Food is one of the most fundamental things in humanity, like music and other arts, it brings people together and even defines cultures. When people agree on food, their bond often becomes even stronger than before. And that’s exactly what happened earlier this month when the people of South Africa’s biggest township, Soweto, came together and voted the Yummy Things Best Restaurant at the Soweto Tourism Awards.
Chef and co-founder of the establishment, Siyabonga Ngwenya took to Twitter to thank his patrons, and as a result, even more people on the platform were curious about the restaurant and vowed to visit it.
Like many entrepreneurs, especially in the arts and hospitality industries, Siyabonga has faced his fair share of challenges. The Soweto-born chef was a chef at the FNB Merchant Place in Sandton before the COVID-19 pandemic but was retrenched due to the disruptions.
However, Siyabonga was not about to give up. He instead started his business, Yummy Thingz under lockdown and ran operations from his home in Soweto. It grew quickly and he found himself in a position where he had no choice but to expand operations.
Now, the establishment he started under such strenuous conditions is considered the best restaurant in the whole of Soweto, what an inspiration!
So, the next time you’re in Soweto, you know where to grab a bite!
If you happen to be in East London, Eastern Cape, and in search of a tasty plant-based meal, Earth Café is the place for you. It is “a humble little café serving delicious and nutritious food”, and at the core of the establishment, is the overall health of each customer.
Whether you’re looking for a coconut crumbed fish burger, a poke bowl or even a tasty smoothie, Earth Cafe has something for everyone. You can even build your own burger – because no one knows your cravings quite like you – and listening to live music while you enjoy your meal!
But more than that, the team at Earth Cafe is passionate about everyone having access to a nutritious, tasty meal, regardless of affordability, times are tough, and they are here to make a difference.
One customer raved about Earth Cafe on Twitter:
“#EastLondon Twitter: If you’re ever looking for delicious plant-based meals, there’s this nice little spot in Berea (across the BP garage) that I discovered recently. They also offer free or discounted meals for those in need and that really touched my little heart,” she wrote.
For most people living in the rural areas of South Africa, traveling to local stores or supermarkets is expensive and can take an entire day. But thanks to Kuloola, a mobile app by Siyanda Mthethwa, specially developed to tackle this issue, previously excluded communities have access to essential services.
Siyanda is one of the Mail & Guardian Top 200 Young South Africans 2020, a SAB Foundation Social Innovation Awards winner, and an Accenture Rising Star Awards winner.
“Kuloola” comes from a take on “it’s easy” in the isiZulu language and, through his work, Siyanda has managed to make life much easier for people, by getting essential goods delivered directly to their doors.
However, that doesn’t even cover half of the impact Mthethwa has had on rural communities. Through the service, he has also managed to create employment for many residents, especially young women.
In previous interviews, Siyanda has mentioned that this is among the achievements that make him proudest: being able to hire and sustain employment for 15 young people, predominantly women.
With no prior management experience, he has been able to retain most of his staff because of a strong and inclusive management style. For Siyanda, Siyanda being able to work towards improving the lives of people in his own community has also been a moment of pride for him.
He says he was privileged to have access to opportunities and a good quality of life. It’s for that reason he wants to make a positive impact on the lives of people less fortunate than him.
Customers choose from predefined combo sets with basic products like rice, flour, sugar, oil, vegetables, dishwashing liquids, and toilet paper. Then, they can order delivery via mobile in three convenient ways: make a phone call / ask for a callback, SMS or send a WhatsApp message.
MaNgema, one of Kuloola’s customers told The Fuse, “Before using this system, I used to leave my house very early in the morning to make sure I get to the store on time, to avoid the long queues because many pensioners go on the same day. Buying groceries would be an all-day activity, and my bones are already giving up on me, so I would tire. But now, that young man has made things so much easier for me and my grandchildren – they can focus on their studies, and I can focus on my health.”
If you’re a fan of olive oil, you might be familiar with the Ubuntu brand of extra virgin olive oil. The brand was started by Loyiso Manga – a bright and innovative budding entrepreneur who saw a gap in the market related to the accessibility and appeal of Olive Oil to the broader South African market.
He searched for over two years for an Olive Farm to partner with, and despite being unemployed while searching for funding for his dream of a healthier South Africa by bringing Olive Oil to the masses – Loyiso never gave up.
Loyiso was unemployed before finally being employed as a call center agent, but even then, he knew he had a different path to follow. Now his brand is taking over shelves at Woolworths and this is just the beginning for the Eastern Cape-born entrepreneur.
After researching the benefits of olive oil in food, hair, and skin, Loyiso knew this was a dream he could not afford to let go of. “The brand was established from a desire to connect people to the benefits of olive oil in a way that is fresh, positive, and attractive, and that exudes the uniquely African philosophy of community and sharing,” he writes on the brand’s website.
Ubuntu Extra Virgin Olive Oil has won Gold in the New York World Olive Oil competition in 2019, Silver in the New York World Olive Oil competition in 2021, and Double Gold in the New York World Olive Oil competition in 2022.
Speaking to GQ Magazine, Loyiso said, “We want to serve as inspiration for young people who are starting their small chakalaka business to encourage them, that if Loyiso can do it, so can they,” and we couldn’t agree more!
Thabiso Mnguni, 29, was born in Soweto but because his parents were forced to move back to rural KZN in KwaNongoma because of the ongoing political violence at the time, he didn’t spend much time in the popular township in Gauteng. He spent his formative years in eMatsheni eziNduna (commonly referred to as eVuna) in KwaNongoma before moving to Pietermaritzburg at the age of seven.
“To be honest I was a restless kid, I got into trouble quite often and had an aversion to school and rules. My dream as a child was firstly to be a soccer player, which was quickly replaced by the job of president, not because of the prestige that the title carries.
But because I thought it was cool that the only other person who was allowed to speak on the radio beside the well-respected radio presenters was this person my grandmother called uMongameli, which means president in isiZulu,” Thabiso tells The Fuse.
“I had no idea what a president was at the time and what he or she did for a living. KwaNongoma didn’t have electricity until 2001 so our only source of news or entertainment growing up was the radio. By the time I was around ten years old I already knew that I wanted to be an entrepreneur and I’ve never wanted to be anything else ever since,” he adds.
After completing high school, Thabiso graduated with a Bachelor of Finance from the University of Johannesburg, majoring in Investment Management. He went on to complete Equity and Bonds Trading certifications with the Johannesburg Stock Exchange. He is currently in the process of completing an Advanced Diploma in Financial Markets.
The birth of Kofi Kulcha
In May 2019, Thabiso started his business, Kofi Kulch. Having always loved coffee, he knew he wanted to get involved in the coffee industry somehow.
“I began the process with the purchase of a VW Kombi, which I was busy converting into a mobile coffee bar before the COVID-19 pandemic struck.
“It prompted me to halt the idea of completing the conversion of the kombi and go ahead with launching my instant coffee line, which I had initially planned to do in 2021,” he says.
As challenging as it proved to be launching a product during a lockdown, the business started operating officially in October 2020.
Entrepreneurship is a huge learning curve that provides so much opportunity for growth but a lot of headaches as well. Among the challenges Thabiso experienced was gathering enough capital to get the business started and operational.
“The manufacturing process for instant coffee is quite costly and full of risks, which could be quite frightening for any entrepreneur. I used up my entire savings and investment accounts as well as my provident fund when I left my previous job in 2019 to get the business up and running. Since then, the biggest obstacle, which many entrepreneurs face, is that our business hasn’t been immune to the complexities of mastering distribution and scaling up of the business as there are so many moving parts to take into cognizance.
“On the personal side, my biggest challenges would definitely be time management as well as multitasking as I dedicate so much time to new ideas and trying new approaches that can improve both myself and the business.”
It takes a village
Since starting his business, Thabiso has received overwhelming support from all quarters to an extent that Kofi Kulcha has received orders from old friends in places as far as Kenya and the UK.
“I consider myself lucky to have great business and personal mentors who have become family to me. I also have a great support structure with my aunt being my biggest cheerleader and motivator,” Thabiso fondly shares.
One of his highlights was being nominated for African founder of the year under 30 by the FOYA Global Awards, and his fondest memory is the immense support he received from the late Dr Sindi Van Zyl who was one of the first people he sought advice from before starting his business.
Thabiso’s take on entrepreneurship
“I’d say the biggest misconception about running a business is that everything must go overwhelmingly right as a confirmation of the viability and success of the business and that anything contrary to that is a sign of possible failure. It’s honestly far from that.”
Thabiso compares entrepreneurship to the trade of farming; often the effort and energy invested today may not be reaped immediately but rather in a few months or a year. Relationships one has built and fostered years prior can play a pivotal role in your success when you least expect it. So, rather than seeking, more days are spent trying to connect dots that refuse to connect, putting out fires and avoiding disaster than anything else.
Without the risk of coming across as a business expert of any sort, the best advice Thabiso can give from his humble entrepreneurial journey is to start today and start with whatever resources you have, and once you have begun don’t stop no matter how difficult it seems.
“We often wait for the ‘perfect’ time to start, unfortunately, there is no such perfect time. The sooner I started the sooner I made mistakes that I learnt from, and early successes gave me the momentum to keep going and since then it’s been a process of rinse and repeat.
“A book I would recommend for any budding entrepreneur is The Alchemist. It may not be a book about business, it’s more so a book about self-discovery and in many ways that is what entrepreneurship is. It’s basically a journey of self-discovery and self-actualisation in the form of a business, which is usually an extension of our personalities, hobbies, or passions,” he concludes.