In this article, Kwandilokuhle Nkosi interviews and reflects on local entrepreneur for the common good, Bab’Mandlendoda, his journey and the impact he has had on the community.
Some of my earliest childhood memories are laced with the background noise of a 100 screaming kids, the rumbling sounds of the bus engine and images of Bab’Mandlendoda failing to keep the toddlers still. Not only did the bus act as a transport medium between Vryheid and Emondlo, but it was aschool ground on wheels with Bab’Mandlendoda as the Principal. It was also a harbour forvarious small businesses and on any given day you could get a lollipop from Khetha, Nik Naks from Thembeka or your parent’s signature forged onto a detention slip by Velaphi. This bus, which we mockingly called “iGuzu” (The Gumboot) due to its odd shape, was home.
On the 12th of September, I was fortunate enough to meet with Bab’Mandlendoda and gain insight on his journey as an entrepreneur. His journey began upon the banishment of apartheid segregation laws when black parents began enrolling their children into schools which were previously exclusive to white children. However, a problem arose when there were no reliable transport methods to take children from Emondlo to Vryheid, which is 32 km away. Bab’Mandlendoda saw this gap in the market and continued to purchase his first bus at an auction from a nearby prison alongside his mother in 1995. The bus made its first trip with only 20 learners, who each paid R100 p/m in that same year. No legislations were regulating the daily transportation of students between towns at the time, but in 1998 Operation Shanyela was instituted by the Minister of Transport. This led to the imprisonment ofmany bus drivers who were unaware that they now needed a permit to operate their buses. The buses were impounded for 3 days and the combined fine was R2600. This new legislation forced them to form the “Emondlo Scholars TransportersAssociation” which worked alongside the Emondlo Taxi Owners Association. After intense saving Bab’Mandlendoda was able to purchase his second and third bus in the early 2010s and further expand his business to include an informal tuckshop outside one of the primary schools in Vryheid.
“Ungayi bukeli phansi imali yamaSwidi” (Don’t undermine the money you can makeby selling sweets) he says, as he points to the newly built wall and the newly installed gate around the perimeter of his home, “lolubonda ngalukhanda ngemali yamasnacks” (I built this wall using the money I made selling snacks). The pride andjoy he exudes as he speaks about how his business allowed him to put his kids through school and expand his home, is almost tangible. He continues to tell me about how the community of Emondlo also played a huge role in the success of his business, making an example of how his neighbours freely borrowed him car batteries when his had been stolen. Lastly, Bab’Mandlendoda shares with me his secret to his success and he says “iBusiness lidinga ukuthi ubaphathe kahle abantu,uphinde ubenesibindi ngoba isona esizokusiza mawubhekene nezinkinga.” (You need to treat people well and have courage when you have a business because that
is what will help you when you are faced with trouble.)
Entrepreneurship, in its truest form, not only transforms the life of the entrepreneur, but it never fails to positivelyimpact the lives of the customer beyond material gains. Bab’Mandlendoda, through his endless humility, kindness and care, transformed the lives of all the children who walked through the doors of “iGuzu”. Although we saw him during his moments of frailty such as when the bus would randomly break down in the middle of a trip, we also saw that he never failed to finda way to get us to school or back home safely. Bab’Mandlendoda never failed to remove any obstacle standing in his way and even though we didn’t realise that at the time, the spirit of “trying” was ingrained in us due to his small victories. Entrepreneurship is something people often view as a formal engagement that doesn’t affect the minor details of people’s lives, but through sitting down with Bab’Mandlendoda I began to see how his entrepreneurial venture played a crucial role in who I am today and the type of entrepreneur I aim to be.