While most of Africa’s youth keep looking for scarce jobs, a young man in South Africa has shown that with determination, it is possible to surmount almost impossible odds and become a successful entrepreneur. Thabo Kunene tells the inspiring story.
Cape Town is at least two cities in one. You have the modern, highly developed centre with its lovely buildings, parks and immaculate roads and the teeming townships with their shanty dwellings where life can be brutal and uncompromising.
One such is Gugulethu township. It leaped into international prominence when a honeymooning British couple, Anni and Shrien Dewani, were attacked by thugs who murdered the wife. Later, the husband was accused of hiring hit men to kill the wife and is fighting extradition from Britain to stand trial in South Africa.
But the same Gugulethu township is the source of another remarkable story that goes in the opposite direction.
When teenager Bheki Kunene, in a fit of temper, hit his schoolteacher with a hammer, it seemed his fate was sealed. He would turn to crime and join the ranks of the thugs who litter the township. As a result of his offence, he was barred from all government schools. Although the teenager deeply regretted what he had done and was desperate to get education and escape the bleak future awaiting him, all doors were closed.
He decided to look for places at private schools but once they discovered he was banned at government schools, they kicked him out. That was the beginning of his troubles. He found himself on the wrong side of the law and spending time at juvenile detention centres. He should have given up but he did not. He fought his demons and bad-boy image and one way or the other, managed to finish grade 12 (Matric) and passed his exams.
Today, this once-township outcast and hooligan is now a role model for youths in his community. After completing his schooling, Kunene sold fruit to support his grandmother. After a few months he took a brave decision to leave once and for all, the business of selling fruit for a living. He did not look for employment but did what many South African youths fear to do – started his own business to create employment for himself and other township youths. Despite having no previous business experience and lacking management skills, Kunene nevertheless stepped into the world of entrepreneurship.
What he had going for him was an exceptional understanding of IT. Armed with a computer, this former township bad boy started his creative design company, Mind Trix Media. The company specialises in web development and design, printing, marketing material and developing apps. Today the 25-year-old is a successful entrepreneur and company owner with four full-time employees at his Gugulethu premises. He has no intention of moving his business out of the township.
When the going got tough
“When I started my business, I had only R600 ($60) in my bank account,” says Kunene as we take coffee at Cavendish Mall in Claremont. A few years later, Kunene has international clients and commands respect among youths and the community at large.
“When I left school, I studied web and graphic design. After completing the course, I could not find a job so I decided to start my own business,” he says.
But running a company was anything but easy. When the going got really tough, he thought of closing down the business but his one client kept on coming back and helped him to market his company to other clients.
Motivated by his successes, Kunene now sees a bigger picture – to set up the township’s first web and creative design academy to help youths from disadvantaged families.
He is also looking at expanding his business into the Eastern Cape very soon. Kunene now has clients in different parts of the country and some even in Minneapolis and Chicago in the US. Because he says he was born into poverty, Kunene wants to help other youths in the townships to develop themselves. He has helped pay fees for children from poor families. That is one of the reasons why he commands the respect of the community in Gugulethu. This year, the University of Stellenbosch Africa Centre honoured Kunene by presenting him with the Youth Recognition Award.
According to the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) 2012 report, 20% of South Africa’s youths are potential entrepreneurs while only 15% display entrepreneurial intentions. It is hardly surprising that most South African youths, like their counterparts elsewhere, are afraid of taking risks involved in setting up their own businesses. They look for peace of mind in a job with security but jobs are scarce and the demand is high.
However, Kunene, having risen from the depths and against almost impossible odds is an example that with determination and the willingness to work hard and learn, anybody can become a successful entrepreneur. He is now encouraging other township youths to choose entrepreneurship and, in his own way, is slowly changing the township.