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The Cables That Connect A Rattling Motorbike With A Sleek Ferrari

There can’t be too many Ferrari-driving millionaires in the world who made their fortunes steering through the potholes on a rattling old motorbike with electrical cables wrapped around their shoulders—Salimo Abdula is one of them.

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A shortage of cables was one of the gaps Salimo Abdula saw in the market in post-independence Mozambique and it made him one of the country’s richest men. Nearly thirty years later, he drives a white Jaguar, as well as a Ferrari, through the streets where he once rattled unnoticed.

Not bad for a man who grew up shooting snakes with his catapult in the bush near where he was born in Quelimane, in northern Mozambique on June 18, 1963. He remembers independence night on June 25 1975, with that warm, open, smile born of a small town.

“I remember people happy in the house; people saying we are now free. My mother was cooking and all of us went to the soccer stadium at midnight to see the raising of the new flag,” says Adbula.

Independent Mozambique proved hard for Abdula. He spent his teenage years serving drinks and sandwiches at the cinema, where his father worked, and playing basketball in the evening; all to earn a crust for his younger brothers. In these tough early days, he tried his hand as an entrepreneur on the streets of Quelimane.

“I remember I had saved some money. A friend of mine wanted to sell dry fish to customers in another province. I had 30,000 meticals and he asked to borrow and pay me back. I am still waiting. This was my first lesson in life. I was too young.”

Harder times were ahead as the glow of independence faded. In 1977, the civil war broke out and in 1979 Abdula was called up to the army. Luckily for him, an injury saw him discharged and he went to study at a commercial school in Beira.

Abdula carried a lot on his young shoulders; he had to support eight people, as well as study. This led him into part time work in a lighting shop in Beria called A Illuminante. It taught Adbula the electrical supplies business. Study did not go so well, as the now provincial government wanted Abdula and his fellow students to opt for the new Marxist-Leninist economics. Abdula wasn’t so keen, so, in 1981, he looked south to Maputo for a new college.

“People would say to me, ‘If you go to Maputo you will get lost because they have more buildings than trees,’” says Abdula.

Getting there wasn’t easy in a country in the grip of civil war. Adbula spend days talking his way into  one of the last seats in a Russian Antonov military transport plane for a cold and noisy two hour flight to Maputo.

“I remember a Russian guy and a Mozambique guy going around asking people for money and putting it in their shirts. I had small money and held it tight. They said to me, its ok, it’s enough, you don’t need to pay. At take-off, the Mozambique guy said we are not going to Maputo but to Nacala for a military mission. I believed it, but thankfully we got to Maputo instead.”

On the ground, it was no easier. Abdula had to walk the streets to find Eduardo Mondlane University because he had no idea where it was.  At night, he climbed the stairs, to a friend’s 18th floor flat, to rest his head.

It took a week for Abdula to apply to the university, before officials sent him back to Beira, then from pillar-to-post back to Maputo where he found he was too late to enrol. It took piles of forms and persistence to get into Eduardo Mondlane Commercial Institute of Mozambique to study IT.

In the third and final year of study, Abdula got the fright of his life.

“People used to say once you have finished you have to go Russia to work for intelligence for the military. It was a rumor, but I was scared.”

Amid the fear Adbula took a phone call from a former colleague at the lighting shop in Beira.

“She told me, Salimo, the store is abandoned, the guys have fled to Portugal we have no management. We have 30 days and if no one takes over the government will auction it.”

Abdula was a mere 20-year-old basketball-playing student. He was being asked to save the jobs of 77 workers, who had not been paid for months, with the paltry coffers of a paralyzed company.

“I bought a ticket to Beria and flew on Friday and called the lady for a meeting. Then, I spoke to her colleagues; everyone was worried. I said to them, ‘I have no experience, I have no money—what should I do?’”

Abdula wrote a letter to the government to say he would take over the salaries and debt; the government agreed.

“The government wanted to get rid of the problem, I bought the problem… my friends said to me: ‘what are you doing are you crazy, you don’t know anything about running a company.’”

The debts ran into millions and Abdula signed and started to pay.

“Then I came back to the office, almost to cry. We had no equipment; we had one very old car, a Peugeot, that we had to push start.”

The only answer was swift income. The blessing of Beira was that it was the only place in Mozambique that made cables—for which, demand far exceeded supply.

Abdula had used his Maputo network to contact CFM, the government-run ports and railways and a big cable customer, to discuss supplying thousands of meters of cables. He bought enough copper to make 100,000 meters of cable and the business turned out to be an entrepreneur’s dream.

Customers in Maputo agreed to pay Abdula in advance; the factory in Beira wanted only 50% of the payment up front. It meant solid cash flow for Abdula, plus profits of 2,000%, as hotels, shops and offices couldn’t get enough of the scarce cables. He paid off his debts in two years with the help of leg work.

“I used to wrap the cables around myself and deliver them on a motorcycle in Maputo,” he laughs.

Expansion followed and in 1996 Abdula bought the cable factory for $500,000. Today, the building alone is worth $5 million.

In the same year, came another decision that was to transform his business; the decision to marry his wife Maria, a businesswoman to the core who acquired the nickname in Maputo business circles of Marechal—Portuguese for general.

“She is the iron lady,” says Abdula.

In 1997, the couple began building Intelec Holdings, 75% of which is owned by the cable-selling Electrosul and 25% by shareholders. It has a turnover of $170 million and is the 17th largest company in Mozambique.

Abdula also spent a term in parliament. He was elected in the country’s first elections in 1994, serving as member for his home town of Quelimane. He admits it helped him to network.

“He is quite a good lobbyist and likes to mix business with a bit of politics,” says Maputo-based journalist and publisher, Fernando Lima.

Abdula won’t say how much money he has, but says his net worth is healthy. His country’s economy is not.

“I believe doing business and the government working in the private sector has improved a lot. Bureaucracy is still there… Infrastructure is a problem, roads and electricity are improving, but we have a long way to go,” he says.

“I don’t think any government has the capacity to revert back to control. The private sector today has its own capacity to penetrate and dictate the rules of the economy. No African country can be an island. Mozambique is a good example; it shows growth of the economy of 7 and 8 percent because of the private sector. I am one of the fighters for the private sector to lead the economy.”

When Abdula celebrated his birthday this year it was at a lavish event in Maputo with his mother, eight brothers and 600 VIPS. It was a proud and emotional moment for the family that showed how far a small-town family had come.

“Luck we have to look for, the bad luck is always with us. That is my principle,” says Abdula.

Homespun philosophy from a man who rose from a rattling motorbike to a sleek Ferrari in just under 30 years.

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Agriculture

Green-Sky Thinking

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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

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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.

NOMINATIONS AND APPLICATIONS CRITERIA:

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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Entrepreneurs

The Life And Wisdom Of Richard Maponya

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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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