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How The Feisty Queen Of Manganese Lost Her Crown

Daphne Mashile Nkosi is sitting on a fortune in the world of mining, but she nearly lost it all at the stroke of a pen.

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When Daphne Mashile Nkosi woke up one day, she was told by her lawyers that she had been removed as a director and wasn’t even a lowly shareholder of the multi-billion dollar company she had built from scratch, she thought someone was playing a joke on her. A sick joke at that, for not only did Kalahari Resources have billions in the bank, after securing loans to develop a manganese mine, executive chairperson Mashile Nkosi was still in mourning after burying her husband—who was also her business partner—just a few days earlier.

In one of the most bizarre stories in South African business history, Mashile Nkosi’s name, and those of her fellow directors, had been removed from the database of the Department of Trade and Industry’s Companies and Intellectual Property Registration Office. Things were made even more surreal by the fact that the group laying claim to the assets was led by the late Sandile Majali, a dubious character and controversial businessman who was well connected in the upper echelons of the ruling African National Congress. Majali had never been in any way connected to Kalahari, so his move was not preceded by any hostile takeover bid or shareholder revolt, or anything like that.

Mashile Nkosi brought an urgent interdict before the Johannesburg High Court.

Outside court, radio, television and newspapers were all keen to hear her side of the story. But the more she told of her hitherto unknown rise and rise in the mining industry, she says, the more doubts there were about whether she was indeed the real power behind her growing empire.

“I listened to some of the comments. The more I told my story, the more certain people doubted whether these assets belonged to me.”

Rumors and conspiracy theories started flying thick and fast.

“Some were saying nasty things like ‘you send a thief to catch a thief,’” Mashile Nkosi says. “Others thought, ‘she’s either corrupt or slept her way up to the top.’ I said to myself: ‘what did you expect? You got into a man’s world and changed the course of history. You have to go through this pain to make your gains. Stay focused.’”

About a month after the filing of the interdict, the court ruled in favor of Mashile Nkosi. Majali was arrested for fraud, and was also asked to pay Mashile Nkosi’s legal costs.

Mashile Nkosi’s foray into the male-dominated and often dangerous world of mining started long before the 2010 corporate hijacking incident.

In 1999, as a community development activist leading a women’s rights NGO at the time, she was invited by current Exxaro CEO Sipho Nkosi (no relation to her or her late husband) to form part of the Eyesizwe consortium that was to bid for four South African collieries belonging to multinationals Anglo American and BHP Billiton.

“Sipho said he wanted a very strong structure,” Mashile Nkosi remembers. “We put the structure together, went for presentations to Anglo and BHP, and got the business.”

As soon as she was in on the Eyesizwe deal—she is still a shareholder and serves on its board and those of its subsidiaries—she started being courted by other consortia. She soon discovered that many of these syndicates just wanted women “tag alongs” so that they could show that they had women in their midst.

“The men would have their own discussions and reserve 3-4% for women. I sat back and thought, ‘it’s not going to help if all I do is just scream and shout. What is it that I need to do?’

I decided to look for an opportunity that I would start from scratch, control and own, and be the one who would bring in the men.”

In 2001, the relatively unknown Mashile Nkosi applied to the government for manganese prospecting rights. She got them four years later.

Together with her husband, Dan Nkosi, they raised R12.5 million for a pre-feasibility study that confirmed the existence of manganese in the Kuruman area of the Northern Cape province of South Africa.

The following year state financier, the Independent Development Corporation (IDC), granted the company R60 million to do a feasibility study.

Once the feasibility study was successfully completed, the IDC took 20% of Kalahari, and the two entities began to search for a strategic equity partner. After receiving expressions of interest from 19 companies from all over the world, they chose Arcelor Mittal. The world’s leading steel producer now owns 50% of Kalagadi Manganese, Mashile Nkosi’s Kalahari Resources has 40%, and the rest (10%) is owned by the IDC.

Kalagadi is sitting on just under a billion tons of manganese, a commodity tipped for rapid growth in South Africa. The manganese in South Africa is of high quality, with low carbon, making it sought after by steel makers. The country holds a quarter of the world market and its manganese mines are found in the Kalahari Basin in the Northern Cape. Analysts are saying it is likely to be a boom year for manganese this year.

The Kalagadi project includes a R4.2 billion smelter that will be based at the Coega industrial development zone in the South African coastal city of Port Elizabeth. The smelter is part of an R11 billion project that includes a mine and sinter plant.

By June, Mashile Nkosi says, the company should start producing three million tons of manganese ore, 1.7 million tons of beneficiated sinter, all to be shipped to the Coega smelter for beneficiation.

While the journey has not been easy—water and electricity supply problems meant Kalagadi had to buy generators and truck in water while it negotiated with state utilities—the project is already helping to revive the local economy.

The mine employs 1,600 people, while a further 1,600 are employed by sub-contractors who are engaged in a variety of services ranging from laundry and food to engineering and other specialized services. The water pipeline currently being installed, as well as the tarred roads being erected, will assist farmers and the community.

“The difference between me and other people is not that I’m intelligent. I put in extra hours. I push. I work very hard. And as long as I am making a difference, I’m happy. When you see Africa on CNN or the BBC, it’s hungry kids with flies on their mouths. We should be using our minerals to build our countries, to build our continent. Not what some people do—get a license and then sell it to Australians or Europeans.”

Mashile Nkosi’s life has been lived through breaking rules, banishing stereotypes and confounding expectations. The youngest of four children, two boys and two girls, she says she was always different.

Growing up in the former gold rush town of Pilgrim’s Rest, in Mpumalanga, where she was born, she was inspired by her grandmother, who brought up 13 grandchildren single-handedly from proceeds of traditional brew, cakes and everything else she could lay her hands on.

When she was four or five and taken to Johannesburg to join her biological parents, she learnt just how tough and unfair life could be when she saw how her “never satisfied” father treated her “beautiful” mother—“like a second class citizen, even though she did so much for him.” Mashile Nkosi was incensed. “I told myself I will never be abused in a relationship. So in my choice of people I would later go out with, I was clear that I would never be abused.”

Any man who thought he would abuse her would have had to think twice anyway, for when she was younger she was always her “weak” older brother’s keeper, fighting for him against other boys and beating the male species in their own game.

You could argue, in mining, she is doing the same.

Entrepreneurs

Enterprise And Traceable Tea From Tanzania

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Tahira Nizari; images supplied

How this Tanzanian entrepreneur’s tea startup is weathering the Covid-19 storm.

When Tahira Nizari started her social enterprise Kazi Yetu in Tanzania’s bustling city, Dar es Salaam, with her business partner and husband, Hendrik Buermann, almost two years ago, she didn’t anticipate the sheer scope of her big idea.

But she also didn’t expect that, because of an employee’s exposure to the coronavirus in April, she and her entire team would be quarantining for two weeks, stalling work in a year that she had projected growth for her company. With the pandemic’s onset, she lost most of her customer base in Tanzania, albeit temporarily, and was forced to come up with a game-plan and quickly pivot.

“It’s been an economic recession overnight, more or less,” says Nizari.

With family roots in Tanzania, and armed with formal degrees from Dubai and Canada, and experience in economic inclusion in the non-profit development sector, Nizari aimed to set a benchmark in the agribusiness sector in Tanzania through value-addition and by employing local women in her factory based in Dar es Salaam to produce “a traceable product” for the local and international market.

“Right now, tea is just exported in bulk completely (from Tanzania) and then all the jobs thereafter in that value chain are done abroad. So what we said was ‘let’s redistribute that job creation, let’s bring it back to Tanzania and let’s create a facility in which we can hire workers all locally and have a product that is 100% made in Tanzania’,” says Nizari. After extensive research in multiple target markets, both locally and abroad, building relationships with 250 Tanzanian farmers, setting up a factory exclusively employing local and previously-unemployed women, and many iterations of the seven blends of its flagship Tanzania Tea Collection using local flavors and spices, Kazi Yetu was ready to expand its scope in 2020.

“We were following our business plan… but we were really cautious and risk-averse (in 2018 and 2019). And then, we said, ‘you know what, when 2020 hits, it’s going to be growth’.”

Nizari was planning on reaching up to 4,000 farmers, buy machinery from China, grow the local B2B customer base, permanently employ all the women at the factory and begin to export on a larger scale after the launch of Kazi Yetu’s online store.

But when the coronavirus hit the local and international markets, things started looking very bleak, especially since Kazi Yetu is currently fully self-funded.

 Not only did it lose almost all of its monthly income, but the farmers stopped meeting in groups for the training, so the supply chain was disrupted.

“In Europe, people are all sitting at home. They’re looking for products to build their immunity – tea is a great solution.”

The factory also had to introduce safety protocols for employees at work and at home, as well as reduce the number of people working at any given time in order to adhere to social distancing.

An employee’s father also died of the coronavirus, which forced Nizari to ask everyone involved with Kazi Yetu to quarantine at home for 14 days.

“So what we said was, ‘look, we don’t want to risk their safety, but we also don’t want to risk their economic well-being’. So we just paid all of them their full-time salary,” says Nizari.

“Generally, our operational costs have been really hard to cover right now… but it’s okay, because it made us pivot.”

It inspired Nizari to expedite Kazi Yetu’s plans to export, kickstart the online store sooner than anticipated and build up stock to send to Germany, rather than just focus on the Tanzanian market, which is temporarily quite small. Exporting has been an issue, given limited shipping at the moment, but the European market proved to be a pleasant surprise for Nizari.

“In Europe, people are all sitting at home. They’re looking for products to build their immunity – tea is a great solution,” she says.

Slowly, the factory is moving back to normal operations and Nizari is trying her best to ensure a steady income for the employees. Kazi Yetu is also now available on local delivery applications in Tanzania, so people can order tea to their doorsteps.

Looking ahead, Nizari hopes to scale up exporting through the online store and retailers, whether in Europe, or also in markets like South Africa where products from sub-Saharan Africa are popular, and North America where innovative African products are in demand.

“We want our product to be competing with products made in Europe, and for example, Sri Lankan tea, Indian tea and Chinese tea. We want Tanzanian products to be well-regarded,” she adds.

Since the teas are traceable, which is a unique selling point, Kazi Yetu is also working on an app that uses blockchain to allow customers to access data on the tea they purchase, from the farm level, all the way to their cups. This way, they will know first-hand the impact the product has.

In addition, Nizari is working on a farm-hub model to build Kazi Yetu’s supply chain by helping them produce better raw products through a no-interest investment that can be paid back with their final product over time.

“The whole ‘economy versus safety’ debate… it’s something we have to think about moving forward… You can’t just operate as a business that makes money, you have to think about… the well-being of your workplace, the well-being of everyone in your supply chain… And I think this is where social enterprises really come in,” Nizari adds.

And a hot cup of locally-produced tea can certainly help take forward any such deliberations.

By Inaara Gangji

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Farmer Forays: ‘Creating A New Line Of Business’

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Shola Ladoja; image supplied

Nigerian agripreneur Shola Ladoja, the founder of Simply Green, says the pandemic-induced lockdown brought with it logistic adversity, but also more local sales.  

With the marauding coronavirus disrupting lives and businesses in Nigeria, the financial stability of a majority of the country’s 200 million inhabitants has been severely affected.

The significant toll it has taken on economic activities has forced many small and medium enterprises to reimagine new ways of staying afloat. Covid-19 is also set to radically aggravate food insecurity in Africa. In spite of Nigeria’s dependence on oil, agriculture remains an important cornerstone for its economy, providing employment for millions especially in the informal sector.

The threat of starvation is so present that in a public address in May, Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari, urged Nigerian farmers to produce enough for the country to eat, saying that the country has “no money to import” food.

But every cloud has a silver lining. The food shortage has presented some agripreneurs in Nigeria with serendipitous opportunities.

Shola Ladoja is the founder of Simply Green, which is a farm-to-table company specializing in vegetables, fruits, juices, spices and herbs. The border lockdown has meant that many of the retail and supermarket chains can no longer import foreign produce into the country.

But this hurdle created a new opportunity for Ladoja.

“[Previously], I tried to get my juices into local stores in Nigeria but they all turned me down and most of them wanted to buy imported juices. The lockdown meant that they had to buy a local brand like mine because they could not get them from abroad anymore. We are now able to sell a lot more during this time than previous years,” says Ladoja.

On the logistics side, however, Ladoja has also felt the pinch of the pandemic like most business that require consistent movement of goods and services. The lockdown scenario prevented his workers from coming in and as a result, the company’s daily delivery of juices, has come to an abrupt stop.  

Ladoja has had to start thinking outside the box to make ends meet.

“We have come up with a fruit and vegetable box, which we sell directly on our website to our customers. So, they can now buy lettuce, kale and carrots, which we have never done before. So, this period has forced us to think about how we can expand the business and this time we actually created a new line of business, which was not in the plans for this year,” says Ladoja.

According to the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), even before the Covid-19 crisis, farmers had not been able to satisfy the demands of Nigeria’s population.

“I feel like the government should give out grants and loans and support for small businesses so that they don’t crash. I have friends who have complained they are going to shut down their businesses because they haven’t been paid for two months. A lot of people cannot sell their produce in Lagos because the markets are closed which is going to affect a lot of farmers at this time,” says Ladoja.

Nigeria used to import over a million tonnes of rice from Thailand annually. That number has been significantly reduced with the implementation of high import taxes. This has led to an abnormal increase in food prices in Nigeria since the onset of the coronavirus with the UN estimating the number of people facing acute food security stands to rise to 265 million globally in 2020 as a result of the economic impact of the pandemic.

Nigeria has substantially increased domestic rice production in the pandemic but is still a long way from reaching the levels needed for the country to sufficiently feed itself. Coupled with the decline in global oil prices, it is safe to say the adverse economic impact of Covid-19 on Africa’s most populous country is going to be felt for a long time to come.

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All For Grooming Future Leaders

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Katlego Thwane has had to dip into his own savings, with the Covid-19 crisis, to fund his noble cause, teaching the underprivileged in a South African township.

He is in his twenties, yet turning around the destiny of underprivileged young people around him.

Katlego Thwane, a 28-year-old born and bred in South Africa’s lively township of Soweto, is an educator and founder of the Atlegang Bana Foundation here that caters to primary school learners who struggle to keep up at school and need additional help.

“Our foundation also provides for needy learners from underprivileged backgrounds. One of my biggest campaigns at the foundation every year is to give confidence and motivation to learners for the year ahead,” says Thwane.

He has bagged numerous awards and accolades for his work, as a 2017 Young Community Shaper, 2018 Lead SA hero and featuring on live television show Big Up on SABC Mzansi in 2018.

Growing up, he was a “naughty boy”, as he describes himself, but says many are now astonished at the serious, ambitious young man he has become.

“Teaching has always been a passion of mine. I love seeing change, transformation and grooming leaders, and value their education while being innovative in taking our country forward.”

Thwane has recently established a clothing brand, BANA, under the Atlegang Bana Foundation. He is also currently handing out food parcels to the needy in his community, in partnership with Hollywoodbets.

“The virus has affected us immensely with many parents losing their jobs or taking salary cuts, we are not receiving the financial support as before. This has led to me [dipping] into my own personal pocket and [using it] to buy tutors data for teaching virtually,” says Thwane.

Most schools continue operating online because learners haven’t as yet returned to school, however, this has come with its share of setbacks.

Makosha Masedi, a parent of a Grade 4 learner, says her challenges come with network issues and understanding the tasks given to the child.

“Some of the programs that the work is loaded on to is not friendly for all devices, so submitting and retrieving becomes a problem, as also understanding some of the work,” rues Masedi.

But Thwane powers on, hoping for a better tomorrow, for himself and his country.

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