Inspired by Everyday Greatness
This week we managed to tie down the very busy businessman and Grolsch Swingtop Circle member Mzwandile Thabethe. Along with his younger brother, Ziggy, he’s created some of the best places to socialise in Jozi. His entertainment empire includes the Sophiatown lounge in Newtown, Ko’Spotong in Gandhi Square, Pata Pata on Main Street in the city centre and Shikisha, also in Newtown. Raised in Pimville, Soweto, it’s not surprising that his entrepreneurial heroes are everyday people among whom he grew up, and who excelled in spite of their trying circumstances…
Entrepreneurs that have inspired me, by Mzwandile Thabethe
1. Jay Z
I was able to draw inspiration from Jay Z’s music, where I heard about how he was able to go against the odds and what challenges he faced. I suppose this is what all entrepreneurs face, especially those from similar backgrounds. Along my journey into the world of business this was a great source of energy.
2. My Father
My father was a street hawker, so throughout my life, these entrepreneurial energies have been around me. I suppose I took it for granted having someone directly next to me who ran his own operation, irrespective of size. My father managed to do this throughout the 70s and 80s in the harshest of environments. He was able to feed us, fend for us and educate us. This drove me to stand up on my own.
3. Abo Mam’ Shangaan (local street vendors and hawkers)
I’ve always drawn inspiration from those around me, and I’ve never had to look too far. When I was helping my father sell his fruits and vegetables, the local mamas in the street always inspired me. They were always up early and always the last ones to leave. With no educational background they were able to feed and educate their families, just by doing things like braaing corn or selling fresh produce. I’m still inspired by informal traders.
4. Richard Maponya
I grew in Orlando West, so we used to buy groceries from the first Maponya in Dube, where they had the first sliced bread in the late 80s. In heart of apartheid, this guy stood out as the giant in Soweto, and he continues to inspire through his legacy. You need only look at the mall. He also used to own the BP garage that housed the first BMW car dealership in Soweto. Richard Maponya is and will always be a giant.
5. Toby of Toby’s Ford, Diepkloof
Toby was a man who owned a service station called Toby’s Ford in Diepkloof, on the other side of Bara taxi. He had a smooth operation and was forever at work looking after his interests. He had a car repair centre, service station, car parts centre and a food and grocery store. They used to make the meanest dagwoods in the late 80s! He ran one of the best operations I’d seen at that time. He was really inspirational and amazing. For me, these were the people who shaped the entrepreneurs from Soweto.
6. Caroline of Caroline Garage, Orlando East
Caroline also had a service station, with a Chicken Licken and confectionery (they made the meanest Black Current Cake – my family was addicted to it). She ran one of the great business operations in the early 90s. She was a widower, but that didn’t stop her from being on top of her game. I always admired the fact that she was a woman, running one of the best services stations in Soweto. The service station still stands today, down the road from Orlando Stadium.
These are my heroes in business and without their energies, who knows where I would be. I drew strength from them and want to acknowledge them as my true sources of inspiration, especially given that they achieved under the evil apartheid regime. Imagine what they could have done if they had had the same opportunities as you and I.