They call them zama zamas which means ‘those who try their luck’. Wearing his traditional Zulu earrings, looking hirsute with whiskers on his face, this is Dumisani Ngcamu, otherwise known as Ntshebe – ‘the bearded man’. He is an illegal miner and has been risking his life for eight years trying to scrape a handful of gold dust underground to support his eight kids. He works in abandoned mineshafts around Johannesburg, a city in South Africa built on gold.
“You see, here in Johannesburg, gold is everywhere but people don’t know that. Sometimes you don’t have to go deep, it’s closer than you think,” says Ngcamu.
A trip to Johannesburg from his village Nquthu, in the KwaZulu-Natal province, looking for greener pastures, led Ngcamu to illegal mining even though he never worked in a mine. Immigrants from neighboring Zimbabwe, the war-torn Democratic Republic of the Congo and Mozambique introduced Ngcamu to this industry as a marketer of syndicates.
“I was earning R30 ($2.20) a day, I did not mind how small it was because I had food on my plate. I knew this was a serious job when I got arrested, but luckily for me I had learned every process of mining. I knew where to find gold,” says Ngcamu.
After he was released he went on his own and started mining in built-up areas.
“I mined within near distances, I reached barriers where you would find houses and firms, I then realized I could make more money in abandoned mines. That’s when I started working with other people,” says Ngcamu.
It all revolves around a shanty town called Denver, near Johannesburg, where most of the residents are from the KwaZulu-Natal. Here, shacks and shady corners are full of idle youth who drink to drown their sorrows and clusters of people playing chess and cooking meat. The majority of people in this area are the poorest of the poor and try to make a living through illegal mining and crime.
“Whenever government officials wanted a gunman, they knew Denver was the perfect place. R5,000 ($370) was enough for criminals here, but today you won’t find a single criminal because everyone is involved in mining,” says Ngcamu.
“You would hear that a policeman has been shot at Denver hostel on a daily basis, no police officer would enter this place back in those days, but today we are able to communicate with them.”
The troubles on the surface match the problems underground. There’s fighting between factions and theft among rival groups of illegal miners.
“They used to rob our stuff. When you’re down there you need to act like an animal. Things I encounter down there are devastating. I saw someone being hit with a hammer on the head; if you are a handsome young man, without a beard like mine [laughs], they would rape you and kill you. I was lucky not to get caught. Shootings and a person being lost is common in there.”
Ngcamu survived a horror encounter with a rival faction.
“You even have slaves. They catch you, tie you up like you a goat, hold you hostage and make you work for days. Your job would be to work and you deliver the gold dust up until the exit point. If you say you tired, they kill you, and luckily I managed to escape,” he says, while chuckling.
He says foreigners are most prone to such torture.
“When I look at this country, foreigners are not seen as humans, they are seen as animals. Those [foreigners] who I mined with were mostly victims of such things. If it is a group of mixed nationals, then things will get sour.”
Such experiences led Ngcamu to appoint people to act as security guards who would look out for them while they dig. He knew where to find them.
“You know who is a criminal in your area so we appointed criminals from Denver. We told them the money they will make with us is better than what they would make from crime.”
“Now we are free, because we know people are looking out for us. Everyone is benefiting. Police are happy because there is no crime,” he says.
Illegal miners even pay the guards with a plate of gold dust after they have returned. As it is a community business, women and children are also involved. Women are mostly employed in the manufacturing of the gold. They are tasked to use a piece of equipment called a phenduka – a hand driven cylinder.
Iron balls and water are added inside the perforated phenduka stand. After spinning, the water is sifted into plastic buckets until liquid mercury is visible when being strained. The end process is burning the liquid mercury until it becomes solid gold, then it goes to the market.
David van Wyk, a mining analyst who has studied illegal miners for decades as a researcher for the Bench Marks Foundation, knows the lives, challenges and syndicates of zama zamas. You’d be forgiven if you mistook him for Albert Einstein with his vast knowledge.
“In Africa, before colonialism, people did small-scale mining. Traditional African mining was small scale artisanal mining all over Africa. You still find it in Burkina Faso, it also happened around Great Zimbabwe. If we want a situation that is not so disorderly, that is no so violent and unsafe, we need to pass regulations for small-scale mining and allow it to take place,” he says.
According to Van Wyk, small-scale mining started 200 years ago, before big companies started operating, but it is seen as a threat to the weakening South African mining industry.
“As we have a downward curve in the availability of gold mining, we have an upward curve in small-scale mining.”
“Economically their costs are very low, they do not use a lot of water they do not use a lot of electricity, they don’t use a lot of technology,” says Van Wyk.
He believes the reason there is factional fighting is because of the syndicates the zama zamas work for. Syndicates struck a deal with the zama zamas to buy gold from them; they then sell the gold to the formal economy. They provide zama zamas with food and water and make deductions when workers, like Ngcamu, return from digging. Van Wyk, though, says some of the syndicates are against illegal mining.
“My allegation against the Chamber of Mines, who are always making a noise about zama zamas, is that their people are involved. My second problem with the Chamber of Mines is that they represent monopoly mining, that’s why they are very much against zama zamas.”
“In South Africa, if you are black and you shoot an animal, you are a poacher, but if you are white and shoot an animal you are a trophy hunter; same applies to mining.”
The Chamber of Mines of South Africa refutes the claims.
“It is simply a mischievous claim. As is the case in most countries around the world, mineral resources in South Africa belong to the state and may only be mined by licensed operators. It doesn’t matter whether it is small-scale, medium-scale or large-scale mining, the point is, it needs to be regulated,” says Charmane Russell, spokesperson of the Chamber of Mines.
“If we formalize zama zamas and actually create laws and regulations and organize them into cooperatives, then there can be training in mine health and safety for these guys,” says Van Wyk.
Mines Rescue Services has been rescuing trapped illegal miners for the past 92 years.
“The challenges we face is that there are no maps, no mine plans. We do not know where to go. We work in extremely dangerous conditions. That’s why we have to work with illegal miners to guide us to a place where these guys are trapped,” says Christo de Klerk, CEO of Mines Rescue Services.
De Klerk and his crew use specialized equipment to roam underground and search for illegal miners. He believes the conditions illegal miners face is inhumane.
“If you look at the amount of the bodies we have recovered, a lot of those bodies were killed during the faction fighting; these people are armed and very dangerous.”
“Authorities have to get together to stop them, we have to stop the inflow of illegal immigrants, we have to try and close all these holes, the prosecution of these people is important but the main thing is that the syndicates who buy gold and sell the gold must be infiltrated and stopped,” says De Klerk.
“Government needs to rethink things; they shouldn’t listen to those who say shafts should be closed because it is risky. We know it is risky; they should stop acting act like they are in sympathy with our lives when they just want to prevent us from getting small fortunes. We’re hungry, they should let us eat,” says an irate Ngcamu.
Not far from Denver, Ngcamu takes us to a place where they first started mining. It seemed like a long day at work for the security guards who were looking out for the illegal miners. Not far away is a metals factory. Pointing towards it, Ngcamu has a story to tell.
“You see when they started operating here, they would call the police on a daily basis to come and arrest us for mining next to their company. Luckily for us, the officers were black, they were our brothers, and they understood us. Criminals used to steal their metals, but now it has all stopped. They do their business we do ours, it’s just a mutual agreement,” he says.
After some explanation and pleading, one of the security guards who didn’t want to be identified agrees to speak and sugarcoats how they deal with criminals.
“We tell them what they’re doing is not right and should never repeat it. A lot of people know what gold looks like so they would be taking chances to undermine us,” he chuckles.
“You see, if government closes these mines that would mean he has killed all of these guards and their families. That would make government responsible for deaths of these people,” says Ngcamu.
The whole country was in shock as scores of miners were rescued in an abandoned mine in Langlaagte, on the outskirts of Johannesburg. Four dead bodies were recovered in a day that proved to be the last throw of the dice for illegal mining, events there brought about a lot of public debate on how to stop it.
“What happened in Laanglagte doesn’t deter me; whenever you enter a certain job you will face challenges. Even in firms, you can die reading a newspaper; you can die even though you occupy a top position. So what happened to our brothers won’t make us cry, to our brothers’ families we send our condolences but we expect anything down there. When we go down we pray, when we return we pray,” says an unapologetic Ngcamu.
The mine in Laanglagte is abandoned by Central Rand Gold, leaving opportunities for Ngcamu and his crew to make a living. Van Wyk believes Central Rand Gold, listed on the in the London Stock Exchange, should never have received a mining licence in the first place. The mineshaft is situated at George Harrison Park which has been a national monument since 1946. Next to the park is the 99-year-old school, TC Esterhuysen Primary School, with its football pitch 10 meters from the mine pit.
“The mine did not have water, so they used the school’s water, which is illegal as well. When we talk about illegal mining, we always blame zama zamas, but people don’t know how many big monopoly mining operations, listed on the London Stock Exchange, that are operating illegally and flaunting the laws of this country,” says Van Wyk.
Ngcamu says nothing will stop them from mining.
“If I stop, what will I say to my two kids at university? People need to be fed, for me stopping is not an option.”
Going Once, Going Twice! The Evolution Of Auctions
Online auctions are gaining popularity, but the traditionalists are still sold on the idea of live auctions that guarantee a good show, with emotions and bids running high.
In an industrialized area approximately 30 minutes from Sandton, the commercial hub of Johannesburg, is a shining fleet of trucks, parked and ready to be sold to the highest bidder.
The sun reflects off the windshields in the direction of the registered bidders as they sit under red outdoor umbrellas at the entrance of the property.
Some opt for refreshments, while others make small talk with their competition.
A man uses this time to make phone calls to a mechanic, who discourages him from making a regrettable bid on a “non-runner”.
He runs towards the towering fleet of trucks, where he joins the eager buyers as they take a final peek before the auction begins.
We are at Aucor Auctioneers’ popular commercial auction, at their head office in Midrand.
After spending four hours traveling to Johannesburg from Nelspruit (in South Africa’s Mpumalanga Province), for the auction, Charles Malibe gets into a heated bidding war that lasts no longer than a minute but is packed with plenty of fervent action.
It is noon and an overjoyed Malibe has just won a R465,000 ($32,401) bid on a second-hand truck.
“I attended my first auction three years ago. Sometimes you get it wrong and sometimes you get the right stuff at the right price. It is good to be exposed to new things. I went to Durban once, but I did not get anything there. It was not a waste. It is not only about getting things, it gives you exposure,” he says.
As Malibe heads back to Nelspruit, the auctioneer remains chanting until the last vehicle is sold, with the crowd getting smaller with each purchase.
Wasim Babamia, Aucor Auctioneers’ multimedia consultant, manages the national marketing for the 51-year-old auctioneering company.
Digitalization has disrupted traditional norms of advertising, and has made the industry more accessible for both buyers and sellers.
“Selling any asset boils down to supply and demand. The advantage of buying in an auction is cutting out the middleman, saving that money and getting something of real top value,” he says.
Marketing the call to action remains a vital component for the business.
“Social media has to be on point when we market a particular auction,” Babamia says.
Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn are some of the biggest platforms, apart from the traditional pamphlets and website advertising strategies.
According to Babamia, online bidding has pulled in more numbers over the past four years.
He sees a rapid transformation in the auctions landscape in the foreseeable future.
According to a South African Institute of Auctioneers (SAIA) report, Gauteng is the highest province of interest with over 6,000 potential buyers (for all kinds of auctions including residential properties, retail vehicles, jewelry and collectables) on its website, while the Northern Cape is the lowest with just over 1,000 buyers.
The traditional means of auctioning have had to make way for digital platforms that have been steadily increasing over the last decade.
SAIA records close to 100,000 visitors to online auctions in 2010; the first half of 2019 is already at 400,000 visitors.
Last year’s record 600,000 visitors reflect that the online market could be just as lucrative as the live auctions.
As the state of the South African economy remains uncertain, Babamia suggests that auctioneering will always provide a cheaper option to consumers.
An industry that has been in existence for more than 2,000 years continues to grow despite its many iterations over the years.
Ancient Greek records on auctions dating as far back as 500BC show women were auctioned off to become wives.
Auctions were popular for family estates and the selling of war plunder in Rome.
As a result of the great depression in the 1900s, the United States opened auction schools to generate income as businesses and individuals needed to liquidate assets to withstand the economic crisis.
In recent times, market trends have changed dramatically to adapt to socioeconomic norms.
A shift to online auctioneering has been a great development and contributor to the fluid industry.
Orbis Research reports that the global online auction market is expected to grow during the period 2018-2022 with a 7.2% compound annual growth rate.
“Another major trend witnessed in the online auction is the immense impact of artificial intelligence (AI). AI’s main role in an online auction is to perform different tasks such as processing internal operations, customer-service inquiries, delivery and product packaging. In the last years, AI has instigated a gradual shift, from conventional auction to online auction,” the report states.
The increase in sales of art-based goods through online auctions is a key market driver.
Traditional live auctions, however, are still a preferred option for bargain-hunters, despite the global steer towards digitalization.
This is according to fine art specialist Luke Crossley who manages Stephan Welz & Co. in the affluent northern suburb of Johannesburg, Houghton Estate.
Moving to simpler models will improve the industry by providing a greater competitive edge, he says.
“There is a growing interest and understanding of auctions across a broad section of people where, maybe, a couple of decades ago it was seen as just for the very rich people doing very rich things.
“People are realizing that it is a great way of finding weird and beautiful objects, artwork and furniture at quite reasonable prices,” he says.
The increase of auction houses in South Africa offers a variety to buyers and sellers, with SAIA having 80,546 members registered by April 2019. As a result, the art and design market is at an advantage.
“The South African art market on auction is always evolving and broadening. The importance to history and art history is being realized and there is a growing interest and demand for these. It is encouraging a lot of the younger artists working with galleries to look at the history and heritage of artistic practice in this country,” Crossley says.
“With growing appreciation for South African and African art overseas, a couple of international houses based in England regularly do sales of more historical work. The audience overseas means a lot for the artists, the country and the future.”
Selling or buying art on auction engages the audience as well as the creator.
“The gallery, thus, becomes the primary market where young artists can build their careers; whereas auctions and private individuals with a passion for art can sell work they own, re-invest in other artists, or buy.
‘South Africans Love Martyrs’
The first 100 days of any presidency are often harshly scrutinized as they set the tone for what citizens expect. South Africa’s Cyril Ramaphosa is under the magnifying glass as all await his next tactical move.
At the end of May, South Africa’s sixth democratically-elected president, Cyril Ramaphosa, took an oath of office at Loftus Versfeld Stadium in Pretoria. In his speech, he touched on many issues that resonate with South Africans, including corruption, poverty, equality and youth unemployment.
These burning matters prelude what is to be expected from him in his first 100 days in office.
Ramaphosa’s period at the helm of power (before the elections) has been typified by repeated calls for a ‘New Dawn’. It seems the man who made it to the 2019 Time magazine list of 100 Most Influential in the world has a laundry list of issues to attend to if he is to set the tone for the rest of his presidency.
The challenge that has deeply affected how South Africans and investors view the country is that of corruption.
“Let us forge a compact for an efficient, capable and ethical state, a state that is free of corruption, for companies that generate social value and propel human development… We must be a society that values excellence, rewards effort and rejects mediocrity,” Ramaphosa said at his inauguration on May 25.
In the first 100 days, analysts say he needs to demonstrate he is a proactive leader; one who takes decisive action to address the plight of those who live in a society as unequal as South Africa. The gaping chasm between the richest and poorest has widened since the end of apartheid 25 years ago. This information is not lost on citizens whose lived experiences and disenchantment were in evidence during the elections.
A specialist in social economic development and political commentator, Kim Heller, is of the view that Ramaphosa has some way to go to address the resolutions of his party, the African National Congress (ANC).
“There are critical social maladies that need to be treated with the urgency they deserve… One of the key things people are looking for is a decisive man and decisive leadership,” she says.
Political analyst, Prince Mashele, ventures: “He is yet to act on resolutions because he is navigating complex political infighting in the ANC, which is why he can’t move boldly and faster…”
Economic transformation has been seen to also imply redistribution of the means of production, which currently has been reiterated in the call for land redistribution without compensation. This is among the duties citizens and investors will keep a close eye on as it is a contentious matter.
Leading up to the elections, Ramaphosa said to apprehensive farmers, “the land reform process is something we should never fear. It is going to be done in terms of the constitution”.
Heller says that, “the question of land is unresolved, despite very solid ANC resolutions from branches, and despite extensive consultation”.
The president will to have to choose whether he wants to be investor-friendly or whether he wants the interests of his own political party to find expression in policy.
“The investors have become the supreme branch of the ANC. So Ramaphosa certainly, is spending a lot of time on their concerns rather than ordinary people…,” Heller says.
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Mashele echoes: “He has been a market-friendly president. He has railed against his comrades calling for the nationalization of the [South African] Reserve Bank”.
Another matter influencing investment into the country is red tape that inhibits instead of encouraging business. South Africa dropped from 34 out of 181 countries on the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business ranking in 2009 to 82 out of 192 countries last year, leaving the country trailing its African peers, including Mauritius (20), Rwanda (29) and Kenya (61).
In his address to the nation, Ramaphosa continued with the mantra thuma mina (which means ‘send me’) and committed to continue to build South Africa. In his rebuilding, he will have to take a closer look at the factors that infringe on those looking to conduct business while straddling the line in ensuring that (natural) resources are not further depleted while failing to trickle down to those who need it the most.
Heller is of the view that the expectations created by the president serve as a double-edged sword: “Some quarters have built him up to be the Messiah we have all been waiting for. He may have embraced that but it’s actually going to damage him. Because there is no individual who can save this country without looking at doing serious things in terms of economic restructuring… Until we address structural issues in this country, shifting the economy to favor ordinary people, not markets, we actually aren’t very benevolent.”
Also affecting business has been the view that South Africa is amongst the most corrupt on the continent and viewed as one of the murder capitals of the world. The Zondo Commission has illustrated the stark reality of the malfeasance the president will have to address to change these perceptions and in so doing, hold high-profile individuals accountable.
In line with building an equal society, the president made mention of the prevalence of violence against women at his inauguration.
“Let us end the dominion that men claim over women, the denial of opportunity, the abuse and the violence, the neglect, and the disregard of each person’s equal rights. Let us build a truly non-racial society, one that belongs to all South Africans, and in which all South Africans belong. Let us build a society that protects and values those who are vulnerable and who for too long have been rendered marginal,” Ramaphosa said.
Leading up to the resolution of the president’s first 100 days in office, the public is watching with bated breath.
“I pity him. He’s made big promises on housing and unemployment. Those are not going to magically change overnight. The problem with South Africa is that we love martyrs and here we have a president that we have martyred and who is actually going to fall on that. To replace one man with another, is not going to replace problematic policies, poor implementation and poor conceptualization of economic solutions. So I think in the next 100 days, I don’t expect to see anything unless the fundamentals are changed,” Heller says.
No doubt, it is going to take a concerted effort from all institutions, including those that have been revealed to be compromised. The first 100 days will certainly determine the rest of the president’s term in office.
Lifting The Heavy Veil On Wedding Costs
With pockets as deep as gold mines, how far are couples willing to go to have the picture-perfect luxe wedding?
The lagoons overlook the snow-white beaches with its swaying coconut trees, embraced by the turquoise waters of the sea in the island nation of Mauritius. It’s a scene straight out of a movie, with a couple cavorting in the distance.
Over 100 guests from South Africa have also gathered on these sands for the weekend wedding of businessman Lebo Gunguluza and his long-term girlfriend Lebo Mokoena.
The total cost of this union: almost $300,000.
“I didn’t mind exceeding the budget, because you only do this once,” says new bride Mokoena.
The couple flew over 30 guests and provided them with five-star accommodation at the LUX* Grand Gaube. Part of the guest contingency included the behind-the-scenes crew for the wedding, as well as the speakers who had to spend four to seven days in Mauritius to prep up.
“We did not want to have a local wedding because we wanted our guests and family to have a different experience. We also wanted our family members who did not have passports and have never flown out of the country to experience a different country,” Gunguluza says.
The weekend celebrations started on a Friday last September with a cocktail meet-and-greet party. Belly dancers who were dressed in floral red and yellow danced the evening away with guests, with a local band taking them to the all-white party on Saturday.
This was just a build-up to the romantic wedding reception with shades of blush, ivory, and gold which was to take place on Sunday at 4PM.
“Every time I think about that day, I want to do it again,” the new bride says.
The couple chose not to have bridesmaids and groomsmen and the guests were encouraged to dress in black and white.
“I didn’t have bridesmaids because it makes you choose between your friends. I felt that if you got an invite to our wedding, you were worthy enough. So, we wanted everyone to be bridesmaids and groomsmen. I think we made it intimate and everybody felt like they were VIPs,” says Mokoena.
Everything fit perfectly as the bride’s two white wedding dresses were designed by Antherline Couture.
For the ceremony, she wore a white ball gown with a diamanté top heavily embellished with beads; while the groom looked dapper in a white tuxedo jacket designed by Master Suit SA.
The color white was indeed conspicuous.
“I have always felt that white is pure and because I was signing my life away, I felt I needed to be pure, hence I said my husband needed to wear white as well,” she adds.
The lavish white wedding was organized by renowned wedding planner Precious Tumisho Thamaga who ditched her seven-year career in Public Relations & Marketing to become an event planner.
Thamaga organizes events and weddings for affluent clients such as the Gunguluzas.
“They are busy people and they don’t have time to do the administration and the back and forth of vetting in suppliers,” Thamaga says, as she takes over the pain of wedding planning.
While working in the corporate world, she had attended many weddings that she felt were put together in a way that created a disconnect between the guests and the wedding couple.
“So I saw an opportunity in the fact that there were not a lot of wedding planners that were black,” Thamaga says.
She decided to focus on corporate clients in order to turn her passion into a profitable business.
“A lot of people did not expect a black person to be professional and take the business seriously.
“It was not just a hobby or someone helping out a family. It was an actual business and I made sure that I got taken seriously from the onset,” Thamaga says.
In order for Precious Celebrations (the name of her company) to prosper, she had to have a business strategy in place.
“I made sure that I put a lot of time and effort and strategized properly what it was that I wanted to actually focus on, and find a niche [in]. I believed that would separate me from somebody that was already in the industry,” Thamaga says.
However, her job is not always alluring.
“When I started in the industry there weren’t so many wedding planners and now it is a different story and everyone thinks it is easy-peasy and it is glamorous,” she says.
Planning a luxurious wedding takes eight to 12 months and can cost anywhere between R300,000 ($20,813) to R4.5 million ($312,203).
The most expensive wedding Thamaga planned was for a public figure she cannot disclose the name of.
“It was a destination wedding and the experience from when the guests arrived to the wedding day was memorable. When they arrived, we had a cocktail party and we had activities like canoeing and on Sunday we had an all-white party. [This is] so that people don’t depart on Sunday and may leave on Monday.”
Only the affluent sign up.
“The smallest wedding that I have had to plan had 80 people and it cost R2 million ($138,000),” Thamaga says.
She has turned away some clients in the past because their budget was insufficient for the type of wedding they envisioned.
Thamaga organizes 26 weddings, on average, annually, from countries such as Mauritius, Zimbabwe, Swaziland, Botswana and now she plans on taking her bespoke company global.
One of the unique aspects of her business is that she has maintained a good relationship with the suppliers she has in each country, and has kept her expenses to a minimum.
“The wedding planning-event planning industry is quite lucrative if you do it right. I am not the type that would have too much inventory because I want to feel like the inventory belongs to me; that would limit my creativity,” she says.
“I make sure that I don’t have a lot of expenses, I have coordinators that I have worked with for years and they have full-time jobs.”
Thamaga’s greatest challenge so far was whether or not to outsource other wedding planners when her business was increasing.
“It can be a bit daunting to realize that your business is growing,” she says.
But she opted to remain boutique.
“I had to decide that it is not about the money. I am building an empire where I want a legacy and an ongoing relationship with my clients.”
She involves her clients every step of the way to bring their vision to an unforgettable reality, and believes that weddings are expensive because of the growing aspirations of the young.
“It is not just in South Africa, it is worldwide,” she says.
Despite the tangible costs of conducting these dream events, the wedding industry in South Africa is largely unregistered as it is a fluid market where services and costs are difficult to track and document accurately.
Africans, no doubt, spend millions per year on costs associated with marital ceremonies. This is the reality of the unregistered wedding industry. Despite the recession and slow economic growth, the wedding industry continues to attract many entrepreneurs to its lucrative opportunities.
As, people never stop getting married.
The Marriages and Divorces report released by Statistics South Africa last May shows an upward trend in civil marriages. Civil marriages increased by 0.6%, from 138,627 marriages registered in 2015 to 139,512 in 2016.
A wedding dress is an important part of a celebration and the bridal couture market continues to show growth.
Wise Guy Reports Database Global Wedding Dress Market Insights, forecast to 2025, states: “The wedding market demand grows continually, and the wedding garments market has notable increase every year. In this case, the competition is also very intense among companies. The involved companies should seize the opportunities to expand the gold mine.”
A previous client of Thamaga’s has spent R200,000 ($13,876) on two wedding dresses and this is nothing for Fred Elu Eboka, a Nigerian designer who dresses delegates as well as the rich and famous.
He moved to South Africa in 1992 at a time when African designs were not being celebrated globally.
Twenty years ago, Eboka sold wedding dresses for R15,000 ($1,041) a piece, and now sells for R250,000 ($17,344) a piece, depending on the design.
“A designer of my caliber in South Africa is undersold because there are people in the United States selling wedding gowns for $250 and I am here selling them for maybe $80, it just doesn’t make sense. It shows that our economy is really bad because a designer of my caliber should be operating on the same level as them, or very close,” Eboka says.
He is a luxury designer.
“When you think of luxury, it is not just the product, it is not just the textile – it is the whole experience from when you drive in, to when you sit down and have the designer talk to you and learn about your life. The whole artistic process contributes to the cost value of the gown.”
He says that the reason wedding gowns are expensive is because they are meant to be timeless pieces.
“Traditionally, wedding gowns are classical couture. It is not like the normal evening dress that you wear to look beautiful on one night. A wedding dress is like training for the Olympics. You train for them for the rest of your life,” he says.
Eboka also says when designing a wedding gown, you need to take time to know the client, family and their fancies in order to meet the clients’ need.
The material of the wedding gown is usually expensive because he sources the textiles from across the world, and he takes two to three months to create a gown, depending on the embellishments.
“My designs have a lot of artistry,” he says.
Eboka is a wealthy man but he still believes that the industry is not as lucrative as it could be.
“But we do well, without being arrogant about it… You have to be fully aware of the industry and have the intellectual capacity to understand the potential of the market,” he says.
Pictures are an important element of a wedding because they capture the moment for life.
International award-winning photographer Daniel West meets his clients in a restaurant so he can get to know them better and learn the history of their relationship.
“We, as photographers, need to click with each couple, it is actually vital because we are going to be in their space from the beginning to end.
“So, when we do not gel, we are going to find ourselves in an awkward situation on the day because we, as photographers, are also problem-solvers. We don’t just take pictures on the day,” West says.
His packages start from R18,000 ($1,248) to R60,000 ($4,163) and he says it is because the couple is paying for the quality of the work. His packages include waterproof genuine leather-bound photo albums that he says last a lifetime, as well as 500 images that are both edited and unedited. He also arranges the location for the photoshoots.
“It is more than about taking pictures on the day, anybody can take pictures but the work that I do has more of a boutique feel,” he says.
“You pay to have something like this on the table that will last you a lifetime,” West says.
He does not only take pictures on the day but the photoshoots can take up to three months.
“Each couple that I take pictures of has a different story and that is where I draw my inspiration.”
West says that it takes a while for the business to get to a point that is profitable because photographic equipment is expensive.
“In the beginning, it is unfortunately not lucrative because you have to look into getting the equipment that is up to standard, however, it took me about seven years where I could get to a point that I could make a business out of it,” West says.
His annual turnover before expenses is R800,000 ($55,502) and he has about 25 clients a year.
He believes that the industry is regarded as valuable in South Africa and it is growing because people are becoming more enlightened about the photography industry. And social media has become an important motivator driving this industry.
“It is vital to have a good photographer for your wedding, because you as a bride are not quite educated of what is out there and what is not [in terms of photography].”
A good photographer needs to have foresight.
“The quality and charisma of your photographer is really one of the most important things you pay for because if something were to go wrong on your wedding, like rain, what does your photographer do? Do they stand back or make a plan?” he says.
Other luxe services associated with weddings include limos and chauffeur services, and florists, live music bands and gourmet caterers flown from around the world. The more money you are willing to throw, the more sparkling the champagne, crystal and caviar on the beach
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