Us­ing his pas­sion to pre­pare his nest egg

CityPress - - Business - LIESL PRE­TO­RIUS busi­ness@city­

Eric Thoka’s tiny home vil­lage is more than 300km from Jo­han­nes­burg, where he works in tele­vi­sion.

But ru­ral Ga-Mphahlele in Lim­popo is never far from the 25-year-old’s thoughts. He dreams of start­ing a chicken farm, which would cre­ate em­ploy­ment in an area where youth un­em­ploy­ment is rife and “in­ter­net ac­cess is a lux­ury”.

We sit and chat on a bright red couch at En­de­mol Shine Africa in Joburg, where Eric is an in­tern at the pro­duc­tion com­pany’s academy.

Por­traits of fa­mous faces on local tele­vi­sion, such as Isidingo ac­tor Dar­ling­ton Michaels (who plays Ge­orgie Zamdela) and Ed Jor­dan (re­mem­ber the show Deal or No Deal?) adorn the walls.

“TV seems glam­orous from the out­side, but I have a big­ger goal,” Eric says, re­fer­ring to his farm­ing plans.

He re­mem­bers a chicken farm that was once a life­line to many in his com­mu­nity. “It just shut down,” he says.

In an at­tempt to cre­ate op­por­tu­ni­ties for young peo­ple back home – be­yond dig­ging toi­lets or be­com­ing driv­ers – he has started the com­pany BaswaTe­mong (Young Peo­ple in Farm­ing) along with Phol­ogo Mphalele, a friend from Lim­popo, and Ke­filoe Bopape.

Ke­filoe is the en­tre­pre­neur be­hind the Life Af­ter Ma­tric project, which aims to pre­pare young peo­ple “for a bet­ter, pur­pose-filled and pas­sion­ate fu­ture”.

It is a good busi­ness match, Eric says, be­cause they are both in­ter­ested in com­mu­nity de­vel­op­ment. How did Eric go from TV to chick­ens? He chose the en­ter­tain­ment busi­ness in Grade 10. The re­ac­tion from Eric’s mum, a do­mes­tic worker at the time, and his un­em­ployed fa­ther was: “Your sis­ter is go­ing to be a sci­en­tist and you want to be a clown?”

Far from be­ing dis­cour­aged, Eric set out to prove him­self – at one point sur­pris­ing his fam­ily by ap­pear­ing on tele­vi­sion with­out prior no­tice. Af­ter ma­tric, when Eric was un­sure how to get a ter­tiary ed­u­ca­tion with­out money, he took time out to re­search and plan his jour­ney. Armed with a Na­tional Stu­dent Fi­nan­cial Aid Scheme (Ns­fas) loan, he went to study drama at the Tsh­wane Univer­sity of Tech­nol­ogy while stay­ing with a cousin in a hostel in Tem­bisa, on the East Rand. “I was a vil­lage boy from Lim­popo. It was an eye­opener. Every­thing was for­eign,” he says. In his sec­ond year, he gained ac­cess to a res­i­dence, but had to drop out shortly there­after – be­cause only half of his Ns­fas money for the pre­vi­ous year had been paid. “If you do not have a qual­i­fi­ca­tion, you have to work harder than ever,” Eric says, ex­plain­ing how he sup­ported him­self by writ­ing for TV shows. In 2014, he spot­ted an op­por­tu­nity to ap­ply for fund­ing from the depart­ment of arts and cul­ture. He be­came the fes­ti­val di­rec­tor of the PopArt pub­lic art fes­ti­val in Pretoria. Hav­ing man­aged this R400 000 project has given Eric con­fi­dence that he can work with “that kind of money”. Eric says there are many op­por­tu­ni­ties for en­trepreneurs, but they are not free. Some in­cu­ba­tors re­quire you to be present daily, which means you are un­able to work to pay your rent. Other op­por­tu­ni­ties re­quire reg­is­tra­tion or monthly fees – or only sup­port those al­ready trad­ing. To get his busi­ness plan up to scratch, he has ap­proached an agency, for which “you have to pop out money”, he says. At the same time, he is sav­ing to buy land for the chicken farm. Per­se­ver­ance has served him well. He says if peo­ple do not an­swer your emails or calls, knock on doors. “Make the per­son un­der­stand how se­ri­ously you want it.”

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