Sisters doing it for themselves on Vilakazi Street

Sight of an ecstatic moment as co-owners, Elizabeth Lekhoana, Florence Mashaba (obscured) and Mpho Pibantu watch as financier, Sipho Pityana cut the ribbon signaling the opening of their ME Salon, Vilakazi Street-Soweto. All images Jacob MAWELA

Among them, they brag an experience spanning some 11 years in the hair grooming industry among their exuberant, uniformly black-clad selves, sprightly as they became the latest occupants of Soweto’s much coveted address, Vilakazi Street when Old Mutual, Nedbank and Izingwe enabled them to dream big through the rather swish opening of their ME salon with Joburg First Lady, Connie Mashaba and Executive Chairman of Izingwe Sipho Pityana, a stake holding interest in the ground-breaking venture – in resplendent attendance!

The occasion, which commenced on a slow-awaking Soweto Saturday morning, was worth showing up one’s physicality at as it featured a rare champagne breakfast whose adornments constituted an exquisite, tongue-slapping-across-the-lips appetizing layout of gourmet bakes in the form of designer, not-randomly-sampled cakes and champers on ice [with flute glasses partially filled with berries and strawberry half wedges] assertively laid-out flanking the entrance of the customized shipping container workspace still wrapped with a symbolic, to-be-scissors-cut ribbon at the entrance.

None other than industry-familiar figure in the form of Connie Mashaba bowled the gambit: “I am delighted to address those of you gathered here today for the launch of the ME Salon, right here in Soweto on Vilakazi Street, the very heart of social innovation and entrepreneurship.

Vilakazi Street is the birthplace of disruptors.  It is where famously, our most respected residents, thought about ways in which to change society.  Soweto, is the birthplace of self-sufficiency, of resilience, determination, and most importantly, of entrepreneurship.

Since its earliest days Soweto has had to be self-sufficient – to be a community that provides for itself. Its residents had to be disruptors – to find ways of doing things differently. Soweto 2018 is the perfect South African community in which to launch a new entrepreneurial venture.”

Mashaba touched on the grim reality of unemployment in South Africa by pointing out that research shows that 60% of South Africa’s unemployed live in townships and informal settlements.

“Asad Alam -the country director for the World Bank Group says that South African townships are filled with “working-age people desperate for economic opportunity”, she underlined.

“But, here is the good news”, she went on, “First National Bank estimates Soweto’s consumer spend potential at R5 billion. As a business woman that tells me that there are five billion excellent reasons to set up business right here in Soweto.

And that is exactly what ME has done, by opening their Salon here in Vilakazi Street.

It’s a show of good faith, it’s a very astute business investment in an economy that is growing and waiting for investors to realize its vast consumer potential.  I salute ME for their determination to support local.

I congratulate them on the opportunities that they will create for the unemployed.  By establishing their salon here in Vilakazi Street, they are bringing what is arguably one of the biggest economic sectors to Soweto – the beauty industry.”

Mashaba added that it was somewhat disappointing that most of the money earned by Sowetans was spent at the malls in the surrounding suburbs of Sandton and Fourways.

Establishing ME in Soweto, she offered, was an invitation to Sowetans to attend to their beauty needs right in their own community.  Its presence meant that Sowetans could spend the money they earned right in their own community!

Chimed in Sipho Pityana: “Our townships have seen a lot of entrepreneurial activity which has been marginalized or suffocated. Our partnership offers a realistic prospect for its mainstreaming as profitable businesses of scale.”

Through The Black Business Partners (BBP) Legacy Programme – set up by Old Mutual, Nedbank and Izingwe – Pityana, an outspoken ANC heavyweight, is part of a partnership aiming to recharge SA’s economy through investment in entrepreneurs, such as the R3 million investment to back five aspiring salon owners (franchisees) to participate in an exciting new franchise that launched on Vilakazi Street.

This is the latest commitment as part of the Programme’s ongoing drive to support South Africa’s economically critical Small and Medium Enterprise (SME) sector.

The SME sector in South Africa is regarded as an engine of economic growth and development, with the potential to accelerate transformation and alleviate the scourges targeted by the National Development Plan: poverty, unemployment and inequality.

The franchise, My Expressions Salons, plans to open five trendsetting hair salons across Gauteng with sites identified in Soweto, Alexandra, Tembisa, Soshanguve and Vosloorus.

Apart from receiving financial support, the salons will benefit from a dynamic ecosystem of business support, capacity building and professional advice from franchisors and the BBP Legacy Programme.

As Old Mutual prepares for its return to the African continent with a primary listing on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange (JSE) Ltd later this year, it is deepening its commitment and strengthening its support for entrepreneurship, the SME sector and job creation in South Africa.

The recommendation for approval by the Competition Commission to the Competition Tribunal for the newly incorporated Old Mutual Limited to acquire Old Mutual plc – with the conditions agreed to between Old Mutual Emerging Markets and the Economic Development Department (EDD) is a significant step towards the listing of Old Mutual Limited as a stand-alone entity this year.

As part of the managed separation, Old Mutual will reduce its 54% shareholding in Nedbank to a 19,9% strategic minority.

Old Mutual Emerging Markets and the Economic Development Department have reached agreement in relation to three critical public interest issues that Old Mutual Limited will address: Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) Ownership, Employment and Enterprise and Supplier Development (ESD).

According to the Banking Association of South Africa, SMEs have been identified as productive drivers of inclusive economic growth and development in South Africa and globally. Some researchers have estimated that in SMEs in South Africa make up 91% of formalised businesses, provide employment to about 60% of the labour force and account for about 34% of GDP in total economic output.

Khanya Okumu, Enterprise Development Manager at Old Mutual, said: “What makes the launch that took place on Saturday so exciting is that it demonstrates a highly effective way of empowering new businesses and entrepreneurs.

It is a clear indication of the power of collaboration to create a nurturing ecosystem that drives both social and business value. We are proud of our growing role in supporting the economic revitalisation of our townships.”

Successful township businesses help the broader community by providing better services, creating jobs and building vital skills in technology, customer service, as well as fundamental retail areas. Initiatives such as these are helping independent entrepreneurs to overcome the challenges, make their businesses successful and play a greater role in growing the economy.

Nedbank’s Executive of Strategy, Priya Naidoo, expressed her joy in seeing the fruits of the long hours spent with the partners in structuring a holistic support solution to support and grow aspiring entrepreneurs in the townships.

ME Salon franchisees, Mpho Pibantu, Elizabeth Lekhoana and Florence Mashaba pose with Joburg First Lady, Connie Mashaba at the opening of their Vilakazi Street Salon.

“Nedbank’s transformation framework supports national strategic priorities such as small business development, and is underpinned by our purpose of using our financial expertise to do good for all stakeholders.

The goal is to build a bank that contributes meaningfully to improving the lives of all South Africans. The Legacy Programme and the launch this weekend is just one of the proof points.”

Kim Thompson, Director of My Expressions, said the Franchisor believes the determination displayed by everyone involved, including the young stylists on the My Expressions team, bodes well for South Africa’s economic success.

“Four years of extremely hard work have finally brought our dreams to life. These young stylists are genuine examples of entrepreneurship in its most sustainable form. They followed their dreams persistently, and it is inspiring to see them work every day improving their own lives and those of their communities.”

Okumu sums it up: “The South African landscape is changing and the launch event in Vilakazi Street, Soweto is an exciting example of what can be achieved when opportunity is seized and the right partners are on board.”

In that context, The Black Business Partners (BBP) Legacy Programme will hopefully set the hair and beauty grooming trio of Mashaba, Lekhoana and Mofokeng on the path of economic independence!

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