Entrepreneur Lesika Matlou
Finweek j oined entrepreneur Lesika Matlou – founder of Ek Sê Tours – and saw a world of opportunity through the eyes of the next generation who will shape the country over the next decade.
Born in a small village in the North West Province, Matlou grew up without access to many opportunities, but today he is the owner of a promising tour operations company that takes locals and tourists on trips around Soweto. Having recently signed his f irst R1m contract, Matlou is clearly good at what he does.“There are opportunities all around us, we just need to be open to them,” he tells Finweek as he guides us through the city
We stop in Jabulani, where the pristinely maintained parks and recreational areas have swings and slides for children. There is also an outdoor gym.
Next to t hese parks, highlighted by the horizon, is the Soweto Theatre made up of three-tiled buildings in different colours, and on the same site is the previous theatre that closely resembles an athletics stadium, with a concrete stage that makes the current theatre look positively palatial. The interior has suspended walkways, with murals on the walls depicting cartoon-like gumboot dancers and other emblematic scenes from the local community. Across the road, the lively Jabulani mall f lourishes and attracts major retail stores such as The Cross Trainer and Woolworths.
“This is the Soweto that I want people to see,” Matlou says. The last highlight of the tour is the largest taxi rank in Africa, which lies in the shadow of the Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital, which is also the largest hospital on the cont i nent a nd t he t hird-l argest in the world. From this taxi rank, I was told that for about R250 you can catch a taxi to Maputo and for about R350 you can catch a taxi to Harare. Matlou tells of when he was transporting school children in his vehicles as part of a community service project and had to appear before the ‘ Taxi Mafia’ to ask for permission, and to present his case that he was not funding another syndicate’s business by offering this service at a fee.
The taxi industry, coupled with the power of the ‘ ta xi boss’ speaks to an interesting dynamic for Soweto. If the research from the Unilever study is to be understood, owning a car is imperative for the rising black middle class who don’t want to sl ip back into the habit of travelling by taxi. Black middle class car ownership is up by 1.1m since 2004 (45%).
In an interview with Finweek earlier this year, Martin Laubscher, CEO of Barloworld Automotive and Logistics, says that the two dealerships that operate in Soweto are turning over more than 100 units per month.
The taxi rank is replete with stalls selling food and small household items, and the smell of cooked cow skop and maize permeates the air.
There is a fascinating dynamic taking place here with small vendors now having to compete with larger commercial operators working their way into highgrowth areas of Soweto.
Research from Urban Landmark says that while the introduction of major shopping malls, such as Jabulani, were net positive for the community, 70% to 80% of those polled, who operated informal businesses within 5km of the malls, noted a downturn in their businesses. The biggest challenge that these operators faced is that they cannot afford the space rentals in these areas.
One of the concerns raised by the City of Johannesburg in the original project road map was that there was around R4.2bn in disposable income in Soweto, but only a quarter of it was spent on the local economy. The majority of spend was still spent in the Johannesburg CBD and
Mural at Jabulani Theatre