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He was a Sudanese basketballer in Chicago when something clicked and Emmanuel Jambo began to look at the world through a different lens.



A dark room, a wedding, a retired photographer and a magazine editor changed 35-year-old Sudanese Emmanuel Jambo’s life. In another life, Jambo would have been a basketball player like his childhood friend, Luol Deng, an NBA Chicago Bulls basketball player, also from Sudan.

Jambo’s first interaction with photography was courtesy of his older sister who was studying journalism in high school. “I remember we were still living in Sudan and my sister was in elementary school. We had a dark room at home where she would process her films and I was amazed by how you would wash photographic paper with chemicals and see images,” says Jambo at his studio in Nairobi, Kenya. Born to a diplomat father, Jambo’s family moved to Egypt, then to the United States where they settled in Chicago. After the move, Jambo got busy with his passion—basketball.

Basketball was his thing for a few years but one day, an incident at an Atlanta studio marked the turning point. “My friend and I had gone to pose for a photo shoot. Throughout, I criticized the photographer and gave suggestions on how she should take photos. After that, my friend said that it seemed I knew more than the woman and suggested I try photography.” A week later, Jambo bought a $300 film camera that was on sale for $150 and started taking photos.

The story could have ended there, but Jambo’s friend was getting married and she asked him to take photos. “Since she was my friend, I agreed and asked for $10 to buy film. I shot the four-hour wedding and delivered the photos.” The family was so impressed, the groom pulled him aside and slipped him $800. “He said he had seen wedding photos of his friends by professional photographers, but my work was amazing.” That recognition gave Jambo confidence. He quit basketball. “It wasn’t an overnight decision. It was about injury—when I walk in a quiet place, you can hear my ankles popping all the way.”

Jambo invested the $800 in buying used equipment and in the process, met a retired photographer who had been diagnosed with cancer and was selling his equipment.

“The photographer, who had 30 years of experience, had taken photos of people like Martin Luther King.”

When he got to his studio, the equipment had been sold. “We got talking, connected and he liked me because it happened that we had gone to the same school in Chicago.”

The veteran decided to mentor the rookie photographer. “He said he would look at my work and advise me. One day, I took a portrait of a model and when I showed him, he stood up and saluted me. He told me my framing was perfect, my lighting was good and I had captured her features and expressions well. I thought, ‘Wow! This is really working!’”

From then, Jambo knew he was doing the right thing. He set up a website and a studio at his parents’ home. Word spread and business picked up. “The American rapper, Bone Crusher, asked me to design his CD cover and I got projects with agencies dealing with models.”

After two years, Jambo decided to visit his sister in Kenya, where he ran into the fashion editor of True Love, published by East African Magazines (EAM), a joint venture with South African publisher Media24. “I met the general manager, who loved my work and told me about ADAM, a men’s magazine about to launch in Kenya.” The editor of the magazine, Oyunga Pala, told him eight words: “Dude, go get your stuff and come back!” He moved to Kenya.

He took up assignments at EAM and soon he got a call from State House in Zambia—President Rupia Banda wanted Jambo to do some work for him. “That was one of the moments that really made me think I made the right decision to follow photography.” Jambo called his mom from the State House in Zambia while having dinner with the president. “That was one of the highlights of my career.”

Jambo was part of the 2011 London Fashion Week, an experience he describes as amazing, but one he said came a little late in his career. “Covering a major fashion event was one of my dreams when I was starting out. But it’s chaotic, unlike a photo shoot, where they cater for you.” He says at big events like the Oscars, photographers push and shove looking for space. “You reach a point in your career when you want to shoot for Calvin Klein exclusively. Dreams change as you progress in your career.”

Jambo loves shooting weddings because of the art behind it and the challenge. “A bride could be standing here one minute, and the next, you look at the window and you have to change the aperture, shutter, focus… the timing has to be perfect. Every moment that unfolds you have to be clicking away—it’s very challenging. The stakes are high; there can be a lot of disappointment. For a magazine, you can retake or change the photographer, but a wedding happens once—you get it or you don’t.”

Jambo has photographed high-profile weddings like that of the first daughter of the South Sudanese president, Salva Kiir Mayardit; a family wedding of President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda; and a $6 million royal wedding in India that took place over three days and was attended by the King of Jaipur, Indian ministers and cricket legends. “That was one of the most expensive weddings I have shot.”

But the road has not always been smooth. When he moved to Kenya, he had doubts. “I was dealing with a lot of people back in Atlanta and business was good.” He was frustrated by small things like getting his paper work straight and delayed payments from clients. He admits doing business in Kenya has taught him valuable lessons. When he started out, he would accept verbal agreements. “I would work but they wouldn’t pay me on time. I have had to stop doing shoots for a publication that didn’t pay me at all.”

Despite fraternizing with celebrities, Jambo says his greatest satisfaction is when ordinary people walk up to him and acknowledge his work. In retrospect, he is glad to have returned to Africa at a time when the market was ripe for talent. “I was among the first black photographers that started doing big stuff. This market is easier than the United States, where you have hundreds of photographers who have been doing photography for many years…

“People would ask me why I moved from America and scrutinize the equipment I had, but over time, they respect you.”

For a long time, people thought “Jambo” (Swahili for hello) was a nickname. “A woman at a wedding (who had seen my photographs) told me, ‘Oh my God! I thought you were white!’” She was studying law, but quit her studies and became a photographer.

Jambo has inspired people. “They tell me now that one of us is doing it, we can do it. My biggest pride is having changed perspectives. Photography as a career is now acceptable among the African middle-class, who conventionally encourage their children to pursue traditional careers like law, engineering or medicine. It is humbling when a mother brings her child to learn from me.” The granddaughter of Mwai Kibaki and the daughter of Raila Odinga, Kenya’s prime minister, have both been interns at Jambo’s studio.

Now Jambo has bigger things up his sleeve. He has dabbled in cinematography and hopes to document South Sudan’s history. He was there during the referendum and the independence celebrations. “I see a lot of potential in Sudan. The next move for me is opening a branch of my studio in South Sudan.”

As for his photography, Jambo says he would love to take photos of people who have made a difference in the world. “Before, I wanted to shoot the cover of a magazine, but now, I am looking at taking photos of people like Nelson Mandela, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and Kofi Annan for book or magazine covers.”

His other project is teaching photography. “I intend to start a fine art school and make available professional, modern photographic equipment. Photography requires very expensive equipment. I can remember one person telling me I picked one of the most expensive hobbies in the world.”

So what makes a great photographer? “Passion is what sets people apart. You need that drive that separates you from the rest. It makes you push the bar higher!”

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Green-Sky Thinking



In Johannesburg, city-dwellers like Linah Moeketsi have taken the future of sustainable farming into their own hands. Where land is becoming scarce, they look to the skies.

Doornfontein is one of Johannesburg’s older inner-city suburbs with decaying buildings and dingy alleys that wear a dour, monochrome look.

Daily commuters and street surfers jostle with delivery vans and mountains of metal scrap but the grey of the concrete city makes it hard to believe that there could be a patch of green in a most unlikely location.

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Above the humdrum of life here is a rooftop hydroponics farm looking down on the city, but upwards to a new route to restoration and urban preservation.

Atop the eight-floor Stanop building – offering a breath-taking view of the city and the landmark Ponte Towers in the distance – one woman has made it her mission to turn a grimy grey terrace into a green lung on the city’s skyline.

“City life is taking on a totally new direction… even people who think they couldn’t one day farm, find themselves on rooftops,” Linah Moeketsi tells FORBES AFRICA.

Moeketsi grows herbs, used to treat non-communicable diseases (NCDs), in a 250m x 500m greenhouse on the building’s terrace. But her rooftop farm is sans any soil – it uses a hydroponics system.

“I think because we are in the city and we would like to produce for people in the city, hydroponic farming is one of the answers because you can actually harvest more than twice the produce, and the growth rate is quicker and there is produce that you can have throughout the year that people demand because it is in a controlled environment,” she says.

On a windy Wednesday morning in October, we meet Moeketsi at her aerial green facility, a couple of days before she is to send some of her plant produce to the market.

She talks about her journey as an offbeat farmer. It all started when her father fell ill in 2013, when doctors failed to correctly diagnose his disease.

“They couldn’t see that he was diabetic. He didn’t show the signs of diabetes, but he had this foot ulcer that just wouldn’t go away,” she says.

“The future of city farming is great simply because we have more and more young people getting into this space. Even though it’s farming, they are looking at it from a very different angle.

Moeketsi decided to do her own research, so she read up books on African medicinal plants and used some herbs that belonged to her late mother, who had been a traditional healer.

“It took me a good eight months to help my dad and I actually saved him from having an amputation.”

The news of Moeketsi curing her dad’s diabetes using herbs spread. Sadly, her father died in 2016, at the age of 87. But she is proud to have helped prolong his life.

“So he passed away in his sleep, not sick, nothing, he was just old. But he was always grateful; he was like, ‘even when I die, I’m going to die with both my limbs’, so we would make a joke about it.”

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After her father’s demise, Moeketsi rented some land and turned her knowledge on natural herbs into a fully-fledged farm. However, when the owner of the land returned, she was forced to vacate.

Land was always going to be a problem in the city. But instead of giving up, Moeketsi looked to the skies.

“Because of this passionate drive for an answer, I found myself researching what’s happening outside Gauteng and South Africa, and I saw in Europe, they were farming on rooftops,” she says.

In 2017, her dream became a reality when she secured a deal with the City of Johannesburg as part of an urban farming program, and started the rooftop project a year later.

When we visit her greenhouse, we are welcomed by the sweet lingering scent of herbs. It’s hot and humid, and two fans whir away to cool the air.

Moeketsi walks around the greenhouse wearing dark glasses and a white jacket, with a syringe in hand – she could easily pass off as a medical doctor.

She elaborates on the hydroponics system. There are four pyramids, each attached to their own reservoirs of water. On each pyramid, different plants, ranging from spinach, lettuce, sage, parsley, basil and dill, rest on beds with pipes connecting them to the reservoirs. Moeketsi plucks out one of the pipes and inserts the syringe; water spouts out of the tube and she returns it to the bed.

“Twice a day, you have to check that water is actually going through the pipes, because that’s how the plants get water and nutrients,” she explains, as she unblocks a pipe using the syringe. She says it’s one of the best ways to farm using little water.

“When you put in certain plants in the greenhouse, you know you are guaranteed sustainable farming because you can produce those plants and harvest them,” she says.

Moeketsi adds that this allows her produce to stay consistent season after season.

“So, from that point of view, it makes the city more sustainable in terms of food produce that is easily accessible and cost-effective for the consumer because not everyone around here can afford the high prices of food but they can at least afford what we sell, whether it is at R10 ($0.5) or R15 ($1).”

As Moekesti continues to tend to the plants, a farmer she works with walks in and begins filling up the reservoirs.

Lethabo Madela has known Moekesti for almost six years.

“When you look around Johannesburg, there is no space, so rooftops have saved us a lot, especially those of us that love farming,” says Madela. “I’m learning a lot and I think she [Moekesti] changed the whole concept of farming for me because I used to farm vegetables. I didn’t know culinary herbs or medicinal herbs.”

Moeketsi speaks of other farmers around the city who have taken to the rooftops to farm plants such as strawberries, lemon balm, spinach and lettuce.

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In a suburb called Marshalltown, a 10-minute drive from Moeketsi’s farm, Kagiso Seleka farms lemon balm also using hydroponics.

He produces sorbet and pesto from his produce which is then used to make ice cream.

“It [hydroponics] is great for farming sensitive plants in terms of temperature. Lemon balm does not like frost. But it’s better to grow even out of season so you can set a higher price,” he tells us.

However, he says hydroponics farming is a luxury not many farmers can afford.

“It [hydroponics] does have a bit of a higher capital upfront, but you get a higher yield and higher quality, so people are willing to pay more. Hydroponic planting saves about ninety five percent of water soil farming in a water-scarce country,” says Seleka.

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“We do have water shortages, and I know people are on the whole ‘organic trip’ but, is it more important to have an organic plant versus a water-saving environment?”

The Program Coordinator for Agriculture at the City of Johannesburg’s Food Resilience Unit, Lindani Sandile Makhanya, says there certainly are more rooftop farmers in Johannesburg now than ever before.

Converting idle terraces into avenues of profit is becoming a norm. There are new rooftop farms being set up every day, offers Makhanya.

He regularly visits Moeketsi’s farm to check on the progress and collect produce to sell.

“Urban farming in Johannesburg is rising, mainly because the idea of producing our own food is very important because most people are moving to urban areas and therefore it stands to reason that we have to try to produce as much as possible,” says Makhanya.

“[There is growth] even in animal production, although we are moving away from the bigger numbers, but we are involving the smaller ones; because of the space issue, they are increasing overall.”

For Moeketsi, her farm has changed her life and given her hope for a better future. In addition to the teas, tinctures, ointments and medicinal products she processes from her plants, she plans to include more by-products such as syrups in the future.

“The future of city farming is great simply because we have more and more young people getting into this space. Even though it’s farming, they are looking at it from a very different angle,” she says. “That is why the city is changing and rooftop farming is going to get bigger and bigger.”

Clearly, farming in Africa is covering exciting new ground.

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30 under 30

Applications Open for FORBES AFRICA 30 Under 30 class of 2020



FORBES AFRICA is on the hunt for Africans under the age of 30, who are building brands, creating jobs and transforming the continent, to join our Under 30 community for 2020.

JOHANNESBURG, 07 January 2020: Attention entrepreneurs, creatives, sport stars and technology geeks — the 2020 FORBES AFRICA Under 30 nominations are now officially open.

The FORBES AFRICA 30 Under 30 list is the most-anticipated list of game-changers on the continent and this year, we are on the hunt for 30 of Africa’s brightest achievers under the age of 30 spanning these categories: Business, Technology, Creatives and Sport.

Each year, FORBES AFRICA looks for resilient self-starters, innovators, entrepreneurs and disruptors who have the acumen to stay the course in their chosen field, come what may.

Past honorees include Sho Madjozi, Bruce Diale, Karabo Poppy, Kwesta, Nomzamo Mbatha, Burna Boy, Nthabiseng Mosia, Busi Mkhumbuzi Pooe, Henrich Akomolafe, Davido, Yemi Alade, Vere Shaba, Nasty C and WizKid.

What’s different this year is that we have whittled down the list to just 30 finalists, making the competition stiff and the vetting process even more rigorous. 

Says FORBES AFRICA’s Managing Editor, Renuka Methil: “The start of a new decade means the unraveling of fresh talent on the African continent. I can’t wait to see the potential billionaires who will land up on our desks. Our coveted sixth annual Under 30 list will herald some of the decade’s biggest names in business and life.”

If you think you have what it takes to be on this year’s list or know an entrepreneur, creative, technology entrepreneur or sports star under 30 with a proven track-record on the continent – introduce them to FORBES AFRICA by applying or submitting your nomination.


Business and Technology categories

  1. Must be an entrepreneur/founder aged 29 or younger on 31 March 2020
  2. Should have a legitimate REGISTERED business on the continent
  3. Business/businesses should be two years or older
  4. Nominees must have risked own money and have a social impact
  5. Must be profit generating
  6. Must employ people in Africa
  7. All applications must be in English
  8. Should be available and prepared to participate in the Under 30 Meet-Up

Sports category

  1. Must be a sports person aged 29 or younger on 31 March 2020
  2. Must be representing an African team
  3. Should have a proven track record of no less than two years
  4. Should be making significant earnings
  5. Should have some endorsement deals
  6. Entrepreneurship and social impact is a plus
  7. All applications must be in English
  8. Should be available and prepared to participate in the Under 30 Meet-Up

Creatives category

  1. Must be a creative aged 29 or younger on 31 March 2020
  2. Must be from or based in Africa
  3. Should be making significant earnings
  4. Should have a proven creative record of no less than two years
  5. Must have social influence
  6. Entrepreneurship and social impact is a plus
  7. All applications must be in English
  8. Should be available and prepared to participate in the Under 30 Meet-Up

Your entry should include:

  • Country
  • Full Names
  • Company name/Team you are applying with
  • A short motivation on why you should be on the list
  • A short profile on self and company
  • Links to published material / news clippings about nominee
  • All social media handles
  • Contact information
  • High-res images of yourself

Applications and nominations must be sent via email to FORBES AFRICA journalist and curator of the list, Karen Mwendera, on [email protected]

Nominations close on 3 February 2020.

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The Life And Wisdom Of Richard Maponya



He was one of the big names in business in Africa; as gentlemanly. as he was shrewd. He fought the odds and apartheid to stake his place in business and inspire millions of his countrymen to do the same.

Richard Maponya – the doyen of black business in South Africa – passed away in the early hours of January 6, after a short illness. Maponya turned 99 on Christmas Eve near the end of a long and fruitful life that saw him dine with the Queen, laugh with Bill Clinton and chauffer his old friend Nelson Mandela. Mandela asked Maponya, who owned a car dealership, to pick him up at the airport in Johannesburg after his release from prison in 1990.

Ï picked him up at the airport and that was the most frightening time of my life. We were chased by people on foot, helicopters, motorbikes and cars. Everyone just wanted to touch Mandela. They could kill him just trying to touch him,” Maponya recalled to Forbes Africa in a cover story in March 2017.   

Mandela was a close friend of Maponya since the 1950s. The future president, then a young lawyer   helped Maponya set up his first business against the restrictive apartheid laws that shackled black business.

Maponya wanted to open a clothing store in Soweto, Johannesburg; the authorities said no. Mandela lost the fight for the clothing store, but did manage to secure him a license to trade daily necessities. This opened the way for Maponya to start out with a milk delivery business that was to prove the foundation of his fortune.

More than half a century on, Mandela, then a former president of South Africa, beamed with pride, in 2007, as he opened the first shopping mall in Soweto.

Maponya Mall had taken the canny businessman a good deal of patience to put together. He acquired the land in 1979 – the first black man to secure a 100-year lease for land in Soweto – and spent many more years building up the mall.

“Ï fought for 27 years for that mall and was many times denied; they actually thought I was dreaming. When Nelson Mandela cut the ribbon to open the mall, that was the highlight of my life,” Maponya said years later.

It was a mile on a road less travelled by Maponya in a long journey from the tiny township of Lenyenye in Limpopo in northern South Africa where he was born. He moved across the province to Polokwane to train as a teacher and then, like many young men of his generation, moved south to Johannesburg in search of his fortune.

In those days, the gold mining city was booming, but only the few saw the fruits. Maponya was blocked at every turn as he tried to make his way in business; he won through making a fortune from property, horse racing, retail, cars and liquor.

Maponya mentored many black entrepreneurs and inspired many millions more he had never met. One of them was Herman Mashaba, the former mayor of Johannesburg, who made his own fortune with hair care products.

“To myself and the people I grew up with he was an inspiration to all of us to get into business…If he had started out in business in a normal world there is no doubt he would have been even bigger than he was,” Mashaba told CNBC Africa.

Maponya will be mourned by the millions who were inspired to follow him and by a business world that is richer, in more ways than one, for his nearly a century of hard work in which retirement was never an option.

“People who retire are lazy people. You retire and do what? Bask in the sun?  I am not that type of man,” he said in 2017 at the age of 96.

He could never be.

By Chris Bishop  

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