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A story of perseverance, sacrifice and opportunity

MaZwane: shishanyama pioneer and community icon

Phumlaphi 'Rita' Zwane has become something of an icon for success, entrepreneurship and community support in the township of Tembisa, in Gauteng, where she is affectionately known as MaZwane. The story of MaZwane is one of persistence, focusing on your goals and not losing sight of your roots as one climbs the ladder to success.

Today MaZwane is an author, having published her memoir titled Conquering the Poverty of the Mind in which she relates her journey from a single mother arriving in Johannesburg with no prospects, to her iconic status today. It has been hard work and taken patience, resilience and an unwavering belief in herself to overcome all the challenges faced along the way, including the current COVID-19 pandemic, but grit and determination have paid off for MaZwane.

How did your background gear you for starting a business?

Every skill you learn or experience you're exposed to prepares you for business. For me, it was waitressing. I got to know the hospitality industry inside out - from serving the best fresh food available to offering excellent customer service. Little did I know then that from those experiences I would create a shisanyama sub sector that would transform the entire landscape of the food and beverage industry in South Africa.

Describe your business in a couple of sentences? What exactly does it do?

Imbizo Shisanyama offers its patrons the Ultimate Braai Experience and a real taste of home. It has become one of SA's most acclaimed African cuisine restaurants that celebrates authentic African culture and heritage in class, style and dignity.

What sparked the big idea?

I had a full-time job and worked as a part-time waitress in a Mediterranean restaurant. I noticed there how it was all about a nationality promoting its cultures and traditions. It inspired me to open an establishment that would embrace our true African lifestyle and identity in class, style and dignity.

How did you turn your idea into a business?

Step by step! I identified an opportunity and believed in it so much that I invested my time and R5000 back in 1997 to make it a reality. I had to negotiate terms to buy the shipping container to house 'Meating Place'. As business grew, so did my determination to own the first Shisanyama restaurant that could compare with any other good suburban restaurant.

Best success story of your platform in practice?

So many! The fact that thousands of patrons frequent our establishment every year and contribute to a healthy revenue stream and that it is recognised as one of the top Shisanyama's in the country.

We have created a product that speaks to the authentic African culture, heritage and identity in the food and beverage industry. Imbizo Shisanyama has the kind of eco system that becomes the heart that pumps life into other small and emerging businesses in the township.

Impact of COVID-19?

Such a massive impact, particularly on many small/medium businesses and especially for the first six weeks of the level 5 lock down. Without any doubt, some of these businesses will have folded. Of course, we didn't anticipate that 4 months later we will still be sitting with regulations that has devastating effect on many SMMEs.

For Imbizo Shisanyama, operating in the food and beverage industry we have experienced a significant loss of revenue. Since Level 4, we have opened shop to sell only one product - meat at limited times - which is just 10% of our normal business operation so we are operating at a loss. We have done what we can to mitigate the impact, which includes scaling down on personnel, applying for government relief, seeking working capital support from the bank as well as reviewing our operational expenses. Looking ahead, we have initiated an order delivery service and are building digital tools to enable ease of online ordering.

What are your immediate business plans for the future?

First, to survive COVID-19 and to retain our trajectory of growth. I will continue to mentor young entrepreneurs so they too can achieve their dreams.