By Garth Johnstone
“Growing up I always wanted to be ‘an influential woman’,” says Mpophomeni’s Nondumiso Zuma. “But there is no such career. You can’t study to be an influential woman. So, I started having these business ideas, that eventually led me on my current path.”
Nondumiso, 27, recently contacted The Meander Chronicle to tell us about her small business based at the Zulu-Mpophomeni Tourism Experience centre at the entrance to the township. There she started an internet café about a year ago, that has since blossomed into much more.
Nondumiso grew up in Pietermaritzburg and attended PMB Girls’ High, but moved to Mpophomeni to be closer to her father’s family after he died in 2018. She started her business because she had a need and there was a need among the community.
“When I moved here in September 2018, I noticed there was no internet cafe, and every time I wanted to do admin and printing I had to go to Howick. I also have a media company and most of the work is done online. I needed a reliable connection and service. So to solve my problem and offer a service to the community, I started the internet cafe.”
But things didn’t go quite as planned, although not – as she says – “in a bad way”.
“You know how sometimes you start something to solve a specific problem, but when you start it you find a different problem. I have discovered there is another need. I have business people coming in who need to register companies, NPO registrations, who need to get on the system to apply for tenders etc, but they don’t have the facilities.
“So I didn’t start for that specific purpose, but my internet cafe has also turned into a business hub for the community. That is actually bringing in more business than the internet cafe. I also type up invoices and quotations and help see people through the process. People trust me and I’m very grateful for that.”
She has some customers for whom she takes care of most of their admin and gets paid monthly. She also assists students who need facilities to complete assignments.
The internet café offers the following services: typing; scanning; photocopying; email; printing; invitations; proof reading; assistance with assignments, and others.
Nondumiso is qualified as a social worker (honours degree at UKZN Howard College), and has also studied journalism at Unisa and is working on a business qualification, also through Unisa. Going back to her stated ambition to be an influential woman, she said she had been working as a medical social workers at the Cancer Association of SA, something she described as a true calling – she still volunteers for the association.
“But in my heart, I knew I wanted to start and run a business. The social work is so important to me but I knew I had to do this other thing.”
She started a media company that began life as an online magazine, Izenzo Online. It has a Christian focus… but covers a broad range of subjects like news, events, faith aspects, food and fashion, and classifieds.
When Nondumiso moved to Mpophomeni, she started the internet cafe to help with the logistics of working online and to keep Izenzo moving, and admits it’s been a challenge to run two businesses.
In terms of funding her internet cafe, she says, “I invested a lot of my savings in equipment, my family did help me, for example buy the large printer, but most of it was my savings. Computer hardware, security, newly tiled floor, rental costs, custom-made workstations.”
She says the support from locals is strong: “In Mpophomeni there has been no internet cafe. Unfortunately computers were stolen from the library. This is a quiet, safe place, where you can sit down and get work done. A year down the line I really think it is working well. The customers and business hub customers appreciate me and I appreciate the support.”
I ask her what advice she has for other aspiring business people.
“When you decide to start a business, you need to do your research properly. Do the proper planning, not just a business plan with someone else, you, yourself, need to do the plan and get to grips with every aspect of the business,” she says. “Then I learnt through experience that it’s best to stick to one business first and learn everything about that business, get it sorted before you consider branching out into something else.
“Still having the media house and running the internet cafe is a challenge for me. I would advise not to start multiple things at one time. Once you have sorted the business and it is independent, then get someone to work for you and run it and look at that next big idea.”
She also says you have to be mentally strong to stay the course.
“You must be mentally tough, not just physically strong to get up each morning. You must be mentally strong to handle the challenges and motivate yourself.”
An example for Nondumiso was basic computer maintenance, which she had to learn on the fly at times. She recounts the time when she had to learn on the internet how to do maintenance on the printer. “You need to be ready for these unforeseen challenges and learn all aspects of the business for yourself.”
Across the road, a large shopping centre is going up rapidly near the entrance to the township. I asked about the increased building and business activity that appears to be taking shape in Mpophomeni.
“Things are starting to happen because the market is here. However, it needs to be the right business for the market,” says Nondumiso. “I think people are starting to realise that there are a lot of skilled, educated people here and so the businesses are starting to come. There is a need for services, retail, banking.”
Access to finance for young people with business ideas remains a barrier that prevents many potential entrepreneurs from getting a small business going, she says.
Info: Contact Nondumiso on the e-mail address email@example.com