Using his passion to prepare his nest egg
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.”