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A Ride From A Taxi Driver To Legal Eagle

Siphile Buthelezi taxied people around to get himself through university. The journeys ended in his successful law firm.

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We wait 20 minutes before Siphile Buthelezi walks into his offices in Sandton sporting a tailored suit. On his table is a pile of documents and files of more than 20 clients of his law business. Not too bad for a young man who grew up in a squatter camp, in Clermont, in the South African province of KwaZulu-Natal.

“I start my day by going to the gym, then come to the office to check emails, draft legal opinions and, if it’s a day for litigation, I go to court. If I have board meetings I don’t even come to the office, and once I’m done I come and work until midnight,” says Buthelezi, Co-founder and Managing Director of Buthelezi Vilakazi Inc, a corporate and commercial law firm.

Buthelezi talks fast, with his hands, and has many stories to tell of his short but eventful 34 years of life.

“I’m the eldest of three children and we stayed in a one-roomed shack. So, we’d sleep on a mattress on the floor and my parents slept on the bed. So we would hear everything that happened at night,” he says.

His mother, a domestic worker, desperately wanted her son to be educated, and his father, a construction worker, walked him to school.

“My dad didn’t go to school at all. Even today, he can’t write; for him to write his name he needs to look at his ID but what I admire about him is he valued education,” says Buthelezi.

“My mom would come home, and it still pains me that she’d come with what was supposed to be her lunch at work, four slices of bread, and say this was supposed to be my lunch I brought it for you guys.”

According to Buthelezi, the environment made him want to be a gangster.

“In the squatter camp environment; you get exposed to different people and things, for example there’s a sheeben next door and sometimes you find that your understanding of a successful person is a thug who drives a nice car,” says Buthelezi.

Instead Buthelezi left school for music.

“Growing up I did music and danced for kwaito stars, Mzambiya and Msawawa. I enjoyed it but I knew I couldn’t do it for free,” he says.

This led to him buying a bus ticket to Johannesburg.

“I remember at the time a ticket was R100 (around $7.50), so my group and I came here for more gigs and at some point I wanted to be a full time musician.”

Johannesburg changed his mind.

“What was interesting is that when I got to meet more celebrities I realized their lives are not as glamourous as they make it out to be. There was a group called Tribe, one of the members asked us for R5 and for me that was a shock because I’d see these people on T.V. and then one of them was asking us for money. It was a wake-up call,” says Buthelezi.

Buthelezi went home and toiled at a construction company where his father worked. He used his money from music money to register at university. Luckily his mom’s employer also helped.

“My mom packed my bags and took me to the bus station, she gave me R20 and these are the words I’ll never forget, ‘my son this is all I have but there’s one thing I know, God will be with you’. She had tears of joy that I was starting at varsity but also because she couldn’t give me more,” says Buthelezi.

For Buthelezi, going to university was a dream. He knew he’d be better off at campus than at home.

“In the squatter camps people play music until the early hours of the morning. How are you going to study?”

It was four years of struggle, especially with English.

“Having studied at a public school, and not a model C school, there was a culture shock.  And I had to learn everything in English and some of the professors were foreigners who didn’t pronounce words the way they should have,” he says.

As a result, he failed his first test in constitutional law with just 8%. It took him a few months for his grades to improve. Meanwhile the study loan didn’t cover everything.

“I didn’t have money to buy clothes, food and books. I also got a bursary from Cecil Reynolds charity bursary for outstanding academic performer which covered part of my fees,” says Buthelezi.

In his second year, Buthelezi had a plan up his sleeve.

“My plan was to take part of the [student loan] money, get a driver’s license and a professional driving permit. I approached one of the taxi owners; I asked him if he could give me a chance to drive on weekends. I put it in a way that I’d be relieving drivers then I started driving from Friday ‘til Monday. The owner started rotating his drivers and one driver would be off on certain weekends and I’d take over, they’d even bring the taxi to me on campus.”

“In my first load there’s a lady whom I won’t forget, a classmate, when I got into the taxi, she said ‘are we ever going to get where we’re going’.” Buthelezi shakes his heads and grins.

He’d make about $20 a day. His fellow drivers called him Sfundiswa – loosely translated: the learned one.

“I’d carry my books to the rank, and while waiting for my load I would take it out and study and when the taxi is full I’d put it away and drive off to my destination,” he says.

Hardship was just around the corner. It hurt so much when a girlfriend dumped him that he wanted to kill himself.

“I can tell you now I’ve never been heart broken by anyone but that lady. I loved her with all my heart, I wrote her name on each and every book I had.”

Buthelezi met his wife Slindile, a doctor, on Facebook through a friend and realized that their families knew each other.

The years of struggle paid off – a law degree from the University of KwaZulu-Natal. Fresh out of university, Buthelezi was hired as a candidate attorney at Bowman Gilfillan, a large firm based in Johannesburg.

“In my first year of doing articles I paid off the study loan, I did not wait to build a home for my parents, or take care of myself because I knew the difference it made in my life. I knew my first obligation was to think of another Siphile who needs the loan to study,” says Buthelezi.

He spent a year in New York working for Davis Polk & Wardwell LLP, a law firm where he worked in the Credit and Capital Markets Departments and at Morgan Stanley, an investment bank.

Later, he built his family a five-roomed house.

In 2015, he started Buthelezi Vilakazi Inc, with Amanda Vilakazi, the company’s Head of Litigation and Dispute Resolution. It has another office in Umhlanga Ridge, in Durban.

“I wanted to do other things, not just law, but get into business that I couldn’t do at the time and to also serve our government in audit committees.”

Buthelezi is also the Co-Founder at RadioVybe, a social media app; Non-Executive Director at South African Airways (SAA); Board Chair at SAA Technical, and Deputy Chair at KZN Growth Fund.

“As a boss, I expect the best from anyone who works for the firm. I expect the best documents to go out to clients.  Clients of the firm are my clients and anyone who works for me needs to treat me as their client. They need to impress me as I impress my clients,” says Buthelezi.

“Never even once undermine any type of work, another person would have said no to taxi driving. Many young people say no to doing odd jobs. In those jobs you meet interesting people; when they see you’re focused, they open doors for you. Opportunities given, grab them with both hands, run and never look back.”

Unlike his first taxi passengers, Buthelezi is certain he will get where he is going.

Entrepreneurs

‘Toilet Paper, Gently Used.’ How Facebook Marketplace Has Become An Unlikely Platform For Comedy

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In the two days since he advertised  “unprocessed toilet paper” for sale on Facebook Marketplace next to a photo of logs, David Traichel says the response has been better than expected. No actual buyers, just hundreds of views, laughs, and “you made my day” from other users browsing through the online classifieds.

“So many people are so freaked out about the idea of not having toilet paper,” says Traichel, 39. The aerospace technician and welder from Northford, Connecticut generally uses Facebook Marketplace to sell vintage car and bicycle parts. He decided to offer his oak and cedar woodpile (price, $1) to jog users out of their shopping panic. “Maybe those people would see the ad and think, ‘OK, maybe I’m overreacting.”  

Homebound Americans have turned to scavenging on ecommerce sites like Amazon, eBay and Facebook Marketplace for the boring household goods that have become hot items during the coronavirus pandemic. The shortages have inspired some mercenary sellers to excessive pricing (say, hand sanitizer for $149) and prompted the tech companies to crack down on price gougers. The hoarding frenzy has also been catnip for armchair humorists, who have found an unlikely platform to yuk it up in the free classifieds of Facebook Marketplace. 

You snooze, you lose. KIM MARIE/FACEBOOK

On the social network’s 800 million-user shopping site, one Internet standup is offering “toilet paper, extra long roll” for $69,4202—it’s a CVS receipt wound around the toilet paper dispenser. Another wants to sell you the “last roll of toilet paper in the world,” marked at $10,000. As a last resort, yet another smart aleck is advertising $90 toilet paper alongside a photo of sandpaper. “Don’t go without during this crisis,” it reads.

In reality, there’s no toilet paper crisis. Unlike imports such as iPhones and flat-screen TVs, most U.S. toilet paper comes from domestic factories, buffering supplies from a drop in production in China, where the viral outbreak started. Georgia-Pacific, maker of AngelSoft and Quilted Northern, is boosting its U.S. production. Proctor & Gamble, which makes Charmin brand toilet paper, Bounty paper towels and Puffs facial tissue, says production at its U.S. plants is at record highs. “Demand continues to outpace supply, but we are working diligently to get product to our retailers as fast as humanly possible,” says P&G spokeswoman Loren Fanroy

Which makes it all the more absurd that anxious shoppers stripped supermarket shelves of every last double-ply roll. Relishing the irony, Kim Marie, a 42-year-old naturopathic practitioner from Manorville, New York, decided this week to flog “vintage toilet paper” on Facebook Marketplace. For just $55,990, she’s showcasing a water-damaged and rotting roll mounted on a rustic wall, closing with the Craigslist battlecry of overpriced junker listings, “no low ballers, I know what I got.” Marie, who regularly sells vintage housewares on the site,  says she has received no serious inquiries. Just as well, since the item listed isn’t actually in Marie’s possession— it was a funny photo texted to her by her husband. She threw it up on Marketplace “to lighten the mood.”

See more of Liz Stoppiello’s work on her Facbook page, @Stitchizbyliz.
 
LIZ STOPPIELLO/@STITCHIZBYLIZ

It was the “organic toilet paper,” a $10 baggie of leaves listed on Facebook Marketplace by her brother’s girlfriend, that inspired Liz Stoppiello, 27. The stay-at-home mom usually sells items like car seats and books on Facebook Marketplace. This week she’s offering “washable crochet toilet paper! Been used only a cpl times”  for a cool $100. The advertised off-white crochet squares, wrapped around a cardboard tube, look worthy of an Etsy storefront. It took about 30 minutes to make. She just wanted to “get a good laugh” from people and to promote her crochet-oriented Facebook page. “You never know if anyone will start to desperately need handmade items in the near future lol,” she said via email. 

Her fellow Marketplace posters might be in on the joke, but Facebook’s bots are not. The social network, which uses artificial intelligence to help monitor content and warned Monday that its systems may have removed some COVID-19-related posts in error, had flagged Traichel’s toilet paper ad for unprocessed wood as “under review.”

Facebook “must be so flooded they don’t know what to do,” Traichel emailed, adding an “lol.” He isn’t interested in making a profit, at least not on his firewood. “If people really need toilet paper, I’ll give ‘em a roll.”

Helen A. S. Popkin, Forbes Staff, Innovation


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Entrepreneurs

Houseparty: Is The Hit Coronavirus Lockdown App Safe?

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Houseparty, with 10 million downloads on Android and millions more on iPhones (Apple won’t confirm exact numbers), has become one of, if not the hit app of the coronavirus shutdown. Vogue even called it “the quarantine app you need to download immediately.”

It lets users start and join a handful of games – Heads Up!, Quick Draw! and Trivia – all with live video and chat. And, thanks to COVID-19 restrictions on people leaving the house, the Epic Games-owned property is scoring many more fans.

But Is Houseparty Safe To Use?

There is some good news on the safety front: there are no obvious flaws or dangers with the app. Forbes had cybersecurity and privacy researcher Lukas Stefanko take a look at the Android version of the app to see if there were any other potential issues. He said there was nothing of concern.

“I analyzed the app’s permissions usage and since the app provides video chats with your friends it is logical that requested permissions are necessary. I haven’t found any shady misusing of them by the app,” said Stefanko, a researcher with cybersecurity firm ESET. “The app doesn’t provide a lot of in-app options and settings, which creates less scenarios for exploiting security issues.”

From a privacy perspective, there’s one obvious issue that some might want to note before diving in: games are open to any of your friends and any of your friends’ friends, unless you lock the “room” where you’re playing. That’s easily fixable, however, with a simple hit of the padlock button at the bottom of the screen. If you don’t lock rooms down, there’s a chance people you don’t know will invade your fun.

What Does The Privacy Policy Say?

There’s also nothing obviously outrageous in the Houseparty privacy policy. Perhaps the most concerning, though, is that it can collect “anonymized and aggregated information, such as de-identified demographic information” and “de-identified location information.” As seen in recent news about antivirus company Avast, even when location data is “de-identified,” it’s still possible to find out who the person is by linking it with other information. (That kind of aggregated location tracking is something global governments have considered using to follow the spread of coronavirus. Perhaps they could ask Houseparty to help out as they’ve reportedly done with Facebook and Google.)

Whilst the app collects contacts so you can find friends to play with, the company promises it “will never share your phone number or the phone numbers of third parties in your contacts with anyone else.”

There is the standard warning that user data can be used for more targeted advertising. If you’re concerned enough about that, there are further steps you can take to protect your private information and still use Houseparty.

How To Use Houseparty Privately

There are a few things you can do to boost the privacy of your Houseparty games. First, head to settings, which can be found by first clicking the smiley face at the top left of the screen, then hitting the cogwheel button when the menu appears.

Then you can turn on private mode, which locks every room you’re in. You can also go to the permissions section and turn location on or off. It’s turned off by default, so leave it that way if you want to ensure your whereabouts are private. And if you want to go even further protecting your identity, use a fake name and birthday in the profile section.

It’s also possible to opt-out of receiving any emails, texts or notifications about Houseparty offers. Go to section 5 of the Houseparty privacy policy (it’s brief, don’t worry) to find out the best way to opt-out of each. To withdraw consent for Houseparty to use any of your personal data, users can also email [email protected]

One other neat trick learned whilst using the iPhone version of the app: hold down on the Houseparty icon and click on ‘Sneak into the House.’ That means that when you go in, none of your contacts will be notified.

Thomas Brewster, Forbes Staff, Cybersecurity

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Billionaires

How To Become A Billionaire: Nigeria’s Oil Baroness Folorunso Alakija On What Makes Tomorrow’s Billionaires

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One of only two female billionaires in Africa, with a net worth of $1 billion, Nigeria’s oil baroness Folorunso Alakija elaborates on the state of African entrepreneurship today.

The 69-year-old Folorunso Alakija is vice chair of Famfa Oil, a Nigerian oil exploration company with a stake in Agbami Oilfield, a prolific offshore asset. Famfa Oil’s partners include Chevron and Petrobras. Alakija’s first company was a fashion label. The Nigerian government awarded Alakija’s company an oil prospecting license in 1993, which was later converted to an oil mining lease. The Agbami field has been operating since 2008; Famfa Oil says it will likely operate through 2024. Alakija shares her thoughts to FORBES AFRICA on what makes tomorrow’s billionaires:

What is your take on the state of African entrepreneurship today? Is enough being done for young startups?

There are a lot of business opportunities in Africa that do not exist in other parts of the world, yet Africa is seen as a poor continent. The employment constraints in the formal sector in Africa have made it impossible for it to meet the demands of the continent’s working population of which over 60% are the youth. Therefore, it is imperative we harness the potential of Africa’s youth to engage in entrepreneurship and provide adequate assistance to enable them to succeed.

Several governments have been working to provide a conducive atmosphere which will promote entrepreneurship on the continent. However, there is still a lot more to be done in ensuring that the potential of these young entrepreneurs are maximized to the fullest. Some of the challenges young startups in Africa face are as follows: lack of access to finance/insufficient capital; lack of infrastructure; bureaucratic bottlenecks and tough business regulations; inconsistent government policies; dearth of entrepreneurial knowledge and skills; lack of access to information and competition from cheaper foreign alternatives.

It is therefore imperative that governments, non-governmental agencies, and the financial sectors work together to ameliorate these challenges itemized above.

The governments of African nations should provide and strengthen its infrastructure (power, roads and telecom); they should encourage budding entrepreneurs by ensuring that finance is available to businesses with the potential for growth and also commit to further improving their business environments through sustained investment; there must also be a constant push for existing policies and legislation to be reviewed to promote business activities.

These policies must also be enforced, and punitive measures put in place to deter offenders; government regulations should also be flexible to constantly fit the dynamics of the business environment; corruption and unethical behavior must be decisively dealt with and not treated with kid gloves. We must empower our judicial system to enable them to prosecute erring offenders with appropriate sanctions meted out. There should be no “sacred cows” or “untouchables”. The same law must be applied to all, no matter their state or position in the society; non-governmental organizations can also provide support for them through training and skills acquisition programs that will help build their capacity; they could also provide finance to grow their businesses; more mentorship programs should be encouraged, and incubators of young enterprises should be supported by public policy aimed at improving the quality of these youths and their ventures; and also, avenues should be created where young entrepreneurs will be able to connect, learn and share ideas with already successful well-established entrepreneurs.

What, according to you, are the attributes needed for tomorrow’s billionaires?

There is no overnight success. You must start by dreaming big and working towards achieving it. You must be determined to succeed despite all odds. Do not allow your setbacks or failures to stop you but rather make them your stepping stone. Develop your strengths to attain excellence and be tenacious, never give up on your dream or aspiration. Your word must be your bond. You must make strong ethical values and integrity your watchword. Always act professionally and this will enable you to build confidence in your customers and clients. 

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