‘I have no time for victim mentality’

The name Nelson Mandela comes easily and readily out of the mouth of the founder and chief executive of Sakhumzi restaurant, the hospitality entity located within the precincts of the buzzy Orlando West’s famous Vilakazi Street, Soweto.

That is not the only name that jumps easily out of his mouth. The name of Desmond Tutu also dances on his lips.

Both Mandela and Tutu have since died, but “their impact of ethical living and integrity have anchored my life in ways words cannot adequately describe”.

“They were both our neighbours, loved by all. We knew them; they inspired us, and instilled in us a sense of duty and justice.”

“I carry the name Sakhumzi with pride because I chose not to see myself as a victim of circumstances, but rather a nation builder.”

Popular eatery restuarant, Sakhumzi on Vilakazi Street, Orlando west, Soweto

“That is what Sakhumzi means – to build not only your home, but a nation, and create job opportunities for others, and to provide a service that makes the world happy,” says the bubbly Sakhumzi Maqubela.

Of the two Nobel Peace prize winners, Mandela and Tutu, he says: “Madiba told us not to be overwhelmed by challenges, and never to be given to the devastation of victim mentality syndrome and hatred.

“It is that spirit driving me to pursue my entrepreneurial journey with confidence and vigour. We should not wring our hands in despair, but we have to confront our challenges with courage in the midst of darkness.

“Tutu told us to build a rainbow nation, to work together as South Africans; to appreciate the value of otherness, and to build a bond across the colour line.”

Maqubela’s parents died in a car accident when he was 15 in 1985.

“But they left us a legacy. My father was ugweva, a bootlegger, and we learnt at an early age what it meant to be self-sufficient. There were 16 of us cramped in a township four-roomed house. Out of nothingness came out this famous restaurant. I am grateful to God and my ancestors.”

Our interview this week was scheduled to last for 45 minutes but ended up being a two-hour affair. As he explained his vision for his business, a bus with overseas tourists pulled in. A restaurant attendant motioned him towards where the coach was parked.

“I am sorry, Mfundisi,” he says.

“Duty calls every hour here; I trust you won’t mind; uyazibonela,” which is, “you can see for yourself how busy this place is, but I am sorry for this interruption”.

A flurry of business activity unfolds.

A few minutes earlier, a group of black and white pupils, and their teachers, disembarked from another coach, to, in the words of their tour leader and history teacher, Thami Nkabinde, “enjoy the Sakhumzi restaurant experience”.

“If we want to build a shared future, we must each of us experience the totality of our country’s landscape, and Sakhumuzi restaurant has been a revelation to many of our pupils, many of whom have never been to any township, let alone Soweto,” says Nkabinde.

As we reconvened, an hour later, to wind up our interview, Maqubela, born in Orlando West 51 years ago, says he started off as a bank messenger at Wesbank, rose through the ranks, and began to appreciate the need to “build the nation”.

“The very house that was home to a family of 16, has now morphed to become one of the most famous restaurants in the world. I am indebted to the community of Soweto, and all the patrons who have made my business a success.

“If we are to reduce poverty and unemployment in this country, we must replicate thousands of Sakhumuzi restaurants, and throw into the sea the pervasive victim mentality syndrome, which is destroying our country.”

Besides the hospitality business, Maqubela is diversifying his business interests.

“We run a panel-beating business – Safana Panelbeaters, which is supported by all major insurance houses.

“We have also established Sakhumzi Stokvel, a business vehicle “calculated at supporting communities in times of need”.

Maqubela has, at all the business, a permanent staff of 86, and six interns, “and this does not account for indirect jobs created on Vilakazi Street because of our business”.

“We have helped many of our staff members to cross the bridge. Some have qualified as engineers and accountants.”

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