Black Excellence: Hotel industry mogul dreams of making it big

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Ayanda Mdluli

JOHANNESBURG- He has a dream of becoming South Africa’s next Sol Kerzner. From the humble beginnings of Pongola in KwaZulu-Natal, businessman Phumlani Ngwenya is well on his way to achieving this feat.

According to his profile, Ngwenya owns a guest house and two hotels – Crocodile Creek, Magudu Inn and Kwalala Lodge – in Pongola, Zululand, and his property portfolio includes six other commercial properties in various KwaZulu-Natal towns leased to a variety of government departments.

He has a guest house called Crocodile Creek which accommodates 100 people; Magudu Inn sleeps 400 people and has conference facilities and gaming halls; and Kwalala Lodge is a 45- bed four-star luxury guest house and B&B, which he bought in 2017.

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He dreams of owning a big five-star hotel that can accommodate a large number of guests in Durban.

“If Sol Kerzner, who started out small, could do it, there is nothing to stop me,” he says.

Ngwenya hails from Ncotshane township in Pongola in Northern KwaZulu-Natal. He was an entrepreneur from a young age, selling boiled eggs and sweet potatoes after school to patients queuing outside a local doctor’s surgery to help his mother make ends meet.

He moved to selling paw-paws near a local petrol station and was soon offered a part-time job as a petrol attendant.

According to Ngwenya, his ability to speak fluent Afrikaans earned him favor from locals including an attorney named Willy Plant who took him in and paid his school fees, bought his books and sent him to college to become an Afrikaans teacher.

After graduating as a teacher from Eskaweni College in 1991, Ngwenya returned to Dwaleni High School from which he had matriculated to teach Afrikaans

While teaching, he says he pursued his business dreams and opened a fast-food tuck-shop near the school. Seeing a need for childcare while parents were at work he opened a modern daycare center.

These were just his early stepping stones and in 1999 he used his savings to build a four-bedroomed house to sell for profit.

However, he realized that there was a demand for accommodation in Pongola so he changed his mind and opened his house as a guest-house and became the first person in the area to own a B&B.

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When a cholera outbreak struck KZN in 2002, there was suddenly a big demand for accommodation for nurses from other provinces.

Ngwenya accommodated 13 nurses for three months and earned R220 000 in profit. Using this as capital, he expanded the property into a 20-bedroom guest house.

Ngwenya was also this year’s winner of the Ithala Development Finance Corporation’s 2018 Business Achievers Awards which recognizes business achievements and excellence, their contribution to job creation and the growth of the economy. He won R100 000 which he plans to reinvest in his business.

“I beat 16 nominees, all Ithala clients from the agriculture, franchise, media, tourism and logistics services sectors, to take top honors. Tourism KwaZulu-Natal also approached me suggesting I enter the National Tourism Awards. I did and walked away with an award, which enabled me to travel to the World Travel Market in London, a key international trade show, to promote my business,” he says.

To ensure tourists continue staying at his Crocodile Creek hotel he created a tourist package in collaboration with people in his community. This included a township tour, traditional Zulu dancers, consultations with a sangoma and local school tours.

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He has also opened his facilities to government departments to host conference and workshops and business is picking up, he said.

He says his biggest challenge was raising finance when he wanted to buy Magudu Hotel an old 18-bedroomed hotel outside Pongola because commercial banks would not take his guest house as security for the loan.

He says he approached Ithala bank who approved his loan within a month. He slowly revamped the hotel, adding on rooms and facilities. The hotel now sleeps 400 people, has dining halls and conference rooms.

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