Connect with us


The Pain Of The Business Of Death




A hearse arrives at 6AM on a chilly Wednesday morning in Paulshof, a suburb in the north of Johannesburg; relatives weep as the coffin is carried into the house. At the gate is a red carpet and cars galore. This is no ordinary funeral. It’s the burial of Peter Zulu, the man famous for his son, Gugu Zulu, a racecar driver who died while climbing Mount Kilimanjaro.

There are hundreds here and they have come to mourn at vast expense.

This is one of nearly half a million funerals that happen every year in South Africa alone. The business of death is worth an estimated R9 billion ($700 million).

It is thriving but plagued by the lack of regulation and crookery.

“There’s a lot of fraud that’s going on within the funeral industry. People are registered dead but they are not certified dead,” says Johan Rousseau, Executive Chairman of the Funeral Industry Reformed Association.

There is no standard pricing.

“The industry value hasn’t been even determined by Statistics SA because they only look at a small percentage of funerals and their contribution to the GDP but how can they do that when they don’t have the database,” says Rousseau.

“Why do you have to pay R1,500 for a grave site in East London, in the Eastern Cape and pay R400 in Gauteng? It doesn’t make sense to me. The insurance industry is using that unregulated market to sell their products and services, because they don’t have interest rates, by employing a funeral parlour as an agent to do all the work for them. The insurance industry doesn’t invest back into the funeral parlours at all.”

Assisted Dying: Mercy Or Monster?

Rousseau says they want to create regulations that would set a standard and bring in investments to grow the economy, create jobs and assist emerging parlours.

“There are 25,000 parlours in the country, now we have to think how we advance them. We have to look at the laws because it excludes some of these guys from entering the market because they are renting facilities,” he says.

Stockvels are also not regulated.

The Tears And Fears Of Staging Funerals

Morongwa Broodie (Photo by Motlabana Monnakgotla)

Morongwa Broodie is one of thousands of entrepreneurs across Africa making a living from people dying. Dealing with dead bodies and grieving families isn’t everybody’s idea of making money – it’s her daily bread.

It’s a two-hour drive to the Broodie Funeral Parlour in Soshanguve, a small township north of Pretoria. Outside is a fleet of cars, down the road: a salon; a repair shop; a school and hundreds roaming about not knowing that the people who will carry them to their final resting place are just around the corner.

For a woman who deals with mourners everyday Broodie appears wearing a charming smile as she welcomes us to her office, where, on the wall is a CCTV monitor watching all the rooms.

She talks with her hands; she leans into the table to make a point. Broodie appears professional, clinical and tough – probably what this business needs. This is the queen of the business of death on her throne.

Little in her fiefdom fazes her.

“You want to start with the interview or should we go see the bodies first?” she says pointing at the CCTV showing a worker busy with a body.

Every morning, at 8AM, it is Broodie’s job to check the bodies and her premises.

“We have a meeting where we discuss previous funerals and how we can improve the business. Then I come to my office, I read my book, I Declare by Joel Osteen, it’s got 31 promises, this book keeps me motivated and it’s very relevant to every situation of the day. I then check my emails and do whatever needs to be done before closing at 4:30PM,” says Broodie.

Broodie bought the business in 2013, after quitting her job as a teacher her husband told her about the parlour and persuaded her to buy.

“I never imagined myself working in a mortuary, but when I saw the business, I realized I could do it. I worked with the previous owner for three months before I took over completely.”

Broodie describes the first time she saw a dead body as scary.

“The first time I saw a corpse it was an old man who was in a casket ready to go home. He was just sleeping peacefully. I touched him, he was cold. I tried to wake him up but he was still; that’s when I realized that he was dead. On that night I had a nightmare like there was a big casket next to my bed. I screamed,” she says.

“After taking over the business, the first person I saw was from a government mortuary, it was a gentleman. When they opened his body bag, his legs were literally on his chest, and the guy who was preparing the body just took the legs and was like here are the legs. I was so frightened,” says Broodie.

It didn’t take long to adapt.

“I went to the fridge every day; sometimes I’d go in the morning to see what they are doing when they pick up a body from home or at hospital so that I can have an understanding of everything. We are lucky that we see these people dead but what about doctors who do surgical operations, sometimes patients come with intestines out. With us it’s different, everything is just still. Then you understand that there’s no more pain here,” she says.

For Broodie it’s the death of children that upsets her.

“I become affected the most when it’s children, because seeing a small body lying there vulnerable is devastating. With older people we kind of already know they cannot live long,” she says.

Through all the stress the business is booming. Last year, they made over R7 million ($540,000) and employ more than 30 people.

“The way people are dying these days, there’s no week that goes without burials. Just in Soshanguve we have more than 40 funeral parlours and every week we meet at the gravesite burying people,” says Broodie.

Prophets Of Profit

Broodie Funeral Parlour buries five to eight people a day. Their caskets cost up to R580,000 ($45,000).

“We have five-star packages; we do elite funerals and have a number of burials we do per day. If there are more funerals, we move them over to the next day.”

“Death is more expensive than living. Let me tell you that we can run a funeral of R110,000 in a four-roomed-house. The way people plan for death is so amazing; they even take policies, excluding the groceries and the catering. We also did cremation with an expensive casket of R90, 000 ($7,000).”

The job isn’t easy.

“Sometimes we’re delayed because families don’t pay on time. We organize funerals within four days; we must get the programs, clothes, etc. On the day of the funeral they tell us that they don’t have money or policies, only to find that they’ve bought new clothes and catering is there, but when it comes to paying us they come up with excuses. We don’t do a funeral if clients haven’t paid for services in full,” says Broodie.

“When families enter the gate, and pass my office, I’d see them crying, sometimes they come in groups hurt and confused, I also become so emotional. This is a business that needs emotions and we have to be with the families until the end and give them comfort.”

Broodie feels safer with dead bodies than people.

“I usually say to my employees that the people at the back are kings and queens, in this business we need to treat them well. Those who give us problems are human beings who can ruin everything,” she says.

“I do routine check-ups; the people working at the back can put a lot of bodies in the fridge that aren’t even my clients. They can give other funeral parlours space and I wouldn’t know it,” she says.

Broodie has survived the tears and fears of the hard-headed business of death; she is capitalizing and plans to turn her business into a franchise.

‘I Couldn’t Even Look At The Face, I Was Too Scared’

Charles Khomo (Photo by Motlabana Monnakgotla)

At the Broodie mortuary, we are welcomed by a man in a white coat who looks like a professor. His name is Charles Khomo and his game is death.

Khomo, a morgue officer, has been in the business of death for three years. Every day he collects bodies at crime scenes, hospitals and homes.

“When I get here, I have to wash it and put it in a fridge,” says Khomo.

“Every morning I have to check on the bodies and whether the temperature is still on 0 degrees, not 10 or 20. It has to be cold all the time so that bodies don’t rot and smell. If the body smells, I have to take it out, wash it with chemicals so that it can kill the smell and put it back in the fridge,” says Khomo.

“Sometimes bodies come in a bag and full of blood, I have to clean and rinse it before putting it in the fridge.”

On this day, inside the mortuary, it is cold and quiet except for the hum of a ceiling fan. I get this strange fear and so does the photographer. We prefer the land of the living.

Khomo is busy with a body that’s going to be buried the next day. “You want to see, come and see,” he says.

A man is lying in a casket as though he’s sleeping peacefully. It is a surprise how comfortable Khomo is, considering he spends his day with dead bodies.

“When I first started working here I was scared. I remember they wanted finger prints of the dead for a death certificate. I was given a stamp and I couldn’t even look at the face because I was too scared. There was a time when a body came in a bag and the person was in pieces, he was run over by a train. I had to open the body bag; I couldn’t even tell if it was a man or woman. I had to do it because this is what puts food on my table.”

Psychologists counsel the more than 30 staff who work here. The most important thing here is cleanliness – they have to wear gloves, overalls, big white boots and a mask. The fan has to be on at all times.

“My biggest challenge is picking up an overweight person from a four-roomed house alone,” he says.

Pain often comes with the job.

“Last year, it was tough when I lost my mother in September to diabetes, my niece died while giving birth, my uncle and cousin died from illness in December. All four of my family members were lying in that fridge, at the same time. I hated this place but then I asked myself, if I can’t do this job who’s going to do it?” he says, shaking his head.

Khomo opens the massive fridge with three bodies, neatly tucked in cream body bags, each with a tag on the left foot.

“The toe tags are very important to avoid confusion and mixing up the bodies. On these tags we write the name of the deceased, who picked them up, where we picked them up and contact numbers,” says Khomo.

Just another day in the morgue.

A Funeral App? From Coffin To Amen In 30 Minutes

Lebohang Khitsane (Photo by Motlabana Monnakgotla)

There is an app for everything these days. Now there is an app for funerals that takes you 30 minutes to arrange a burial.

This is the work of South African entrepreneur Lebohang Khitsane, CEO and founder of Bataung Memorials. The app was launched at the end of July. He named it The Jacob’s Bridge after his late father.

“It’s a portal where people can google funerals and coffins. It will lead them to our page which has a display of coffins and tombstones. We are also in partnership with different undertakers and we connect them with people depending on their preferences. We also connect people with clothing designers and psychologists,” says Khitsane.

“It is very convenient, they don’t have to go to mortuaries, we connect them with caterers, tents, decors, tombstones everything that has to do with a funeral. We want to save them time; people should spend more time mourning than running around searching for suppliers.”

It took Khitsane two years to build the app.

“A friend asked me to connect him with an undertaker that I know, I did. We did a checklist and managed to organize everything within 30 minutes, including tents, caterers, coffin. I said to myself this could be a lucrative business,” says Khitsane.

Entrepreneurship was always in Khitsane’s blood; his first business was a printing company, then he imported clothes from Germany. Khitsane was born and raised in Katlehong, a township east of Johannesburg; his father was a welder.

“I never thought I’d be in the business of death industry. My mother died when I was six and I hated going to the graveyard. But now I go there literally every day,” says Khitsane.

In 2004, Khitsane overcame his fear to found Bataung Memorials.

“The tombstones are characterized according to the personality of the deceased. If you are a musician your tombstone will have a stage and a microphone. A soccer player will have a pitch and a ball. Each and every stone has a story behind it.”

Khitsane’s work goes beyond the ordinary. He created a statue for former South African President Thabo Mbeki and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. In 2013, he created a braille tombstone for blind people and a barcode epitaph.

“People wanted long messages written on a stone and it wasn’t always possible, so we created a QR code that can be placed on the tombstone. When you scan it with your tablet or phone it immediately takes you to the photos, history and videos of the deceased. You can also leave a message of condolence for the family,” says Khitsane.

At a time when many businesses are struggling, the business of death is flourishing. Bataung Memorial’s annual turnover is $3 million. Their tombstones can cost up to R1 million ($77,500). Clearly death is as expensive as living.

“At the moment we are working on a tombstone that cost R2.6 million ($200,000). It’s huge, four meters high; it’s sitting on a 16-square-meter space of the grave. Its weight can be 34 tons. The foundations and concrete work is over R400,000 ($31,000) because we need to put proper foundations, beams and steel.”

Bataung Memorial has made 15,000 tombstones for African families living as far as Australia, Botswana, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Lesotho and Swaziland and Malawi.

His design of late South African actor Joe Mafela’s tombstone (a giant stone which is a portrayal of a lounge, with a TV and couch/sitting bench) was trending on social media, with many arguing over it.

As long as the deceased’s family is at peace, Khitsane is content. “It is a very sensitive business because we deal with emotional people and sometimes people tend to be unreasonable, but we have to redo the design until they are happy.”

(Photos by Motlabana Monnakgotla)

Continue Reading


Going Once, Going Twice! The Evolution Of Auctions



Prev1 of 2
Use your ← → (arrow) keys to browse

Online auctions are gaining popularity, but the traditionalists are still sold on the idea of live auctions that guarantee a good show, with emotions and bids running high.

In an industrialized area approximately 30 minutes from Sandton, the commercial hub of Johannesburg, is a shining fleet of trucks, parked and ready to be sold to the highest bidder.

The sun reflects off the windshields in the direction of the registered bidders as they sit under red outdoor umbrellas at the entrance of the property. 

Some opt for refreshments, while others make small talk with their competition.

A man uses this time to make phone calls to a mechanic, who discourages him from making a regrettable bid on a “non-runner”.

He runs towards the towering fleet of trucks, where he joins the eager buyers as they take a final peek before the auction begins.

We are at Aucor Auctioneers’ popular commercial auction, at their head office in Midrand.

After spending four hours traveling to Johannesburg from Nelspruit (in South Africa’s Mpumalanga Province), for the auction, Charles Malibe gets into a heated bidding war that lasts no longer than a minute but is packed with plenty of fervent action.

Charles Malibe in a heated bidding war for a truck. Picture: Gypseenia Lion

It is noon and an overjoyed Malibe has just won a R465,000 ($32,401) bid on a second-hand truck.

“I attended my first auction three years ago. Sometimes you get it wrong and sometimes you get the right stuff at the right price. It is good to be exposed to new things. I went to Durban once, but I did not get anything there. It was not a waste. It is not only about getting things, it gives you exposure,” he says.

As Malibe heads back to Nelspruit, the auctioneer remains chanting until the last vehicle is sold, with the crowd getting smaller with each purchase.

Wasim Babamia, Aucor Auctioneers’ multimedia consultant, manages the national marketing for the 51-year-old auctioneering company.

Digitalization has disrupted traditional norms of advertising, and has made the industry more accessible for both buyers and sellers. 

“Selling any asset boils down to supply and demand. The advantage of buying in an auction is cutting out the middleman, saving that money and getting something of real top value,” he says.

Wasim Babamia, Aucor Auctioneers’ multimedia consultant. Picture: Gypseenia Lion

 Marketing the call to action remains a vital component for the business. 

“Social media has to be on point when we market a particular auction,” Babamia says.

Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn are some of the biggest platforms, apart from the traditional pamphlets and website advertising strategies.

According to Babamia, online bidding has pulled in more numbers over the past four years.

He sees a rapid transformation in the auctions landscape in the foreseeable future.

According to a South African Institute of Auctioneers (SAIA) report, Gauteng is the highest province of interest with over 6,000 potential buyers (for all kinds of auctions including residential properties, retail vehicles, jewelry and collectables) on its website, while the Northern Cape is the lowest with just over 1,000 buyers.

The traditional means of auctioning have had to make way for digital platforms that have been steadily increasing over the last decade.

SAIA records close to 100,000 visitors to online auctions in 2010; the first half of 2019 is already at 400,000 visitors.

Last year’s record 600,000 visitors reflect that the online market could be just as lucrative as the live auctions.

READ MORE | ‘Stolen’ Tutankhamun Bust Puts Britain’s Museums And Auctioneers Back Under the Spotlight

As the state of the South African economy remains uncertain, Babamia suggests that auctioneering will always provide a cheaper option to consumers.

An industry that has been in existence for more than 2,000 years continues to grow despite its many iterations over the years.

Ancient Greek records on auctions dating as far back as 500BC show women were auctioned off to become wives.

Auctions were popular for family estates and the selling of war plunder in Rome.

As a result of the great depression in the 1900s, the United States opened auction schools to generate income as businesses and individuals needed to liquidate assets to withstand the economic crisis.

In recent times, market trends have changed dramatically to adapt to socioeconomic norms.

A shift to online auctioneering has been a great development and contributor to the fluid industry.

 Orbis Research reports that the global online auction market is expected to grow during the period 2018-2022 with a 7.2% compound annual growth rate.

“Another major trend witnessed in the online auction is the immense impact of artificial intelligence (AI). AI’s main role in an online auction is to perform different tasks such as processing internal operations, customer-service inquiries, delivery and product packaging. In the last years, AI has instigated a gradual shift, from conventional auction to online auction,” the report states.

The increase in sales of art-based goods through online auctions is a key market driver.

Traditional live auctions, however, are still a preferred option for bargain-hunters, despite the global steer towards digitalization.

This is according to fine art specialist Luke Crossley who manages Stephan Welz & Co. in the affluent northern suburb of Johannesburg, Houghton Estate.  

Fine art specialist Luke Crossley who manages Stephan Welz & Co. Picture: Gypseenia Lion

Moving to simpler models will improve the industry by providing a greater competitive edge, he says.  

“There is a growing interest and understanding of auctions across a broad section of people where, maybe, a couple of decades ago it was seen as just for the very rich people doing very rich things.

“People are realizing that it is a great way of finding weird and beautiful objects, artwork and furniture at quite reasonable prices,” he says.

The increase of auction houses in South Africa offers a variety to buyers and sellers, with SAIA having 80,546 members registered by April 2019. As a result, the art and design market is at an advantage.

“The South African art market on auction is always evolving and broadening. The importance to history and art history is being realized and there is a growing interest and demand for these. It is encouraging a lot of the younger artists working with galleries to look at the history and heritage of artistic practice in this country,” Crossley says.

“With growing appreciation for South African and African art overseas, a couple of international houses based in England regularly do sales of more historical work. The audience overseas means a lot for the artists, the country and the future.”

Selling or buying art on auction engages the audience as well as the creator.

“The gallery, thus, becomes the primary market where young artists can build their careers; whereas auctions and private individuals with a passion for art can sell work they own, re-invest in other artists, or buy.

Prev1 of 2
Use your ← → (arrow) keys to browse

Continue Reading


‘South Africans Love Martyrs’



The first 100 days of any presidency are often harshly scrutinized as they set the tone for what citizens expect. South Africa’s Cyril Ramaphosa is under the magnifying glass as all await his next tactical move.

At the end of May, South Africa’s sixth democratically-elected president, Cyril Ramaphosa, took an oath of office at Loftus Versfeld Stadium in Pretoria. In his speech, he touched on many issues that resonate with South Africans, including corruption, poverty, equality and youth unemployment.

These burning matters prelude what is to be expected from him in his first 100 days in office.

Ramaphosa’s period at the helm of power (before the elections) has been typified by repeated calls for a ‘New Dawn’. It seems the man who made it to the 2019 Time magazine list of 100 Most Influential in the world has a laundry list of issues to attend to if he is to set the tone for the rest of his presidency.

READ MORE | IN PICTURES | Looking Back At The Vibe Of The South African Elections

The challenge that has deeply affected how South Africans and investors view the country is that of corruption.

“Let us forge a compact for an efficient, capable and ethical state, a state that is free of corruption, for companies that generate social value and propel human development… We must be a society that values excellence, rewards effort and rejects mediocrity,” Ramaphosa said at his inauguration on May 25.

 In the first 100 days, analysts say he needs to demonstrate he is a proactive leader; one who takes decisive action to address the plight of those who live in a society as unequal as South Africa. The gaping chasm between the richest and poorest has widened since the end of apartheid 25 years ago. This information is not lost on citizens whose lived experiences and disenchantment were in evidence during the elections.

A specialist in social economic development and political commentator, Kim Heller, is of the view that Ramaphosa has some way to go to address the resolutions of his party, the African National Congress (ANC).

 “There are critical social maladies that need to be treated with the urgency they deserve… One of the key things people are looking for is a decisive man and decisive leadership,” she says.

Political analyst, Prince Mashele, ventures: “He is yet to act on resolutions because he is navigating complex political infighting in the ANC, which is why he can’t move boldly and faster…”

Economic transformation has been seen to also imply redistribution of the means of production, which currently has been reiterated in the call for land redistribution without compensation. This is among the duties citizens and investors will keep a close eye on as it is a contentious matter.

Leading up to the elections, Ramaphosa said to apprehensive farmers, “the land reform process is something we should never fear. It is going to be done in terms of the constitution”.

Heller says that, “the question of land is unresolved, despite very solid ANC resolutions from branches, and despite extensive consultation”.

The president will to have to choose whether he wants to be investor-friendly or whether he wants the interests of his own political party to find expression in policy.

“The investors have become the supreme branch of the ANC. So Ramaphosa certainly, is spending a lot of time on their concerns rather than ordinary people…,” Heller says.

READ MORE | Poll Position: The South African 2019 Elections

Mashele echoes: “He has been a market-friendly president. He has railed against his comrades calling for the nationalization of the [South African] Reserve Bank”.

Another matter influencing investment into the country is red tape that inhibits instead of encouraging business. South Africa dropped from 34 out of 181 countries on the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business ranking in 2009 to 82 out of 192 countries last year, leaving the country trailing its African peers, including Mauritius (20), Rwanda (29) and Kenya (61).

In his address to the nation, Ramaphosa continued with the mantra thuma mina (which means ‘send me’) and committed to continue to build South Africa. In his rebuilding, he will have to take a closer look at the factors that infringe on those looking to conduct business while straddling the line in ensuring that (natural) resources are not further depleted while failing to trickle down to those who need it the most.

Heller is of the view that the expectations created by the president serve as a double-edged sword: “Some quarters have built him up to be the Messiah we have all been waiting for. He may have embraced that but it’s actually going to damage him. Because there is no individual who can save this country without looking at doing serious things in terms of economic restructuring… Until we address structural issues in this country, shifting the economy to favor ordinary people, not markets, we actually aren’t very benevolent.”

Also affecting business has been the view that South Africa is amongst the most corrupt on the continent and viewed as one of the murder capitals of the world. The Zondo Commission has illustrated the stark reality of the malfeasance the president will have to address to change these perceptions and in so doing, hold high-profile individuals accountable.

READ MORE | Ticking The Right Boxes: Will The South African Elections Come Down To The Wire?

 In line with building an equal society, the president made mention of the prevalence of violence against women at his inauguration.

“Let us end the dominion that men claim over women, the denial of opportunity, the abuse and the violence, the neglect, and the disregard of each person’s equal rights. Let us build a truly non-racial society, one that belongs to all South Africans, and in which all South Africans belong. Let us build a society that protects and values those who are vulnerable and who for too long have been rendered marginal,” Ramaphosa said.

Leading up to the resolution of the president’s first 100 days in office, the public is watching with bated breath. 

“I pity him. He’s made big promises on housing and unemployment. Those are not going to magically change overnight. The problem with South Africa is that we love martyrs and here we have a president that we have martyred and who is actually going to fall on that. To replace one man with another, is not going to replace problematic policies, poor implementation and poor conceptualization of economic solutions. So I think in the next 100 days, I don’t expect to see anything unless the fundamentals are changed,” Heller says.     

No doubt, it is going to take a concerted effort from all institutions, including those that have been revealed to be compromised. The first 100 days will certainly determine the rest of the president’s term in office.

Continue Reading


Lifting The Heavy Veil On Wedding Costs



With pockets as deep as gold mines, how far are couples willing to go to have the picture-perfect luxe wedding?

The lagoons overlook the snow-white beaches with its swaying coconut trees, embraced by the turquoise waters of the sea in the island nation of Mauritius. It’s a scene straight out of a movie, with a couple cavorting in the distance.

Over 100 guests from South Africa have also gathered on these sands for the weekend wedding of businessman Lebo Gunguluza and his long-term girlfriend Lebo Mokoena. 

The total cost of this union: almost $300,000. 

“I didn’t mind exceeding the budget, because you only do this once,” says new bride Mokoena.

The couple flew over 30 guests and provided them with five-star accommodation at the LUX* Grand Gaube.  Part of the guest contingency included the behind-the-scenes crew for the wedding, as well as the speakers who had to spend four to seven days in Mauritius to prep up.

“We did not want to have a local wedding because we wanted our guests and family to have a different experience. We also wanted our family members who did not have passports and have never flown out of the country to experience a different country,” Gunguluza says.

Snow-white beaches of Mauritius. Picture: Supplied

The weekend celebrations started on a Friday last September with a cocktail meet-and-greet party. Belly dancers who were dressed in floral red and yellow danced the evening away with guests, with a local band taking them to the all-white party on Saturday.

This was just a build-up to the romantic wedding reception with shades of blush, ivory, and gold which was to take place on Sunday at 4PM.

“Every time I think about that day, I want to do it again,” the new bride says.

The couple chose not to have bridesmaids and groomsmen and the guests were encouraged to dress in black and white.

“I didn’t have bridesmaids because it makes you choose between your friends. I felt that if you got an invite to our wedding, you were worthy enough. So, we wanted everyone to be bridesmaids and groomsmen. I think we made it intimate and everybody felt like they were VIPs,” says Mokoena.

Everything fit perfectly as the bride’s two white wedding dresses were designed by Antherline Couture.

For the ceremony, she wore a white ball gown with a diamanté top heavily embellished with beads; while the groom looked dapper in a white tuxedo jacket designed by Master Suit SA.  

The color white was indeed conspicuous.

“I have always felt that white is pure and because I was signing my life away, I felt I needed to be pure, hence I said my husband needed to wear white as well,” she adds.

The lavish white wedding was organized by renowned wedding planner Precious Tumisho Thamaga who ditched her seven-year career in Public Relations & Marketing to become an event planner.

Thamaga organizes events and weddings for affluent clients such as the Gunguluzas.

“They are busy people and they don’t have time to do the administration and the back and forth of vetting in suppliers,” Thamaga says, as she takes over the pain of wedding planning.

Lebo Mokoena and Lebo Gunguluza (middle) with wedding guests in Mauritius. Picture: Supplied

While working in the corporate world, she had attended many weddings that she felt were put together in a way that created a disconnect between the guests and the wedding couple.

“So I saw an opportunity in the fact that there were not a lot of wedding planners that were black,”  Thamaga says. 

She decided to focus on corporate clients in order to turn her passion into a profitable business.

“A lot of people did not expect a black person to be professional and take the business seriously.

“It was not just a hobby or someone helping out a family. It was an actual business and I made sure that I got taken seriously from the onset,” Thamaga says.

In order for Precious Celebrations (the name of her company) to prosper, she had to have a business strategy in place.

“I made sure that I put a lot of time and effort and strategized properly what it was that I wanted to actually focus on, and find a niche [in]. I believed that would separate me from somebody that was already in the industry,” Thamaga says.

However, her job is not always alluring.

Lebo Mokoena and Lebo Gunguluza’s wedding in Mauritius. Picture: Supplied

“When I started in the industry there weren’t so many wedding planners and now it is a different story and everyone thinks it is easy-peasy and it is glamorous,” she says. 

Planning a luxurious wedding takes eight to 12 months and can cost anywhere between R300,000 ($20,813) to R4.5 million ($312,203).

The most expensive wedding Thamaga planned was for a public figure she cannot disclose the name of. 

“It was a destination wedding and the experience from when the guests arrived to the wedding day was memorable. When they arrived, we had a cocktail party and we had activities like canoeing and on Sunday we had an all-white party. [This is] so that people don’t depart on Sunday and may leave on Monday.” 

Only the affluent sign up.

“The smallest wedding that I have had to plan had 80 people and it cost R2 million ($138,000),”  Thamaga says.

She has turned away some clients in the past because their budget was insufficient for the type of wedding they envisioned. 

Thamaga organizes 26 weddings, on average, annually, from countries such as Mauritius, Zimbabwe, Swaziland, Botswana and now she plans on taking her bespoke company global.

One of the unique aspects of her business is that she has maintained a good relationship with the suppliers she has in each country, and has kept her expenses to a minimum.

“The wedding planning-event planning industry is quite lucrative if you do it right. I am not the type that would have too much inventory because I want to feel like the inventory belongs to me; that would limit my creativity,” she says.

“I make sure that I don’t have a lot of expenses, I have coordinators that I have worked with for years and they have full-time jobs.”

Thamaga’s greatest challenge so far was whether or not to outsource other wedding planners when her business was increasing.

“It can be a bit daunting to realize that your business is growing,” she says.

But she opted to remain boutique.

“I had to decide that it is not about the money. I am building an empire where I want a legacy and an ongoing relationship with my clients.” 

She involves her clients every step of the way to bring their vision to an unforgettable reality, and believes that weddings are expensive because of the growing aspirations of the young.

“It is not just in South Africa, it is worldwide,” she says.

Despite the tangible costs of conducting these dream events, the wedding industry in South Africa is largely unregistered as it is a fluid market where services and costs are difficult to track and document accurately.

Fred Elu Eboka, a Nigerian designer who dresses delegates as well as the rich and famous. Picture: Supplied

Africans, no doubt, spend millions per year on costs associated with marital ceremonies. This is the reality of the unregistered wedding industry. Despite the recession and slow economic growth, the wedding industry continues to attract many entrepreneurs to its lucrative opportunities.

As, people never stop getting married.

The Marriages and Divorces report released by Statistics South Africa last May shows an upward trend in civil marriages. Civil marriages increased by 0.6%, from 138,627 marriages registered in 2015 to 139,512 in 2016.

A wedding dress is an important part of a celebration and the bridal couture market continues to show growth.

Wise Guy Reports Database Global Wedding Dress Market Insights, forecast to 2025, states: “The wedding market demand grows continually, and the wedding garments market has notable increase every year. In this case, the competition is also very intense among companies. The involved companies should seize the opportunities to expand the gold mine.”

A previous client of Thamaga’s has spent R200,000 ($13,876) on two wedding dresses and this is nothing for Fred Elu Eboka, a Nigerian designer who dresses delegates as well as the rich and famous. 

He moved to South Africa in 1992 at a time when African designs were not being celebrated globally. 

Twenty years ago, Eboka sold wedding dresses for R15,000 ($1,041) a piece, and now sells for R250,000 ($17,344) a piece, depending on the design. 

“A designer of my caliber in South Africa is undersold because there are people in the United States selling wedding gowns for $250 and I am here selling them for maybe $80, it just doesn’t make sense. It shows that our economy is really bad because a designer of my caliber should be operating on the same level as them, or very close,” Eboka says.

He is a luxury designer. 

“When you think of luxury, it is not just the product, it is not just the textile – it is the whole experience from when you drive in, to when you sit down and have the designer talk to you and learn about your life. The whole artistic process contributes to the cost value of the gown.”

He says that the reason wedding gowns are expensive is because they are meant to be timeless pieces.

“Traditionally, wedding gowns are classical couture. It is not like the normal evening dress that you wear to look beautiful on one night. A wedding dress is like training for the Olympics. You train for them for the rest of your life,” he says.

Eboka also says when designing a wedding gown, you need to take time to know the client, family and their fancies in order to meet the clients’ need.

The material of the wedding gown is usually expensive because he sources the textiles from across the world, and he takes two to three months to create a gown, depending on the embellishments.

Fred Elu Eboka, a Nigerian designer who dresses delegates as well as the rich and famous. Picture: Supplied 

“My designs have a lot of artistry,” he says.

Eboka is a wealthy man but he still believes that the industry is not as lucrative as it could be.

“But we do well, without being arrogant about it… You have to be fully aware of the industry and have the intellectual capacity to understand the potential of the market,” he says.

Pictures are an important element of a wedding because they capture the moment for life.

International award-winning photographer Daniel West meets his clients in a restaurant so he can get to know them better and learn the history of their relationship.

“We, as photographers, need to click with each couple, it is actually vital because we are going to be in their space from the beginning to end.

“So, when we do not gel, we are going to find ourselves in an awkward situation on the day because we, as photographers, are also problem-solvers. We don’t just take pictures on the day,” West says.

His packages start from R18,000 ($1,248) to R60,000 ($4,163) and he says it is because the couple is paying for the quality of the work. His packages include waterproof genuine leather-bound photo albums that he says last a lifetime, as well as 500 images that are both edited and unedited. He also arranges the location for the photoshoots.

“It is more than about taking pictures on the day, anybody can take pictures but the work that I do has more of a boutique feel,” he says.

“You pay to have something like this on the table that will last you a lifetime,” West says.

He does not only take pictures on the day but the photoshoots can take up to three months.

“Each couple that I take pictures of has a different story and that is where I draw my inspiration.”

West says that it takes a while for the business to get to a point that is profitable because photographic equipment is expensive.

“In the beginning, it is unfortunately not lucrative because you have to look into getting the equipment that is up to standard, however, it took me about seven years where I could get to a point that I could make a business out of it,” West says.

International award-winning photographer Daniel West with his clients. Picture: Supplied

His annual turnover before expenses is R800,000 ($55,502) and he has about 25 clients a year.

He believes that the industry is regarded as valuable in South Africa and it is growing because people are becoming more enlightened about the photography industry. And social media has become an important motivator driving this industry.

“It is vital to have a good photographer for your wedding, because you as a bride are not quite educated of what is out there and what is not [in terms of photography].”

A good photographer needs to have foresight.

“The quality and charisma of your photographer is really one of the most important things you pay for because if something were to go wrong on your wedding, like rain, what does your photographer do? Do they stand back or make a plan?” he says.

Other luxe services associated with weddings include limos and chauffeur services, and florists, live music bands and gourmet caterers flown from around the world. The more money you are willing to throw, the more sparkling the champagne, crystal and caviar on the beach

Continue Reading