Behind every great mentor is a great story waiting to be told. We’ve shared some of them here. For the fast facts and essential elements that led to the leadership successes of these supernovas, be sure to check in frequently on our featured mentors.
Vusi Thembekwayo is a veritable virtuoso and tour de force – and something of a child prodigy. By the age of 17 he was already ranked first in Africa for public speaking, and was placed third in the world at the English-Speaking Union International Competition. At 25 he made enough noise to land a role as head of a R400 million division in a R17 billion multi-national. He’s put that gift of the gab to good use and is now a global speaker, venture capitalist and author. Today he drags companies kicking and screaming towards self-realisation. He’s been called a maverick, and owns this appellation with pride. When he’s not globe-trotting, in the Dragon’s Den or parenting, this petrolhead is making his mark – skid marks! – on the F1 tracks.
A career in journalism is not for the faint-hearted. Verashni Pillay embodies the pioneering, courageous spirit needed to do the job justice. Her stellar rise through the ranks and her early adoption of digital within journalism have led to several prestigious awards, such as the 2012 CNN African Journalist of the Year award in the inaugural digital journalism category, the 2013 inaugural Standard Bank Sikuvile award for multiplatform journalism, and her inclusion in the BBC’s 100 Women in 2015. She’s cut her teeth as editor-in-chief at some of the most sought-after publications in SA, such as the Mail & Guardian – where she drove circulation figures dramatically – and Huffington Post (SA). She’s since moved on to head digital at POWER 98.7.
Retired she may be, but there’s no stopping Nomava Mercy Tunzelana. Trained as a teacher at a Catholic mission school in the '60s, Nomava found her true calling and has never looked back. Since then she has focused on teaching children and adults with special needs, focusing on Deaf and Blind learners. But, more than a teacher, she is a lifelong learner. She’s lectured in African Linguistics at the University of Fort Hare, served as consultant specialist for curriculum issues in special needs schools, founded Sibonathi GF, which trains government departments on SA Sign Language, registered for a PhD, and provided dedicated mentorship to Deaf adults in the hospitality industry. In the words of her daughter, she is a true ‘servant leader’.
Trevor radiates resolve and enthusiasm. He’s a man on a mission to help corporate SA transform, by shifting substantial procurement spend to black-owned businesses. And he’s moved close to R1 billion so far since the start-up of ProcureSense in 2017. Trevor believes the key to poverty alleviation in SA is through enabling SMMEs, and with less than 10% of corporate SA’s procurement spend with black-owned SMMEs, Trevor saw the gap. As his company’s tagline has it, ‘We don’t talk transformation; we do transformation.’ And he’s been recognised for his efforts as a Top-20 finalist at the 2018 SA Small Business Awards. With 15 years of management experience, Trevor understands the pain points that SMMEs face daily, and he’s out to change that.
Nolitha overcame immense early childhood trauma and privation to become a titan in the trucking space. With the tagline ‘excellence in motion’, Nolitha TS – her 100% self-funded company – is the first black, female-owned company to work with EnviroServe to transport their waste in both KZN and Gauteng. This supernova was recently recognised at the 2018 Top-20 SA Small Business Awards gala, with the National Rising Star Champion Award. Nolitha is also a certified master coach and hypnotherapist, biofeedback practitioner and motivational speaker, whose core passion is in empowering women to penetrate male-dominated industries. And she’s fearless. She’s been driving buses since the age of 19, so there’s no challenge too big for her to handle.
Local is lekker... and localised even better. No-one embodies this more than Wandile Zando,who turned his hood into a hub of creativity and entrepreneurial magic. With zero start-upcapital but a sure sense of style, Wandile resold used clothes on the streets of Soweto with hisfriends, and in 2005 co-launched Thesis Lifestyle, an urban brand built on four pillars: clothing,retail spaces, events and social impact. They turned a dump site in Kagiso into a solar-powered, off-the-grid space and, before they knew it, fellow creatives were flocking to theirdoor. Up next is a whole lot of horizontal growth, as Thesis expands its offering across othertownships. His mantra? ‘Pressa, pusha, panda. Persevere, be optimistic, and hustle hard.’
There are those amongst us who are natural-born prodigies. One such person is 28-year-old Ludwick Marishane, who single-handedly invented a biodiesel fuel, a ‘healthy’ cigarette, a mobile dictionary, and a biodegradable waterless ‘bath’ – all before the age of 17. He’s garnered enough global awards for a man twice his age, with an inclusion on TIME’s ‘30 People under 30 changing the World’ and Forbes’s ‘30 under 30 African Young Entrepreneurs’ lists. In 2011, he was rated the best student entrepreneur in the world, and Google named him one of the ‘12 Brightest Young Minds in the World’. But behind every great prodigy there’s a great mentor: in Ludwick’s case, his father, who trained him in the fine art of critical thinking from a young age.
A self-confessed ‘hustler’, DJ Sbu grew up tough in Tembisa and found his voice while still a student, with a local radio show. Since then, that voice has taken him places: He founded an energy drink, MoFaya, co-launched his own radio station, Massiv Metro, which streams live around Jozi, and is a majority shareholder of Loko Flame vodka, which boasts flavours of the North West. He’s won awards and authored several books, most recently The Art of Hustling: Sell or Surrender. Sbu’s approach is hands-on: you make your own magic. “Nobody gives me a cheque. I fight every day to make it happen for myself.” And he’s making it happen for others with his Hustler’s Academy, providing entrepreneurial training to those who can’t afford an education.
Once a diamond in the rough, Lebo overcame tremendous obstacles to establish the GEM (Gunguluza Enterprises and Media) Group, an integrated media and hospitality group. Lebo is a natural-born entrepreneur, turnaround strategist, motivation speaker and Dragon investor on SA’s Dragons’ Den. Because of his sheer charisma, vision and tenacity, he was one of South Africa’s youngest self-made black millionaires by the age of 27. And he did it without any funding, loans or tenders. Over the years he’s built up a multi-million-rand empire. He’s emphatic about starting one’s entrepreneurial journey at a young age. ‘Find out where your talents lie when you are young, so that you can make choices that hone your skills.
Stacey started off with a BSc but won a scholarship for an entrepreneurship MBA at GIBS. Her thesis explored the notion of a sustainable financial model for low-fee private schools in SA. It was only a matter of time before her bright idea was translated into a brilliant solution to the shortage of quality, affordable education in SA. eAdvance and SPARK Schools were born, with Stacey and her co-founder driving systemic change in the industry. Stacey has since been recognised as the Elle Boss 2015, as one of the 2014 Mail & Guardian Top 200 South Africans, and is also a Mandela Washington Fellow. The SPARK blended learning model offers unlimited potential and, more importantly, is transferable to any community.