From cattle herder tocomedian to liquor businessman, Mashabela Galane is a man of many talents.
This is not a joke. This is the story of South African comedian and entrepreneur Mashabela Galane from the dusty streets of Mmotong Kgohloane village in Limpopo where he once led a life herding cattle.
“Growing up in the rural areas is not easy. You are not sure if you are going to pass [matric], but what you want is to get out of your village [after matric] and move to Johannesburg and make something of your life,” says Galane.
On this warm winter’s afternoon when we meet him, Galane emerges, wearing a coat and holding a bottle of his Moringa Gin product, recently introduced in the South African liquor market.
The man of humble beginnings has an infectious smile – his job is to also make people laugh – and you can sense the pride in his voice as he talks about his life.
In the year 2000, he was a student at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, studying for a bachelor’s degree in performing arts and media studies.
“It was difficult for me when I got to Witwatersrand because I was not used to the environment. I used to think that I was one of the smartest in high school until I arrived at university,” says Galane.
Having never set foot in a library or even been to a career exhibition, he was determined to learn in order to succeed. His motivation was his family – he didn’t want to disappoint them.
“It was very sad to be one of the slowest students in class… But I worked so hard because I told myself that I am here to make it,” he says.
“Most of the students that work really hard at university are the ones that come from the rural areas. Because they know that they need to pass because they have nothing else to fall back on at home unlike those that come from privileged families.”
It was in his third year at university that Galane’s fortune changed, that would literally see him laughing all the way to the bank.
“We used to go to the Witwatersrand theater where we would watch plays and sometimes there would be comedians who would come to perform. When I saw them perform, I knew that this was what I want to do,” he says with a big smile.
So he started a society in performing arts intended for students from rural areas.
“So it was then that I started making jokes and I would perform around the residences,” he says.
Though he started his performances in English, he later opted for stand-up comedy in vernacular languages, which turned out in his favor because that is what set him apart in the comedy industry and put him on South Africa’s cultural map.
“There are people who want to laugh in their mother language,” he quips.
“As a vernacular comedian, we have a wider market compared to the English-performing comedians. They would struggle to fill up a 1,000-seater venue at The Lyric Theatre and I can do Big Top Arena [in Johannesburg] and it takes a capacity of 3,500.”
In 2008, Galane turned comedy into a profession and recorded his first DVD, Strictly Vernac.
This would be a game-changer earning him plaudits in the world of comedy, and this success spurred him on to also try his luck in the liquor industry as an entrepreneur.
He had saved some of the money he made from his annual stand-up comedy shows.
His future would be as an entrepreneur infusing the organic flavors of the moringa plant, native to parts of Africa, into a distilled spirit.
“Hustling in the comedy industry helped me because it needed me to have a business mentality,” he says of his acumen for enterprise.
He first stumbled upon moringa juice, and then moringa beer, which he only sells at markets.
“Within the first two months, while I was still waiting for the beer to brew, I went to a gin market which had different flavors of gin,” continues Galane.
It is then that he decided to digress from craft beer to craft gin. His first attempt was not successful. The gin tasted like whiskey.
“I didn’t like it, it wasn’t nice. I lost more R300,000 ($20,443) of my savings trying to get it right.”
It has been an arduous journey since. Finding the right packaging not already on the market was a challenge as well as having to provide distributors with the product before they pay.
But the bumpy ride has been worth it, says Galane, because he always knew he would find his entrepreneurial side.
“I have always had the characteristics of a businessman because I used to sell chips at the taxi rank during school holidays.”
Galane is laughing all the way to the bank as his craft gin is available nationwide; soon he will launch an App for placing orders. He plans to also branch into the cosmetics industry using the moringa plant.
He has discovered the serious side of business, and unlike his on-stage alter ego, it’s not funny.