couple of years apart from his wife and his three children.

The family decided that the sacrifice would be worth it. As it subsequently turned out, they would live in different parts of the country for thirteen years. As an aside, he says, “It was actually such a very good thing that happened as my children grew up in Johannesburg and they were able to attend top schools with my daughter now a fully qualified doctor and my son accepted in the Sharks Soccer Academy, and studied a Durban University of Technology and later moved to the United State of America to play college soccer in Johnwood College. Next season he is moving to a second division where he will play for South West Baptized University. If he had not gone to a top sport-loving school he would never have been accepted by the Academy”.

Morecare prospered and in 2013, thirteen years later, Phiwo was able to buy his partner out.
Also in 2013, two new partners joined his business. One of them his wife Swazi, her expertise lying in finance, project management, logistics integration, research and business reporting. The other partner was his boyhood and life-long friend Mathanda Kheswa bringing in much needed skills in the mechanical engineering field.

A number of investment businesses have grown out of his involvement in business, namely Bingelela Investment, Bingelela Investment Consortium and Bingelela Capital that bought the old Bayside Casthouse together with Hulamin which is now called Isizinda Aluminium owning 60% of the shares. Interestingly Bingelela Investment was funded through a Stokvel-like scheme. Bingelela Investment Consortium, made up of various partners, bought into RBM, holding 0.86% of the shares.
Phiwo’s eyes light up when he talks about an initiative, the Nothani Education Trust, started in 2009 that has grown out of Bingelela Investment Consortium. He says it’s their way of ‘paying it forward’. It is also honouring what Unilever did for him those long years ago and what their sponsorship meant to him.

The Nothani Trust selects matric students who wish to study further, for either a degree or diploma, who have achieved good results as well as University exemption and come from a household where the total household income is below R6,000 per month. The Trust offers a full bursary scheme that includes accommodation. To-date four students have qualified, two are in their second year of study and four have been selected for 2017.
Phiwo says, “My strength lies mainly in seeing the potential in people and bringing them in as this has assisted me in achieving my goals and in some cases grown the level of expertise when needed”. One of his passions is to mentor people thereby encouraging them to reach their full potential.

Phiwo has achieved much and has done other things in his life apart from running his considerable business. He was the Chairman and President of the Zululand Chamber of Commerce and Industries (ZCCI) and SMME Forum and was on the board of the Zululand Chamber of Business Foundation (ZCBF) and the Downstream Aluminium Centre for Technology (DACT). He was also, for many years, a member of Rotary in Richards Bay. Currently he mentors business people through Shanduka Black Umbrellas.
“I have had to face failure but it does not scare me as it helps build me” are brave words from a very courageous man. He says that his faith and belief in God are the cornerstones of his life, quoting the Scripture passage from Jeremiah 29 verse 11, “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future”. This, he says, he lives by every day of his life.

“I have had to face failure but it does not scare me as it helps build me”

There can be no doubt that Phiwo, in these short twenty-one years, has made a significant impact on the local Zululand economy. His company is a major supplier of innovative engineering services to the local corporates be they the mines, the aluminium, coal, fertiliser, paper and sugar industries. He says he supports the local economy by sourcing and buying from local suppliers. In addition, he has had a major impact on job creation, employing a core staff of sixty individuals, growing to two hundred when projects are included. He is a firm believer in up-skilling employees.

Phiwo’s advice to business owners and aspiring entrepreneurs is, “Separate the business from yourself, I have always taken a fixed salary, ploughing the profits back into my business”.
He adds, “Having your own business is not as easy nor fancy as one may think. It takes huge commitment, hard work, focus, perseverance and determination to succeed. Never, never be dishonest in anything that you do or say nor any deals you may make. Have a 5-year strategic plan in place, be goal driven and meet weekly with staff, be it one week finances, the other week customers, internal processes the next and remember always avoid debt. “Cash is King”, without a decent cash flow things will be very difficult if not impossible”. But, he adds, “Have fun! I have!”