Sister to acclaimed property entrepreneur Sisa Ngebulana, Njongwe is carving her own path in the fiercely competitive industry and has been recognised for her contribution with her recent nomination as Professional of the Year in the Women’s Property Network awards and, separately, in the Professional Woman of the Year awards.
Some of the successful projects under her leadership include the four-star Mayfair Hotel, launched earlier this year in Mthatha, as well as the successful BT Ngebs Mall adjoining the hotel.
Signing off on multi-million-rand deals and taking massive property developments from blueprints to bricks and mortar is all par for the course for the Billion Group Commercial Property Director – the hands-on role Njongwe plays in the company her brother founded.
Billion Group specialises in retail, commercial and mixed-use developments located in major South African cities.
She says it was their unrelenting work ethic which inspired her to become who she is today.
“I’m involved from the very beginning, from applications to authorities for permissions – something that my legal training, and experience, stood me in good stead for,” she says.
“I appoint the professional teams – the architects, quantity surveyors, interior decorators, engineers (civil, structural, electrical and mechanical), town planners and environmental consultants,” she continues.
Fiercely driven and motivated, she studied law, following a career path which, at first, specialised in property, insurance litigation, commercial litigation and general commercial matters.
She later moved to FNB Corporate, where she gained experience in international trade financing and debt restructuring.
But when she moved to property development company, Billion Group, her career took a life-changing turn.
She joined the group as a legal counsel and then climbed through the ranks to become a full-time director.
She was charged with everything to do with all major projects undertaken by the group – from the building of super-regional malls to launching upmarket hotels.
Today, Njongwe puts her legal background to good use in scrutinising every plan and project report.
Njongwe said an organised, logical mind with obsessive attention to detail is necessary when co-ordinating multi-million projects.
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“You need to understand, at a very high level, all the disciplines you have to work with; what the architects should allow for; which building materials will be best for that particular project; road infrastructure and how it all fits together,” she said.
She said her grandparents taught her about dedication and commitment, both to the project being worked on and to the people working on it.
Njongwe remembers her grandfather, Tandi Ngebulana, as a visionary, undeterred by the challenges thrown at him by the government.
“Even before the official birth of apartheid in 1948, just after World War II, my grandparents opened a soap factory and began exporting soap,” she recalls.
“Their business was closed down by the government – blacks were not allowed to own businesses. And yet my grandparents refused to bow down and be defeated. They simply went on to open other businesses.”
These included a general dealership, brickyard and butchery in Corhana in Mthatha.
Njongwe says her grandpa, a quiet, unassuming man, was the strategist, while her grandmother was the driver who implemented his vision.
“There was never a day off. Our work ethic comes from those two-remarkable people who lived in difficult times, but who refused to be labelled or categorised.”
To date, Njongwe says that her favourite project has been working on the BT Ngebs City Shopping Centre, a sprawling 60 000 square-metre shopping centre in Mthatha that Billion opened in 2015.