Soweto sees a rise in residents turning to the business side in efforts to earn a living.

The gate noisily creaks as you step inside, hearing the hum of machinery; whirring, clanking and grind as the gears press together. In the middle of the warehouse a young short stout man wearing khaki pants and slops due to the heat, is cutting and sewing a piece of leather on the sewing machine, with his brows knitted together in deep concentration.

Initially the warehouse looks messy, filled with different materials scattered on the floor and various furniture items. From traditional old upholstered couches to beautiful green couches with a golden trimmings. The place reeks of old carpet and dust.

Across from the young man, a timid middle-aged woman wearing a green pinafore is also sewing and quietly humming along to the faint tune playing in the background. As you draw closer to the noise, on the left of the warehouse in the office, an awkward skinny young man is working on a laptop bobbing his head to the now audible tune.

The big warehouse that has outlasted the others has a rusty relic of ages gone, is where these two young Kliptown residents, now 33-year-old entrepreneurs Nhlanhla Maseko and Tshepo Selaelo Ramalapa have been running Kidos Design and Upholstery furniture for the past 10 years.

Maseko and Ramalapa opened their doors for business in 2007 with the financial assistance of Soweto Kliptown Youth founder Bob Nameng. The two man show assisted by their trusty seamstress Lungile Gumbi, Maseko and Ramalapa have survived the test of time, self-funding their passion for their design business starting with about R10 000 capital while facing the challenges of raising more funds.

In the country of growing entrepreneurship success stories, victory is often the measure in money. However, in this case it is about the many years of hard work, determination and perseverance.

Maseko and Ramalapa are deciding to take a leap of faith and abandon their biggest money maker of furniture upholstery. This money-making model saw Kidos make R15 000 to R30 000 turnover a month. The duo has decided duo to enter the next phase of their business, expanding Kidos into manufacturing and supplying its unique furniture in large quantities of 100 units and more, which they expect to double their profits.

SEWFUL: Kido’s Design and Upholstery co-owner Nhlanhla Maseko prepares to make a new couch, cutting the piece of leather before sewing it.

For the young entrepreneurs, realising their dream in Kliptown will come at a cost. “For us to supply big furniture shops, we need more staff with proper workmanship. One of our biggest challenges is that in most cases that many people are not skilled. We still have to teach and it’s a bit difficult because people are motivated by cash,” said Maseko.

Maseko often rubs the back of his neck to ease the aches and pains from bending over the sewing machine for most of the day.

Despite the challenges and hardships Kidos has endured over the last decade, Maseko and Ramalapa are proud of the work they have done and business they have created. “This is [our] passion, more than anything this is what we love,” said the owners smiling optimistically.

Thus far their clientele comes from all over Soweto to source their meticulous workmanship at an affordable price. Maseko and Ramalapa created their business out of an idea that came to them from the environment in which they live, work and play. “For most black people, most furniture shops are too expensive to buy. The mark-up is so high. A lounge suite in the mall is like R30 000, but when you come to us, you’ll get the same suite with the same quality for 19 000,” said Maseko.

An elderly man of quiet demeanour walks into the shop looking for Maseko, to get his daughter’s car seats repaired. As a loyal customer for years, Henry Bopape from Diepsloot found Kidos through word of mouth.

Bopape said, “I trust Kliks [Maseko]. Ngiyawuthanda umsebenzi wabo [I love their work] and proud that they are creating opportunities for themselves and others. However, [Kidos] need more support from like government or other assisting stakeholders.”

The young business owners believe that Kliptown is one of the perfect places to start building and uplifting South Africa’s black community. Kidos provides skills to the fellow youth of Kliptown.

ORDER IN THE MESS: Co-owner Nhanhla Maseko plans and designs all the furniture Kidos Design and Upholstery manufactures.

Transforming townships into sites for productive activities

WE HAVE A DREAM: Sentiments of the iconic and historical freedom charter, which was signed in Kliptown in 1955.

There is chatter between sellers and buyers, old friends catching up and new friends made 25 kilometres south west of the Johannesburg CBD. Upon first glance in the Kliptown’s CBD, the average shops and market stalls seem to be in an organised disarray. Usually, one shop sells everything from cooked food to general household items.

There is always a hustle and bustle of someone trying to make a buck and trying to steer clear of the big black hole of unemployment.

Kliptown is one of the oldest urban settlements in the city rich with history: work, play and home to South Africa’s diverse ethnic and racial groupings. Kliptown was the backdrop of the adoption of the Freedom Charter in 1955 by the Congress of the People. In the Freedom Charter it states that “The People Shall Share in the Country’s Wealth: furthermore, all people shall have equal rights to trade where they choose, to manufacture and to enter all trades, crafts and professions.”

Today, Kliptown has become a community of hope, opportunity, growth and severe heartbreak. However, this diverse and unique environment brings with it opportunities to develop and create products and services that service the people of Kliptown.

The long road ahead …

On The Redi Tlhabi show June 2015, Gordons Institute for Business Science (GIBS) head of faculty of entrepreneurship Dr Jonathan Marks said, entrepreneurship is not yet recognised for the impact it can have on unemployment in South Africa.

According to City of Joburg, 2006, “Chapter 7: Sustainable Human Settlements” in “Reflecting on a solid foundation: Building developmental local government 2000 – 2005 Report” the Kliptown area has a population size of between 38 000 and 45 000 people.

The total labour force is estimated at 41 994, with the unemployment rate between 60%-70%. More than half of the population has no monthly income.

The Kliptown job centre that was opened in June 2016, is part of the Gauteng provincial government’s Tshepo 500 000 Programme. The programme was established to create half a million new sustainable jobs for the youth by 2019.

According to the centre’s data capture officer Thulisile Nyakame the centre has only registered 3000 peoples CVs. Only 10% to 15% of those people have been successful in getting a job with local companies and businesses.

However, the job centre has not achieved what it hoped to do. The deputy chairperson of the Kliptown business forum, United Business Empowerment Network (UBEN) Khotso Malaba said, the development and infrastructure of Kliptown does not support the necessary growth for employment and entrepreneurship.

PLAZA HUSTLE AND BUSTLE: The Kliptown Plaza is the CBD Kliptown area, where it always busy with traders, shop owners and consumers selling and buying their goods everyday.

Molaba said primary business sectors within Kliptown need to assist with the formation of a secondary economic trading sector/industry such as a recycling business started by fellow Kliptownians. “These are opportunities that are not being exploited. There quite a lot of development that needs to be done,” said Molaba.

In the last few years, Kliptown has seen a huge injection of funds towards its heritage status, with business developments centred on the development of Walter Sisulu Square of Dedication. However, majority of the Kliptown residents still do not have access to land that can be effectively developed for development and entrepreneurship.

However, resourceful individuals like Albert Mmbengwa has found an “interesting” ways of providing food services to consumers and creating his own opportunity of employment by turning to the gamble of entrepreneurship.

After being unemployed for almost three years, 54-year-old Mmbengwa took his future into his own hands, starting his fried chip business six months ago on the side fourth street, about 150m away from the Walter Sisulu Square of Dedication.

ORDER NO. 1: Chip seller Albert Mmbengwa.

Attempting to support his family of four with the R350 he makes a day from his chip business Mmbengwa said in isiZulu, “I took the decision to buy the necessary equipment to make the chips and open my business so that I can survive and have something to wake up to everyday. My goal is that one day I will have my own fast food store and make it a franchise.”

According to a Gordons Institute for Business Science (GIBS) 2015 report on entrepreneurship in South Africa, the entrepreneurial activity is improving but still falls short in comparison with other parts of the world.

THE DESTINATION: Come taste some African goodness and have a fine dining express at Boja Nala, located at the Walter Sisulu Square in Kliptown.

The GIBS report claims that aspirant and existing entrepreneurs still face huge challenges and frustrations. GIBS said South Africa’s financial and operating environment is not supportive enough of entrepreneurs, particularly in terms of regulations, policies and access to capital.

Loyal customer of Mmbengwa’s chip business Manfred Thompson said, as a causal unemployed worker he loves to support the local business in Kliptown.

“I buy here almost every day. It’s something cheaper for us because most the time we can’t afford to buy the R15 packet of chips at the store. There is no time for us to sit and eat, so the little we got we use for Albert’s chips,” said Thompson.

After Thompson gets his chips, he and Mmbengwa exchange brief parting words. Mmbengwa takes a deep breath and lets out a fatigued puff. The harsh Kliptown spring sunshine illuminates Mmbengwa’s tired, worn face, wrinkles boring deeply into his skin. He smiles to himself, happy with his earnings for the day thus far.

Many consumers who live in the townships enjoy the convenience of being able to find the same services and goods that people in the city have access to. Since, Kliptown is a primary trading space, Boja Nala restaurant brings the city flair of fine dining and eating experience.

Boja Nala serves steak and other various cuts of meat with a side starch of your choice – ranging from R90-110.

The atmosphere in Boja Nala is laid back, warm and inviting with a cosy lounge feel. Although the restaurant is dimly lit, the high beaming ceilings, earthy African décor and works wonders for the ambience.

After being around for only three months at the square, Boja Nala 39-year-old self-funded owner Mike Menyasto said he chose Kliptown in order to bring South Africa’s buying power to the impoverished but improving township.

“We are starting to attract people with buying power. We don’t want to attract just anyone but the people who make the market. We have not reached the level we want yet. Success is affordability and making money and that is what we aim to do. Currently we are making a turnover of R21 000 on average per month,” said Menyatso.

HOME IS WHERE THE HEART IS: Boja Nala has an eclectic African décor, which gives warm and inviting atmosphere.

Loyal daily customer, well-built vivacious Beefy Q. Rayners speaks highly of Boja Nala and the great potential it has.

“There is no coffee shop here in Kliptown and the food they serve here is different. It is exciting coming here every day finding something new.”

Boja Nala which means destination in Tshwana has become thee food destination for Rayners. “Everyone else is selling pap and meat. The chefs at Boja Nala compile their menu thinking what it is new that they can do to attract each and every customer that walks by the board, which keeps me wondering ‘ooh what’s for lunch’. Soweto Hotel has not seen me again.

Manyatso has learnt that entrepreneurship one has to be able to roll with the punches and adapt to the unpredictable climate of business. Initially starting as a coffee shop, Manyatso expanded with the demand to a fully-fledged restaurant.

Slowly the economic developments driven by the township economy are finding entrepreneurial prospects more viable as a means to create one’s own opportunities.

‘Passion to enterprise’ is quickly outweighing the desperation to make ends meet, proving that Kliptown has an enterprising spirit.

“Mike’s ideas and what it is that he wants to achieve with the restaurant is very good over a long period of time. So it’s going to take some time to get to where he needs to be.” Said Rayners.

Yes, Kliptown has shabby run-down third-world streets lined with dirt, and unemployed people but do not be fooled by the poverty and restlessness in the old township.

There is an incredible spirit of resilience and creativity that will help Kliptown become a part of Johannesburg’s entrepreneurial heartbeat.

WINNING BARGAIN: Vegetable seller at Walter Sisulu Dedication Square sucessfully bargains with a customer.

The deputy chairperson UBEN Molaba agreed with the sentiment that entrepreneurship empowers citizens and is required for any emerging market to move forward.

He said the “black industry needs to thrive and need to circulate the rand. The rand doesn’t circulate enough times in Kliptown. This will assist in alienating the depression of Kliptown. Trust and buy black products and services in order to grow Kliptown entrepreneurship.”

Township entrepreneurship is important to South Africa’s economic and social development. Entrepreneurs create innovative and sometimes new competitive markets and businesses, which can lead to job creation and community upskilling.

FEATURED IMAGE: Kido’s Design and Upholstery co-owner Nhlanhla Maseko prepares to make a new couch, cutting the piece of leather before sewing it.. Photo: Nomvelo Chalumbira.