Turning disruption into opportunity

Twiga Services and Logistics supplies bespoke customised acquisition programmes for defence, security and humanitarian aid clients


A small agile player in the defence sector, Twiga Services and Logistics supplies bespoke customised acquisition programmes for defence, security and humanitarian aid clients

Brigadier General (retired) Damian de Lange, the Chief Executive Officer of Twiga Services and Logistics South Africa, who is also the CEO of Impala Services and Logistics of Uganda, provides detailed insight into the company’s journey and how they are turning disruption into opportunity.

Please could you take us through your company’s journey by telling us about its establishment, vision, and about its growth and transformation over the years?

Twiga is a small defence industry company, based in South Africa. It uses the technology and industrial base within South Africa to supply into developing countries with a focus on transferring technology, and contributing towards the further development of the client countries’ indigenous capabilities.

Our products and services include the provision of 4x4 armoured vehicles, rugged military patrol boats, 4th line repair in the operational area and a wide range of training programmes. We offer a wide variety of services, to different clients, who are mainly military, security, police forces and wildlife services. The division between defence and security functions is often blurred by the kinds of threats countries face today, where smuggling and poaching are often connected to extremist groups. Many of these threats, whether overtly political or criminal, operate across international borders, threatening the stability and development of these countries. Thus, the challenges arising in the security environment are intertwined with challenges to economic development. Our main focus is to see how we can leverage technologies and resources from within South Africa to build and contribute towards achieving the goals our clients want to achieve in security and, in some ways, contribute to their economic development.

How long has Twiga been around for?

We are a very young company. We started operating in 2011. Now, we have an office and workshop in Pretoria, and we have set up sister companies in Uganda and Namibia. There is a requirement from many countries to move away from the direct purchase of capital goods and to use some of the financial spend to encourage local development and the establishment of local industrial capabilities. To do this, we may establish local companies that are independent of Twiga and are able to employ locally, pay taxes and own intellectual property. These companies are not subsidiary companies of Twiga. They bid for projects and where necessary, work with or contract Twiga for specific products and the supporting technologies that they may need.

Is your niche in Africa only, or does it extend to other regions?

Our first focus was on sub-Saharan Africa. However, we have begun to explore North Africa, due to the interest in our Rugged Military Patrol Boats, and in the past two years, we have begun work in South America and South-East Asia. The main product that South America and South-East Asia are interested in is our Rugged Military Patrol Boat. These boats are made from waste plastic (high-density polyethylene), which creates a virtually indestructible water platform. Many of these countries have extensive water territories, rivers and lakes, which are often used by criminal elements for smuggling and illegal activities as well as for cross-border incursions or piracy. These are harsh operational environments where the toll on boats, or water platforms, is heavy. Our boats, generally used as gunboats, are able to survive in these operational environments and provide a water platform for security forces to monitor, observe and take action, whether against extremist elements, pirates, illegal miners or poachers. In essence, our Rugged Patrol Boats are water platforms that can be fitted with various sensors and weapon systems that enable navigation, monitoring, recording as well as responding fire when this is required.

As with our other supply programmes, we supply our boats with comprehensive support and training programmes to enable the client to maintain and operate without constant external support.

What is the biggest challenge you face working in the defence industry, considering the circumstances that surround your job?

The biggest challenge is finance; it’s not easy to get finance for defence contracts and in the defence and security industry, you have to carefully manage the cash you have and what you need to execute contracts in hand. The cost of sales element in these contracts is high and fluctuating exchange rates challenge cash flow projections during the execution of a contract. This is the main business challenge.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution is ushering in smart new automation tools and technologies. How is Industry 4.0 changing the face of your industry and the way you do business?

Many people have different views on what the Fourth Industrial Revolution is. To us, it is the growing capability of organisations, communities and individuals to access technology and through this, make work quicker, easier and more efficient. The way technology is becoming more accessible and relatively cheaper means that a small company, like ours, can carry out various functions across time zones and across the world, such as making payments, transmitting instructions, carrying out meetings, using intellectual property and more.

We have found that in many of the sub-Saharan African countries, the use of smartphones and the Internet is much greater than that of South Africa. The number of users may not be as many as South Africa but how the instruments and technology are used appears greater and wider spread.

The use of smartphones and the technologies they use keep communities informed, relay costs of goods in the market, arrange transport and keep track of work. In Uganda, we are able to use our design data, created in South Africa, through Wi-Fi to guide the plasma cutter that cuts the armour plate for the manufacture of our armoured vehicles. Thus, we have young engineers and technicians in South Africa using computers and software technologies to design and control our data for the manufacture of armoured vehicles in another country. And, in that country, there are similar people who can receive and use that technology and ensure the design and manufacture meet our design, again using available technologies. In the not too distant past, this would not have been possible or as easy.
The Fourth Industrial Revolution and the advances in technology have helped us, as a small company, to do what would have been the preserve of very big companies in the recent past.

From what we can see in South America and across parts of Africa, countries with reasonably small economies and, arguably limited resources, are extending their capabilities by using these modern technologies.

What are the dangers of failing to evolve with Industry 4.0?

Without wanting to be negative and pessimistic, I think that if you do not evolve and use available technologies to your advantage, your business will remain stagnant and eventually close down, because it would have failed to remain competitive in a world where the use of these technologies enables efficiencies and speed. Although, there is often a blend of old techniques using modern technologies.

I don’t think the use of technology is a linear process, for example, the use of fax machines. In many developing countries, fax machines were either hardly used or never used, they just did not enter the work process.

Those countries have “jumped” the proverbial technology route. They have moved to computers, smartphones and computer technology-based communication programmes. They make use of scanned documents, Internet conferencing, data storage and mobile money transfers.

The same can be said in other fields such as medicine, education and agriculture. At the same time, older technologies are not discarded but often used alongside the newer technologies. Thus, older technology equipment remains in service through the application of more modern computer-based communication technologies.

I believe, if you do not use the new technologies and also learn from the youth, you will slow down and, in the end, the competition is going to beat you. Modern technologies also make it easier to keep track of what has been done, there is proof, a record.

In rural areas where schools are often not well developed, people who have smartphones are accessing Google and Wikipedia through those smartphones. In many of these areas, there is no easy access to a formal library filled with books. But, these communities have access to material to read and learn, and often in a language they are able to understand. Some say we need to teach in the formal old-fashioned way. I am old-fashioned. I like reading books and visiting a library. But, I read a lot using modern technology, through the Internet, on the computer, and believe that education needs to change to ensure that technologies available are used to educate. Governments also need to focus on ensuring the infrastructure for the use of these technologies is available.

My argument is there should be more access to technology and how to use it as an enabler, whether it’s a business organisation or a community organisation.

We have threats that arise from these new technologies, like cybercrime, hacking of business information, stealing of funds, or funnelling your thinking in a particular direction. But these are aspects of the Fourth Industrial Revolution that need to be understood and worked through. They should not be a reason not to take advantage, for good purpose, of the developing technologies.

What would you say your leadership style is?

I don’t think I have a particular style. I want people to be responsible, to take pride in their work, to be confident about their work and to be open to learning.

At the very least, I want them to ask themselves if the company closes down, what will they walk away with. The developmental approach is key in my work ethic and maybe this underlines how I approach leadership.

There are overarching requirements in that everyone who comes into our company has to fall within certain standards: they have to meet the requirements of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. This is non-negotiable. 

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