South Africa is a water-scarce country and access to safe water supplies is an every-day challenge for many. Husband and wife team Senky and Lucia Kubayi identified an urgent need to be part of the solution. Today, they are saving one of the world’s most valuable resources by using effective ways to conserve the water that exists.
In July 2015, the Kubayis opened Water Chemicals & Technology, based in Chloorkop on Johannesburg’s East Rand. The company is the only 100% black and woman-owned chemical supplier within the mining industry to date. But cornering the market did not come easily.
Senky has been in the water-treatment business since 2006 and over time realised that the mining sector was predominantly filled with large, water-treatment companies. One day, he read in the Government Gazette of South Africa that local mining companies were obligated to buy chemicals from black-owned companies. “Let’s start there,” the couple decided.
“We tried to partner with South African companies, but there were certain chemical injections required that we couldn’t secure locally. We decided to look to China and they gave us a 90-day credit to sell specific chemicals in SA. And that’s how we started selling the product locally – by looking outside.”
Water Chemicals & Technology prides itself on providing customised and economical water treatment solutions that address its clients’ budgets and needs. Services include equipment supply, such as monitoring and control technology and filtration systems, and water and microbiology treatments. Its client focus falls to mining companies in the private sector, such as Sebanye Gold Mine, AngloGold, Harmony Gold and Lesteng Diamonds.
“One of the biggest challenges facing black companies is the finance to start. We tried locally and failed dismally. Banks wanted collateral and we didn’t have that,” said Senky. “It took someone from outside the country to believe in us first. After that, we signed our first contract with Sebanye Gold Mine worth R5.4 million a year.”
Despite initial financial difficulties, working as a couple has meant that both partners understand and trust each other’s strengths, as well as where they’d like to take the company. Senky said: “I focus on sales and operational support and Lucia manages finances. We share the same vision and goals and we’re committed to them, which makes decision-making easier.”
The Kubayis were selected in the first round of potential candidates to join the SAB Foundation Tholoana Enterprise Programme, but were rejected from the final round. This prompted Senky to write a convincing, motivating letter. He wanted to explain that over and above the grant, the Kuabyis’ interest in the programme was to learn how to run a business. They did just that through the mentorship of Gerhard van Deventer.
“The SAB Foundation Tholoana Enterprise Programme helped us understand our business model and put financial, quality management and human resources systems in place that we didn’t have before. Now we have efficient, professional systems and understand that business planning is the driver of our company.”
Water Chemicals & Technology is now a team of eight, having grown from three, with a commitment to employ 25 more people with the CDI Capital Growth Fund within the next three years. And in December last year, the company signed a deal worth three times its current business. Over the next five years, the Kubayis intend to grow revenue from R60m to R300m annually.