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Slaves To Debt: Oh, What We Owe!

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If you want to know of the damage and desperation of debt, just ask 63-year-old Memory Oosthuizen.

Oosthuizen and her partner, Carol, felt the wrath of the 2008 recession when they lost their jobs. Money was tight and the going tough. They used up R750,000 ($56,000) of their retrenchment packages, retirement funds and even took up a second bond on their home to start a car washing business. It ushered in more financial problems.

“The business wasn’t doing so well because money was tight for a lot of people. We had to pay 10 of our staff members and pay our own bills. We also had to pay R25,000 ($1,900) rent at the business premises,” she says.

They turned to credit cards and loans to keep the business running.

“I had three credit cards and my spouse also had three credit cards. We got them so easily. I know that we have to be in control but when you are in a situation like that, it’s so easy to see it as a way out. You can have a credit card without a credit check in just a day. They would call you and say you have been pre-approved, even if you haven’t applied,” says Oosthuizen.

In just a year, the pair racked up R1.2 million ($90,000) in debt. Their landlord took their car washing equipment in lieu of unpaid rent.

“It was the toughest time of our lives. We struggled and had nothing. It was quite a humiliating situation… We managed to get out of debt through debt counselling but it took us years. I never want to be in debt again. Funnily enough, just the other day, I got an SMS from a bank offering me a credit card of R50,000 ($3,800). The banks tempt you by sending you such messages when you are in a bad situation.”

It may be tough to say no, but there is help. The two dug themselves out through debt counselling that is becoming a boom industry.

There is also a volunteer, Nicolette Mashile, who left her nine-to-five job to teach people how to handle money.

“I noticed people sign up for these financial products but they don’t really know what they are, what they will pay out or when they will pay out. I once had a policy with Old Mutual. It was the easiest thing to get into. I just filled in a contact form on the internet, they asked for my ID and all of a sudden I had a policy. The day I wanted to withdraw my money, it was a struggle,” says Mashile.

Nicolette Mashile (Photo supplied)

The worst thing, according to Mashile, is that qualified people are the most vulnerable. They have a salary and qualify for loans.

“A friend of mine wanted to buy a home and she got an approval at 16%. The prime at the time was 10.25%. Banks have a target to reach but remember sometimes it can be at your expense.”

Mashile, a social entrepreneur and self-taught financial literacy educator, says the problem is people don’t learn how to handle money at a young age.

“Most of us grow up in homes where it is cool to be in debt and they perpetuate the idea that everyone is in debt and it’s easy to get loans. Even at the ATM, there are options you can click to get a quick loan. You also find many people who have never had money and all of a sudden, they start working and they have R25,000. Why would they not buy a car? The other issue is that people don’t prioritize. Our attitude towards debt is a problem, we wish it away,” says Mashile.

She says people have to talk openly about debt and money, ask questions before taking credit, read contacts, understand their financial situation and live within their means.

“If you can’t afford something, you can’t afford it. Don’t become a slave to debt. Also don’t agree to interest rates that are high. Remember the bank needs you more than you need it,” says Mashile.

The big picture is frightening.

Statistics from the National Credit Regulator (NCR) show that, in South Africa alone, about 25 million people have active credit records and 10 million are in severe arrears. In the 2015/2016 financial year, total consumer credit in the country amounted to R1.66 trillion ($125 billion), an increase of 2.94% year-on-year.

South Africa saw a shift when government introduced the National Credit Act (NCA), in June 2007, to open up credit to those who struggled to get it. It worked, but problem is, it also steered the country down a slippery slope of debt. South Africa is one of the most over-indebted consumer nations in the world.

“The designers of the NCA naively thought this credit would be spent on ‘wealth creating assets’. What has transpired over the last 10 years is that the increase in mortgages and use of credit in funding businesses has been relatively dismal, and the vast majority of the increase in credit has been in expensive unsecured credit that has been spent on consumption with the recipients having very little, if anything, to show for it at the end of the last 10 years,” says DebtBusters CEO Ian Wason.

Wason says approval rates, for borrowing, have slowly been falling and are currently around 50% with some credit providers having approval rates in single figures. The regulators believe credit shouldn’t be given to those who can’t afford it. What is happening is some credit providers look at their books of business and ignore the individual’s affordability to pay.

“A good example is the furniture sector which tends to have 50% non-performing loans and the difference is those who pay are charged high interest and fees thus in the end making the business profitable. What is deeply frustrating is that the NCR has the power to increase the minimum expenses threshold that the credit providers have to use, currently at around 9% and less, and it has not done so,” he says.

At first glance, South Africans look relatively financially healthy with the debt to income ratio at 74%, compared to the UK at 145%. The difference is, the bulk of this debt, in developed nations like the UK, is backed by bricks and mortar, through mortgages, typically at interest rates around 2% and, in South Africa, unsecured debt is the big boom in town.

“Nearly 50% of South Africans’ debt is in expensive unsecured credit over shorter terms. Of the consumers that approach DebtBusters for help, they are spending an average of 98% of their income on debt repayments,” says Wason.

The World Bank’s Global Findex database found that, between 2013 and 2014, 86% of South Africans borrowed money. According to the survey, which interviewed 150,000 people over the age of 15 from 140 different economies, sub-Saharan Africa had the highest number of borrowers at 54%, with 42% using family and friends as sources of new loans. It’s not always the consumer’s fault. Lack of financial literacy and unscrupulous credit providers are some of the causes of Africa’s personal debt problem.

African Bank was arguably one of South Africa’s notorious biggest lending banks. At its worst, in August 2014, the bank had a loan book of around R60 billion ($4.5 billion). According to the Myburgh Report, the bank was receiving 60 to 80 complaints of reckless lending a month, mostly from debt counsellors, and was granting between 100,000 and 120,000 loans monthly.

That’s not all.

Capitec Bank, founded by one of Africa’s richest people and FORBES AFRICA cover, Michiel Le Roux, recently found itself in the headlines when consumer watchdog, Summit Financial Partners, served the bank with High Court papers. It was about the banks former multi-loan practices which relied on one prime agreement that gave the consumer 12 different payday loans.

“Their product was most certainly illegal in that it was either reckless, because no proper affordability assessment was done, or charged initiation fees incorrectly… Unsecured credit in South Africa charges interest on a fixed rate basis, thereby not affecting the consumer when rates increase. However, interest, initiation and service fees on these payday loans mean the total cost of such multi-loans vary between 150% and 450% making prime rate adjustments immaterial. Capitec has been able to create a few billionaires sitting in Stellenbosch by charging such ludicrous rates on payday loans, since their inception, to the financially ignorant masses who don’t understand the consequences of such high yields. Further, we have many cases where Capitec actually prey on these ignorant, vulnerable groups to get stuck in debt spirals thereby relying on Capitec’s monthly payday loans to stay afloat,” says Clark Gardner, CEO at Summit Financial Partners.

There is more.

In March this year, the NCR announced that it had referred Wesbank, a division of FirstRand Bank, to the National Consumer Tribunal, for alleged breaches of the National Credit Act 34 of 2005, after an investigation found that Wesbank, through its debt collection agents, coaxed defaulting consumers into surrendering ownership of their motor vehicles.

“Consumers are reminded that a credit provider can only repossess a motor vehicle from the consumer if there is a court order authorizing the credit provider to do so,” says Jacqueline Peters, NCR’s Manager for Investigations and Enforcement.

Wesbank says it respects the NCR’s decision to refer the matter to the National Consumer Tribunal, however, disagrees with the conclusions.

“This referral does not constitute non-compliance with the National Credit Act but is instead a result of differing interpretation of the applicable legislation. WesBank has a strong commitment towards achieving fair treatment of our customers and will continue to cooperate with the National Credit Regulator and the National Consumer Tribunal,” it says in a statement.

Small credit providers are also guilty.

In September 2015, the National Consumer Tribunal cancelled the registration of credit provider, Mayibuye Cash Loans, following a lengthy investigation that found the company failed to conduct affordability assessments; to provide copies of pre-agreement statements and quotations; and charged interest and fees in excess of the prescribed rate.

It can destroy lives.

Maybe it’s time you get your head out of the sand.

‘You Can’t Borrow Your Way Out Of Debt’

The tale of an entrepreneur who saw money in the keys that free people from debt slavery. 

Neil Roets (Photo supplied)

Imagine working all your life and more than 98% of your income goes towards debt? Maybe it was that luxury car you knew you couldn’t really afford or that fateful day you said yes to a credit card?

Ten million people, in South Africa alone, plus millions more across the continent, are in severe debt according the National Credit Regulator. On the other side of the coin, smart entrepreneurs have seen a gap.

Neil Roets saw an opportunity to make money, from people without money, when the National Credit Act was introduced in 2007. At the time, he was in conveyancing where he saw the ravages of a tough recession and struggling economy.

“I experienced first-hand how people were struggling to pay their bills and couldn’t get loans. I realized people needed debt counselling so I did a course, and thereafter went on the quest to start Debt Rescue,” says Roets.

Debt Rescue makes a repayment plan, through budget advice and negotiation with credit providers, for reduced payments and the restructuring of debts.

The difficulty for the business was very few people knew about debt counselling.

“Coming out of a legal background, I understood the process but just getting the word out to people, so they know there is help out there, was the most difficult… because of the name, people sometimes think debt counselling is just sitting on a couch and talking but that’s not the case,” he says.

Another problem was people didn’t understand how debt counsellors make money from helping people who are already struggling to pay their bills.

“The fees are regulated and worked out based on what you can afford to pay your credit provider on a monthly basis. After we have worked out what your monthly instalment would be, the first instalment comes to us, and is capped at R6,000 ($450). We also have an aftercare fee of 5% of the amount that needs to go to the credit provider which is also capped at R400 ($30).”

Debt counselling is big business. Debt Rescue, alone, signs close to 1,000 clients a month and employs 110 people. Imagine how much debt that is? Roets feels a lot more people should be under debt review.

“The National Credit Regulator statistics show that 45% of all credit active consumers are over-indebted meaning that they are in areas with at least three payments on one of their accounts. That amounts to more than 9 million credit active consumers in South Africa that can benefit from debt counselling but currently there are close to about 300,000 people under debt review,” he says.

Many of these consumers are in a fix because credit providers are pushing unsecured credit.

“People are financing their lives, and even buying clothes and food, through credit. That’s very worrying because you should never finance your life through credit. If you can’t afford it, you can’t afford it. People forget that if you finance it now, you have to pay it back with interest meaning next month you will be in a worse situation. You can’t borrow your way out of debt,” says Roets.

There may be a business opportunity in the debt counselling industry but Roets warns it needs entrepreneurs of steel, who also understand legal processes.

“There are over 3,000 registered debt counsellors but you only really see the big five companies featuring all over. The process is not easy, you have to form relationships with the credit providers otherwise you won’t get a good deal for your client.”

Debt is not going to go away, in Africa, in the 21st century.

Did you know?

To qualify for debt counselling, you need to be over-indebted as defined by the National Credit Act – that is, you can’t repay your minimum monthly instalments. This is determined by a debt counsellor. While you are on debt review, you can’t take out further debt.

Tips To Avoid The Debt Trap

  1. Say no to a credit card
  2. Check your interest rates
  3. Don’t buy without a budget
  4. Look for best value when making purchases
  5. Don’t finance living expenses and luxury goods with credit
  6. Never take out a loan
  7. Have an emergency fund
  8. Pay bills on time
  9. Save and buy cash
  10. Always read your terms and conditions and understand your contract before signing on the dotted line

Daughter Of Debt

The life of a college graduate who grew up watching her mother pile up debt, and feels the pain 30 years later.

 

Photo by Getty Images

Debt reaches down through the generations. At just 30 years old, Luba Dube* has seen enough debt for three lifetimes. It all started when she was in primary school, when her parents separated.

“At first it was subtle. I remember on payday, my mom would buy us a lot of things and three days later we would be broke again… She would send us to go borrow small amounts like R50, or send us to return money she had borrowed,” she says.

When Dube went to high school, it got worse.

“My sister, at the time, had just started working and wasn’t making a lot of money but a lot of responsibility fell on her. I was a weekly boarder and she even had to pay R250 per week towards my boarding fees.”

Dube realized something was seriously wrong. Her mother never had money. She searched for a way out – there was none. Debt loomed ever larger.

“There were times we had to suddenly move because of unpaid rent… Whenever it was approaching the first of the month, I could see there was a lot of tension and stress in the house. We, as kids, would also get stressed because the landlord would come ask for rent and we would have to open the door when mom wasn’t home. Sometimes she would come home very late at night trying to dodge the landlord and we were the ones who had to answer,” she says.

Older sisters tried to help. They moved Dube’s mother to a cheaper house where she would use one bedroom, and have tenants in two others, so she could pay as little as R1,000 ($75) in rent. It didn’t help.

“Even though the tenants paid rent, she collected the money but it wasn’t going where it was supposed to. I realized that if the relationship with money doesn’t change, it doesn’t matter what we do to try and help.”

According to Dube, the worst thing was that her mother appeared desensitized to borrowing money that she never returned. Her children ended up more worried about the debt than she was.

“She would even borrow someone else’s rent money with the promise to return it, in time, knowing she might not be able to. I have not been able to understand her lack of respect for other people’s money,” says Dube.

In Dube’s view, when her over-indebted mother needs to get money, she tries to get it at all cost. One of the worst examples was when her mother spent close to a R100,000 ($7,500) of her client’s money. She was supposed to put the money in a trust so her client could buy a home. To make matters worse, this was money from a disability pay out.

“These were people’s livelihoods. We just had to do what we could to make sure the people got their money back. I had to borrow money I had no intention to borrow. For a good year, my stuff was on hold so I could pay that back.”

It wasn’t the first time Dube has bailed her mother out.

“Sometimes I have had to say ‘no’ because her relationship with money still hasn’t changed. When I was a kid there was nothing I could do but now, because I’m a grownup, I try to have these conversations with her but it’s very difficult because of the child/parent relationship,” she says.

So, if you are in debt up to your ears, it’s not only you who is suffering; just ask your daughter.

How Your Socks Can End Up Around Your Ankles

Sbusiso Ngwenya jumped for joy when he made the FORBES AFRICA 30 under 30 list with his money-making colourful socks. What you don’t know is that, last year, he lost it all in a dangerous dance with debt.

Sbusiso Ngwenya (Photo by Jay Caboz)

 

It all began, so innocently, with a golden opportunity to put his socks on the shelves.

“I was so excited when Stuttafords gave me the opportunity to list my products. I was so happy I signed the contract out of trust only to find that, by listing my products there, it means that I agree to only buying retail space… I signed a deal I didn’t understand that just emptied my pockets,” he says.

It cost a pretty penny to buy shelf space at Stuttafords, one of South Africa’s top retailers. Sock sales came to about R40,000 ($3,000) a month at best and a mere R2,000 ($150) or R1,000 ($75) at worst.

“There was also a big spend on making sure we market the products and drive traffic to the store. At the time, the store itself wasn’t doing well and less and less people were going there… it was tough but we tried to keep up appearances for it to seem like we are doing well,” says Ngwenya.

It was expensive. He started taking money from his corporate division, that distributes bulk unbranded socks, to finance Skinny Sbu Socks. The problem was he was also living a life of a rock star, traveling, partying and buying gifts for girls; all through the business account.

“Stuttafords was taking a big percentage of the money and all in all, in just a year, all these things cost me R800,000 ($60,000).”

The whole business suffered. He tried to take up speaking engagements to supplement the income. It didn’t help.

“I started borrowing money from friends and family just to survive. I lost my apartment, car and everything. I couldn’t afford the life I was living anymore and my debts kept piling.”

He moved back home, to Tsakane, a township east of Johannesburg, with his grandmother. It humbled him. It was time to start over.

“My sister went out of her way and took a huge personal loan to help me. My uncle also played a huge role in helping me. I needed someone who could look out for the numbers of the business so we didn’t mismanage the money,” says Ngwenya.

His uncle was what he needed. He helped him revive the dying business.

“We did a whole turn around to make sure we build up the business again. I am now very careful with every rand. It was a huge character-building experience that taught me not to rush into things and not to treat a business account as a personal account.”

Together with his uncle, they are also reassessing the business marketing strategy and ensuring Ngwenya concentrates on the creative design of the socks.

“I am happy this happened now rather than in 10 years when I have a family and larger responsibilities.  Someone once said to me ‘you didn’t go to school to study what you are doing. This mistake was your school fees. You needed something that was going to wake you up’. Unfortunately I had to pay close to R1 million ($76,500) for my fees,” says Ngwenya.

Let’s hope he pulls up his socks.

Did You Know?

  • If you default on your debts your credit provider can, and will, take legal action against you which will result in a judgement and can involve an emolument attachment order, or garnishee order as it is more commonly known, where the court can order your employer to deduct a payment from your salary every month to pay your debt.
  • A default will stay on your credit record for six months, and sometimes up to 12 months. Judgements are on there for 30 years unless you repay the debt! If you do repay a judgement then it has to be removed from the bureaus within seven days.
  • If you spend money you don’t have, on things you don’t need, to impress people you don’t even like, maybe it’s time to get help.

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Economy

Why The High Number Of Employees Quitting Reveals A Strong Job Market

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While recession fears may be looming in the minds of some, new data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that the economy and job market may actually be strengthening.

The quits rate—or the percentage of all employees who quit during a given month—rose to 2.4% in July, according to the BLS’s Jobs Openings and Labor Turnover report, released Tuesday. That translates to 3.6 million people who voluntarily left their jobs in July.

This is the highest the quits rate has been since April 2001, just five months after the Labor Department began tracking it. According to Nick Bunker, an economist at the Indeed Hiring Lab, the quits rate tends to be a reflection of the state of the economy.

READ MORE | 5 Things You Should Do The Night Before A Job Interview

“The level of the quits rate really is a sign of how strong the labor market is,” he says. “If you look at the quits rate over time, it really drops quite a bit when the labor market gets weak. During the recession it was quite low, and now it’s picked up.”

The monthly jobs report, released last week, revealed that the economy gained 130,000 jobs in August, which is 20,000 less than expected, and just a few weeks earlier, the BLS issued a correction stating that it had overestimated by 501,000 how many jobs had been added to the market in 2018 and the first quarter of 2019. Yet despite all that, employees still seem to have confidence in the job market.Today In: Leadership

The quits level, according to the BLS, increased in the private sector by 127,000 for July but was little changed in government. Healthcare and social assistance saw an uptick in departures to the tune of 54,000 workers, while the federal government saw a rise of 3,000.

READ MORE | 5 Questions You Should Never Ask During A Job Interview

The July quits rate in construction was 2.4%, while the number in trade, professional and business services, and leisure and hospitality were 2.6%, 3.1% and 4.8%, respectively. Bunker of Indeed says that the industries that tend to see the highest rate of departuresare those where pay is relatively low, such as leisure and hospitality. An unknown is whether employees are quitting these jobs to go to a new industry or whether they’re leaving for another job in the same industry. Either could be the case, says Bunker.

In a recently published article on the industries seeing the most worker departures, Bunker attributes the uptick to two factors—the strong labor market and faster wage growth in the industries concerned: “A stronger labor market means employers must fill more openings from the ranks of the already employed, who have to quit their jobs, instead of hiring jobless workers. Similarly, faster wage growth in an industry signals workers that opportunities abound and they might get higher pay by taking a new job.”

Even so, recession fears still dominate headlines. According to Bunker, the data shows that when a recession hits, employers pull back on hiring and workers don’t have the opportunity to find new jobs. Thus, workers feel less confident and are less likely to quit.

READ MORE | South Africa’s Informal Sector: Why People Get Stuck In Precarious Jobs

“As the labor market gets stronger, there’s more opportunities for workers who already have jobs. So they quit to go to new jobs or they quit in the hopes of getting new jobs again,” Bunker says. He also notes that recession fears may have little to do with the job market, instead stemming from what is happening in the financial markets, international relations or Washington, D.C.

So what does the BLS report say about the job market? “Taking this report as a whole, it’s indicating that the labor market is still quite strong, but then we lost momentum,” Bunker says. While workers are quitting their jobs, he says that employers are pulling back on the pace at which they’re adding jobs. “While things are quite good right now and workers are taking advantage of that,” he notes, “those opportunities moving forward might be fewer and fewer if the trend keeps up.”

-Samantha Todd; Forbes

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Focus

No Seat At The Global Table For Indigenous African Cuisine

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Gastronomic tourism based on African food could easily increase and create new value chains that unlock billions in untapped wealth for the continent, but what is stopping us?


Food and tourism are an integral part of most economies, globally. Food is undeniably a core part of all cultures and an increasingly important attraction for tourists. To satisfy their wanderlust, contemporary tourists require an array of experiences that include elements of education, entertainment, picturesque scenery and culinary wonders.  The link between food and tourism allows destinations to develop local economies; and food experiences help to brand and market them, as well as supporting the local culture and knowledge systems.

 This is particularly important for rural communities, where 61% of sub-Saharan Africans live, according to the World Bank last year. These communities have often felt the brunt of urbanization, which has resulted in a shift away from rural economies. If implemented effectively, Africa could get a piece of the gastronomic tourism pie, which was worth $8.8 trillion last year, according to the World Travel & Tourism Council.

World-renowned chef Nompumelelo Mqwebu and author of her self-published cookbook, Through the Eyes Of An African Chef. Picture: Motlaban Monnakgotla

However, there is currently very little public information to pique the interest of tourists about African food. World-renowned South African chef Nompumelelo Mqwebu sought to remedy this with her self-published cookbook, Through the Eyes Of An African Chef.

“I think where it was very clear to me that I needed to do something was when I went to cooking school. I trained at Christina Martin School of Food and Wine. I thought I was actually going to get training on South African food and, somehow, I assumed we were talking indigenous food.

 “I was shocked that we went through the whole year’s curriculum and we didn’t cover anything that I ate at home; we didn’t cover anything that my first cousins, who are Sotho, ate in Nelspruit (in South Africa’s Mpumalanga Province); we didn’t cover anything that would come from eSwatini, which is where my mother is from,” Mqwebu says.

By self-publishing, she has ultimately contributed to a value chain that has linked local food producers and suppliers, which includes agriculture, food production, country branding and cultural and creative industries.

“I am a member of Proudly South African, not only my business, but the book as well. Part of the reason is that the cookbook was 100% published in South Africa. So, everybody who worked on the cookbook, and printing, was all in South Africa, which is something quite rare these days because authors have their books published abroad.”

The Proudly South African campaign is a South African ‘buy local’ initiative that sells her cookbook on their online platform as its production adheres to the initiative’s campaign standards. Self-publishing has allowed Mqwebu to promote her book for two years and to directly communicate with her audience in a way she thought was best, while exposing her to a vast community of local networks. She recalls her first step towards creating her own body of work.

Amadumbe gnocchi. Picture: Nompumelelo Mqwebu and Nicole Louw Photography

“I was in culinary school when I wrote the recipe for amadumbe (potato of the tropics) gnocchi. We were making gnocchi and I thought, ‘so why aren’t we using amadumbe because it’s a starch?’ and when I tasted it, I thought, ‘this could definitely work’. I started doing my recipes then.

 “And there was talk about, ‘we don’t have desserts as Africans’. I did some research and found we ate berries, we were never big on sugar to begin with. That’s why I took the same isidudu (soft porridge made from ground corn) with pumpkin that my grandmother used to make and that became my dessert. “I also found that when I went to libraries looking for indigenous recipes, I couldn’t really find something that spoke to me as a chef. I found content that looked like history books. It was not appealing. It was not something, as a chef, I could proudly present to another chef from a different part of the world, so I knew I had to write my book,” Mqwebu says about the award-winning recipe book that chronicles African cuisine.

Isidudu (soft porridge made from ground corn) with pumpkin. Picture: Nompumelelo Mqwebu and Nicole Louw Photography

Financial and health benefits

According to the World Travel & Tourism Council, in 2018, the tourism sector “contributed 319 million jobs, representing one in 10 of all jobs globally and is responsible for one in five of all new jobs created in the world over the last five years. It has increased its share of leisure spending to 78.5%, meaning 21.5% of spending was on business.”

To narrow in on how lucrative food can be, the World Food Travel Association estimates that visitors spend approximately 25% of their travel budget on food and beverages. The figure can get as high as 35% in expensive destinations, and as low as 15% in more affordable destinations. “Confirmed food lovers also spend a bit more than the average of 25% spent by travelers in general.”

However, there is a widely-held view that the African continent is not doing enough to maximize its potential to also position itself as a gastronomic tourism destination, using its unique edge of indigenous knowledge systems (IKS).

“We are not a culinary destination and we will never be while we are still offering pasta as the attraction for our tourists,” Mqwebu says.

Dr George Sedupane, who is the Coordinator of the Bachelor of the Indigenous Knowledge Systems program in South Africa’s North-West University, echoes Mqwebu’s sentiments.

“I often cringe when I go to conferences and there are guests from all over the world and we serve them pasta. Why would they come from Brazil to eat pasta here? They can have pasta in Italy. Why don’t we serve them umngqusho (samp and beans)?

Umngqusho (samp and beans). Picture: Nompumelelo Mqwebu and Nicole Louw Photography

“We need to be creating those experiences around our culture. We are failing to capitalize on our strengths. There is a lack of drive to celebrate what we have,” says Sedupane, who also teaches modules and supervises research in indigenous health and nutrition.

Writer and historian Sibusiso Mnyanda says current innovations in African food technology are born out of necessity, rather tourism and cultural ambitions.

“Food security is becoming an issue that is leading to IKS around farming being prioritized. In Nigeria, they are innovating dry season farming, because of deforestation and soil being de-cultivated. 

“So those indigenous knowledge strategies are being used in countries where it is a necessity and where there are enough advances related to the fourth industrial revolution. The traditional ways of producing food are not only much more organic, they are also crop-efficient,” Mnyanda says.

Nigeria may have inadvertently innovated a health solution related to colon cancer through its diet. Sedupane tells FORBES AFRICA an anecdote.

“There was a study where the colons of an African country that did not consume a lot of meat was compared to Europeans. The Africans had a much better profile as a result and there are people who want to buy African stool to get that kind of rich bacteria, that you get on an African plant-based diet.”

Dr George Sedupane, who is the Coordinator of the Bachelor of the Indigenous Knowledge Systems. Picture: Supplied

The study Sedupane is referring to was conducted in Nigeria and it states that: “Nigeria showed the average annual incidence of colorectal cancer was 27 patients per year. This shows that even if it seems that incidence rates are increasing in Nigeria, such rates are still about one-tenth of what is seen in the truly developed countries.”

In a bid to find reasons for this rarity of colon and rectal cancer, the study concluded that, among other reasons, the protective effects of Nigeria’s starch-based, vegetable-based, fruit-based, and spicy, peppery diet, and geographical location which ensures sunshine all year round, played a role in the country’s colon health.

Interestingly, it seems the potential value of African food could not only be based on what goes in but what also comes out as healthy faecal matter is big business globally. In 2015, The Washington Post published that one could potentially earn $13,000 a year selling their poop. 

The American-based company OpenBiome has been processing and shipping frozen stool to patients who are very sick with infections of a bacteria called C.difficile. It causes diarrhea and inflammation of the colon, leaving some sufferers house-bound. “Antibiotics often help, but sometimes, the bacteria rears back as soon as treatment stops. By introducing healthy faecal matter into the gut of a patient (by way of endoscopy, nasal tubes, or swallowed capsules), doctors can abolish C. difficile for good… And yes, they pay for healthy poop: $40 a sample, with a $50 bonus if you come in five days a week. That’s $250 for a week of donations, or $13,000 a year,” the publication stated.

Sedupane is of the view that a diet which includes indigenous foods could vastly improve one’s quality of life.

He says small changes could be made, such as including more of indigenous greens, namely sorghum and millet, to breakfast. The grains are gluten-free and produce alkaline which boosts the pH level of fluids in the body and reduces acidity.

Moringa fruit which is an African superfood. Picture: Getty Images

“Moving to our legumes, we have indlubu (Bambara groundnut) which is very rich and helps in the secretion of serotonin in the brain. This so important nowadays with the increase of depression. It’s easy to digest, and is great for cholesterol and moderating blood sugar,” Sedupane says.

 Mnyanda is also of the view that food is imperative to health and medicinal properties. He says traditional healers primarily use natural herbs in their practice. “These are used in pain relief and healing. Things like cannabis, camphor, African potatao and red carrots. So, food is not just used for nutritional purposes.”

Other African superfoods include, Baobab fruit, Hibiscus, Tamarind, Kenkiliba, Amaranth, Moringa and pumpkin leaves. 

Cultural and historical benefits

Gastronomic tourism also includes the promotion of heritage sites that are known to revolve around dishes that are of historic importance. They enhance the travel experience, they encourage the acquisition of knowledge and a cultural exchange.

There is a unanimous view that vast amounts of knowledge have been lost to history and there is a huge knowledge gap in African societies as a result of colonization and urbanization.

“Part of the colonial agenda was to make sure food security did not belong to indigenous groups. Therefore, archiving of these knowledge systems was not a priority. Especially during industrialization, where people moved from their villages to the city you found that the knowledge got left behind,” Mnyanda says.

Abathwa (the San people) hunting. Picture: Getty Images

He offers a contemporary example of how modernization continues to push African practices to the fringes: “To this day, abathwa (the San people) hunt their meat, but you find that because of changing agricultural practices and land reform on the Kruger National Park, they are being forced to move into the cities and industrial areas, therefore they are no longer able to practice their culture of hunting. As a result, their diet is changing.” Sedupane shares the view that the fundamentals of farming and astrology have also been exiled from public knowledge.

“The fundamentals of IKS were based on the understanding of the laws of nature – how and when things were done. Harvest cycles were linked with understanding astrology. They would not harvest until certain stars were visible in the sky. There was a dependence on nature.

“With industrialization, rather than working with nature, humans are seen as being above, as controlling, as directing it. The natural cycle is often tempered with rather than trying to work with it.”

Not all is lost however. There are historical practices that have stood the test of time and continue to be a part the few foods that are internationally associated with South Africa. Mqwebu says that, “historically, we ate more plants than meat because our ancestors had to hunt and the game back then was not tame. So, there were no guarantees that you would return with meat. And that’s where things like umqwayiba (biltong) come from. They had to preserve the meat, because wasting was not part of the culture”.

Umqwayiba (biltong). Picture: Getty Images

According to a 2015 exploratory research project conducted under the guidance of research institute Tourism Research in Economic Environs and Society director Professor Melville Saayman, biltong contributes more than R2.5 billion ($163 million) to the South African economy.

Perhaps, like the faecal transporting company, Africa will soon realize the ‘wasted’ opportunity and that there is loads of money to be made in gastronomic tourism for all its inhabitants, whether they are rural or urban, technological or indigenous.

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Side Hustles: The Entrepreneur Employees

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The economy is changing, and so also the way people work. A singular income is not enough, and employees are finding creative, lucrative ways to work for themselves beyond the nine-to-five.


A bearded man, wearing a pin-striped grey duckbill cap, stands behind a bar counter.

To his right adorning the counter is an array of empty cylindrical canisters. To his left, a contrasting set-up presents glass bottles filled with a transparent, salmon pink liquid. Next to them are gin chalices filled with a cornucopia of berries that are to be served to connoisseurs of the popular spirit.

Queen Nandi Pink Gin and Zulu Dry Gin are experimentally infused spirits distilled by Gologo Spirits, a business venture that merges African tradition with a contemporary outlook on alcohol brewing.

Queen Nandi Pink Gin and Zulu Dry Gin are experimentally infused spirits distilled by Gologo Spirits owned by Mzwandile Xaba. Picture: Gypseenia Lion

Mzwandile Xaba, an accountant by day and distiller by night, is the founder of the experimental distillery.

Nine years ago, the entrepreneur and employee would not have imagined that a childhood pastime would one day become a secondary source of income.

At 5PM, when most South African corporates are closing off the business of the day, Xaba’s two-hour journey to the warehouse begins, where he often spends hours losing himself in the craft.

Once the boiler goes on, it is down to work.

Cleaning distillation columns, labeling, bottling and blending various infusions until the odd hours of the morning, ironically, rarely feels tedious for the hustler who, in the next few hours, needs to make his way back to his assigned office cubicle.

How does an accountant  from the East Rand, in the Gauteng province of South Africa, end up, not only distilling spirits for commercial use, but juggling two jobs in industries that are worlds apart?

Mzwandile Xaba says umqombothi distillation also taught him to recognize the various cultural environments and the greater role his practice played in ensuring the success of those events. Picture: Gypseenia Lion

 Growing up in a household with a father who pursued two careers; one in music and the other as a mechanic, influenced Xaba’s work ethic.  

Xaba, who was good at mathematics and accounting, pursued a career in the financial sector. However, his childhood preoccupation of distillation has remained with him through the various stages of transitioning into adulthood, and recognizing that he needed a stable income.

Brewing umqombothi (African beer), in time for the weekend traditional celebrations with his father, is what he owes the success of Gologo Spirits to.

Although the process of brewing and fermenting the African beer is predominantly done by women, without a matriarch in the household, the men used to distill the beer themselves.

Xaba says umqombothi distillation also taught him to recognize the various cultural environments and the greater role his practice played in ensuring the success of those events.

Xaba expands on the use of spirits in celebrations. 

“You normally have those when you go to traditional ceremonies. At home, it is also used during lobola (traditional engagement) negotiations, and when young men come back from initiation school in the mountains. Spirits are used for different functions and purposes from a cultural point of view.”

Xaba’s fascination with biochemistry and spirits was unrelenting, so in 2010, while working as an accountant, he decided to teach himself the delicate balance of creating the drinks that were impactful to him.  

Within three years, the first drops of alcohol were ready for commercial use.

Mzwandile Xaba, an accountant by day and distiller by night, is the founder of the experimental distillery Gologo Spirits. Picture: Gypseenia Lion

“It was just something I wanted to do. I thought it was quite interesting and I was really passionate about it.

“I don’t know why because I have never set foot in a physics or science class but I was drawn to it,” he says.

He started with vodka, experimented with brandy and whiskey, and at a later stage he tried gin distillation.

“For the past five or six years, almost every day there is something that I am doing that is in line with Gologo. If I am not literally making something I am reading on up on something.”

Finding a balance

Xaba views his side job as an enhancement rather than his primary source of income or a necessity.

“The day job is something I understand and something that I need to do in order to do what I want to do. It covers some of my operational costs. The business is something that I funded from my pocket.

 “Some of the loans I have taken to set Gologo up are what I am paying off through Gologo,” he says. 

“As the projection is, there comes a point where I am really making money to expand the distillery and cover some of my personal costs. It is a blend of both, a blending and a calling and it is financially viable. Doing both, keeping the day job and operating Gologo as a side-hustle is probably one of the best decisions that I may have taken financially, and also in terms of testing myself.”

When presented with the burden of choosing one job over the other, he is quite clear that financial stability is an imperative.

“I would only quit my day job once it starts costing me more money,” Xaba states decidedly.

An online platform, Hustle South Africa, is an ongoing project managed by Dana, who is in marketing, and her husband, Justin Arnoldi, also the Head of Digital Transformation at Blue Turtle Technologies.

The Facebook page was created in response to the high unemployment rate in South Africa which currently is peaking at 29% in the second quarter of 2019.

According to StatsSA, this is the highest unemployment rate recorded since the first quarter of 2003, the number of unemployed citizens rose by 455,000 to 6.65 million.

A problem Hustle South Africa hopes to decrease with this challenge is by providing a platform for users to promote and acquire side-hustles. Through the platform, hustlers are able to upload the services or products they have on offer, whether it is through text, video or images.

“The way of working has changed, people want autonomy and flexibility. They do not necessarily want to be tied into one job; they want a couple of jobs so that they can do different things.

“We wanted to create a central platform where people can interact and sign up for side work relatively easy,” Dana says.

Hustle South Africa defines the gig economy as a series of freelance or part-time work assignments.

On the platform, hustlers now can not only advertise their business, but build a public data-base. Is it safe?

“From a security perspective, we are going to have a checking system where people can put their ID number in and they will be checked for a criminal record; if they are a South African citizen; or if they can be employed,” Dana says.

Credibility is built through references, and referrals.

This model has proven effective with Uber as they provide clients with a driver-rating system.

If Bryan Davey, a diesel mechanic and baker, chose to use the Hustle South Africa page to market his side job, he would not only receive the deserved exposure for his business but would also add to the database.

Bryan Davey, a diesel mechanic and baker. Picture: Gypseenia Lion

The self-taught baker, who has been a mechanic for seven years, decided to bake on the side to take his mind off the noise at the workshop.

Doing something completely different takes the pressure off when he is not at his nine-to-five as a power generation field technician at Cummins South Africa. The balance between the two is a tightrope walk for Davey.

“I do try and go straight home and start baking, hopefully if I have an order for the week. It does take a toll on you, I won’t lie it is difficult but if you want to make something work, you will do it,” he says.

 “It does have an impact on your mental and physical health, but it also depends on how you are managing it, so if what you are doing is a form of stress-reliever for you, it will not impact you negatively but if you are doing it in a way where you just want income, it will affect you.”

Davey, nonetheless, does both jobs with a smile.

Based on research published by Henley Business School Africa, nine of 10 people in Africa have taken on extra work to survive.

Cupcakes created self-taught baker Bryan Davey, who has been a mechanic for seven year Picture: Gypseenia Lion

The South African study uses the Henley Business School UK in 2018 as a framework to explore local trends, which shows that  71.3% of the 1,158 respondents in their African network have side-hustles for additional income.

According to the study, the top three side-hustles in their South African networks are professional business services at 25. 7%, real estate at 20.1%; teaching, lecturing and tutoring at 13.3%.

The lowest three being providing building/DIY services, running a shop/tuck-shop/food truck, and waiting/bartending/ hosting.

Jon Foster-Pedley, Dean of Henley Business School Africa, says the demands for the highest three industries are caused by the job descriptions.

Side-hustling as a real estate agent would not require as much time and attention as a food truck. The time and effort required, according to respondents on the network, would demand them to learn a new skill, which would take up too much time.

“The bottom ones mean that you have to be good with your hands, they are skills-based.

Bryan Davey, a diesel mechanic, bakes cakes on the side. Picture: Gypseenia Lion

“Running a shop or a tuck-shop, you need to adapt to a lot of the things which take a lot of your time.

“You need to do that with your hands, you can’t scale waiting and bartending,” he says.

With the top three, on the other hand, a hustler can employ other people to manage the operations of the business while focusing on their day job.

The economy is changing and so also the way people are making money.

Side-hustles can be as lucrative as the hustler wants it to be, but finding a balance on the tightrope, is the ultimate challenge. 

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