South Africa

South Africa

Photo essay: Johannesburg’s self-employed youth

Photo essay: Johannesburg’s self-employed youth

Youth unemployment is one of the country's most damaging challenges. In the second instalment of his visual exploration of the issue, SIBONISO MNCUBE looks at young South Africans in Johannesburg trying to get ahead by starting their own small businesses.

Bafana Mawasha, 23, Thokoza

Bafana Mawasha

I’m the co-owner of Tie1, a unique tie designer label from the east of Johannesburg. We work as a collective of different artists with different skill sets and collaborate on different projects. But it’s really difficult to try to push a brand without funding or capital to buy equipment.

When influential people like politicians, bankers and lawyers start to wear our ties, we can finally say we are going somewhere with the business.

Donald Manong, 30, Kagiso

Donald Manong

I’m the co-founder of Visual Expression Media. We basically brand other people’s businesses. We give them branding and advertising services as well as promotional services. We opened the business because we saw a gap in the market for our type of business. We have been in operation for the past five years and we are completely self-taught. We learnt the business trade through books, tutorials, workshops and practise. The biggest challenges that we have are unemployment in the community, hence customers can’t afford our services. We hope to franchise in the future and open up more branches around the country.

Fani Banda, 30, Thokoza

Fani Banda

I’m the manager of E’gagasini Trading Enterprise. We specialise in washing cars and selling kota to the community of Thokoza in the east of Johannesburg. We started our business back in 2005 and we’ve since employed 15 people and have a clientele of 500 clients. Most of the guys we’ve employed are recovering drug addicts and we’ve come up with an initiative to raise money to take these kids to rehab but we hardly got any support from the community and the government. Our plans for the future are to expand the business, but we just need financial assistance from the government.

Kgotso Semase, 24, Thokoza

Kgotso Semase

The name of my business is Geez Mini Fruit and Treats Market. I felt the need to open the business because I’m self-driven, ambitious and I don’t believe the world owes me anything. I’ve been in operation for the past four years and my business started with just a box of cigarettes. The challenges I face are constant inflation of stock and transportation costs. I see my business as a full-grown supply business and trade to other street markets and the local community around the taxi rank.

Thapelo Lesele, 32, Kagiso

Thapelo Lesele

Ko’thaps Take Aways is the name of my business. It’s been in operation for the past year and six months. We specialise in fast foods and takeaways. I opened the business because I wasn’t making enough when I was employed as a fitness instructor at Planet Fitness. I have responsibilities to take care of. I have a challenge in finding help in my business, because the hours are long and it’s difficult to find people that you trust. My hopes for the future? I plan to turn my small kitchen into a proper functioning restaurant.

Mohau Motapangani, 30, Kagiso

Mohau Motapangani

I run the Mag, Wheel and Tyre Repair Hub in Kagiso. I felt the need to open this business because I was unemployed and there was an opportunity and a market for this sort of business in Krugersdorp. I began the business back in 2014 and it was difficult at first because we didn’t have money for capital. The government was very reluctant to help us so we did it on our own. The biggest challenges in our business are load-shedding, shortage of equipment and space to store our equipment. Our plans for the future are to compete with the likes of HI-Q and Tiger Wheel and Tyre and to get to a level where we offer cheaper rates than they do and much better services.

Morris Mhlari, 24, Soweto

Morris Mhlari

I’m a DJ and the co-founder of Retro Zulu, a DJ crew from Meadowlands in Soweto. After not being able to qualify for university, I lost hope for the future, but I decided to pursue my passion. We have been deejaying for the past four years now and we’ve played alongside the likes of Ralf Gum and Andy Compton. The challenges that we have in our business are marketing and to an extent the right connections, because that would help us get events that really pay well. I think most DJs just aspire to play at an international level and set a bench mark, just like Black Coffee did for South Africa.

Sean Banda, 30, Jeppestown

Sean Banda

I’m the co-owner of Rasta Beds. We make beds from scratch, we repair old beds and we renew thrown away beds. Our target market to a large extant is poor people who cannot afford to buy a bed. We change springs and covers and bases. We make all sorts of beds, from African to Chinese. We have been in operation for the past four years and we’ve employed people in our business. The challenges we face in our business are capital for transport, equipment and a bigger workshop. We still use trolleys to transport our mattresses, but we are working on it and these should be minimised in the future.

Rasta Beds at work: Some of Banda’s employees work on separating the springs in beds in Jeppestown.

Rasta Beds at Work

Seiso Selepe, 34, Kagiso

Seiso Selepe inside dreads of class

I’m the owner of Dreads of Class and I have been in operation for the past nine years. I was working as a hairdresser and I saw a niche in the township market. I can safely say that I’m the first person in the township to specialise only in deadlocks. The challenges I face in the business is hiring staff. The youth around my neighbourhood feel a sense of hopelessness and are defeated. I plan to open an academy in the future to teach the skill of styling dreadlocks and possibly commercialising our own brands and products.

Not sitting down

Not sitting down

Tshiamo Makwela’s Lekunutu Productions workshop, an upholstery, steel works and couch designs store he started when he was 22-years-old.

Thabang Thura, 30, Soweto

Thabang Thura

I’m the co-owner of Thura & Bowes Trading and Project. We specialise in cleaning and construction. The reason we started the business was because we were unemployed and we needed a livelihood and through our efforts we are now in a position to employ other people who were just like us. The challenges in our business are people that steal bins so we have to supply our customers with a new bin each time. Another is that the municipality’s garbage trucks arriving late or not showing up at all delays our work. In future we hope to secure space and have transportation as part of our five-year plan.

Tshiamo Makwela, 26, Kagiso

Tshiamo Makwela

I’m the business owner of Lekunutu Productions. We deal with upholstery, steel work and exclusive couch designs. I started the business because of a passion for exclusive designs, I taught myself this skill at a very young age. I’ve been fortunate to run this business for the past four years. The biggest challenge I have in the business is gaining customer trust. People would rather go to the furniture store because they don’t trust that I can handle the job, especially someone as young as I am. I want to expand in the future and open up a factory of my own. DM

Main photo: Seiso Selepe.


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