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Bongani Thabo Mofokeng

Bongani Thabo Mofokeng

Bongani Thabo Mofokeng

Growing up was not easy for me. I grew up in Turffontein, JHB. My mother worked as a domestic worker when I was still a child.
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My name is Bongani Thabo Mofokeng, but a lot of people call me Bongani Radebe. Growing up was not easy for me. I grew up in Turffontein, JHB. My mother worked as a domestic worker when I was still a child. We stay in a backroom where my mother worked. Her source of income were 2 slices of bread which were provided Mondays and Saturdays by her boss and the rest of her payment she used to pay for the rent of the backroom. We used to share the slice of bread. Sometimes her boss would be kind enough to give her a glass of wine and grapes. These were also provided on the same days. When I was in my teenage stages I did not like what my mother was going through, so I did not want to witness any of the coming days watching her go through it again. So I decided on daily basis to go to Shoprite and assist customers to carry their groceries. How did I do this? I pushed trolleys to assist them carry their groceries to their cars or sometimes to their homes then I would bring the trolley back. In return I got a stipend (little payment).Sometimes I would volunteer to be a till packer for free and I would only get payment when a customer feels like giving me a donation. I enjoyed my job because now I could provide at home and some of the money I used for my education.
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Because my mother was not earning enough so I used to travel from Turffontein to Soweto for my education. I remember one day when I was going to Shoprite, the management advised me that they’d no longer need my services because I was still young and did not have an ID book. So they employed other people for my services.

I was sad in a process so that meant I had to go back home and witness my mother’s situation. It was the most difficult times for me as a child. I did not enjoy my childhood like for instance playing with cars because I did not have any or enjoy my mother’s love because she was always working. So the situation affected my learning at school. Sometimes I would not go to school because of finance.

Then there was this day I managed to go to school and my class teacher called me for a meeting to ask me about why I was sometimes absent. I explained to her the situation at home. She then decided that I should come and stay with her and her son. When I told my mother she was excited then I eventually relocated to my class teacher’s place.

Until one day her son took a knife and scratched her mother’s favourite expensive couches. When she came back that day she saw the scratch on the couches. She then did not look any further but beat me up. I tried to explain to her what had happened but she insisted that she gave me a place to stay and this was how I repaid her.

So I left her place and went back home where I did not like to witness my mother’s worse situation. I still continued to go to school under the circumstance then I decided to drop out from school because of finances.

When I dropped out from school my daily routine was to go to a game shop that was not far from where I lived. I enjoyed going there, meeting different people on daily basis also watching other kids while they played their games. Until one day I met these other guys, very nice, well presented guys. I enjoyed their company because they sometimes would buy me lunch.

One day one of the guys approached me and said to me that they also liked me. They said they were looking for a person to assist them, someone who had a small body and could climb over walls and go through windows. He further explained someone who listened and was able to take instructions. At that time the offer for me was convenient because money was a major concern but I did realise that the job spec the guy presented was part of criminal activities.

Because I was excelling in my job spec they promoted me to other tasks such as, house breaking and robbery as well as street robbery. Then until that day I got arrested still in my teenage years. I was then taken to Westgate court where I met a social worker who recommended that I should be transferred to BOSASA Youth Development Centre. Immediate arrangements were made for me to go to BOSASA where I arrived late that afternoon. The next morning I had to meet a Social worker from BOSASA.

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The kind of conversation that I had with the social worker was more like a concerned talk. She asked about my background. She proceeded asking me if my mother knew about my whereabouts and if I needed to make a call to inform her. She further explained that in their centre they have a school and workshops.

She then explained how things are managed in the centre. She mentioned that we needed to respect the staff when we were in class and we should be in good behaviour at all the times so they could recommend me good in court and also motivate my rehabilitation process with the court. From there I was sent to a Life skills programme.

The programme entailed, counseling where they emphasised ethics of being a person again e.g.: respect, dealing with peer pressure, anger management and generally how you can conduct yourself around other people.

After the programme I had to choose which workshop would best suite me. So I chose Arts and Crafts merely because I had love for it and I still do. There was an educator in the workshop. She took her time explaining how it works and the expectation of working in that kind of a workshop. The name of the educator that worked closely with us was Tanie Irene. She was such a kind and hard working mother.

I considered her most of the time as my mother because of the love she had for her job and me. She remembered my birthdays, sometimes she would cry after receiving the feedback from the court. Our workshop on daily basis used to open from 09:00am ‘till 12p. She also explained that if anyone was interested to stay behind for extra lessons they were most welcomed.

This was where I met my other partner Jabu Maphosa at extra lessons. I remember that Tanie would sometimes not stay for long on our extra lessons. She would have to leave early to attend meetings. She sometimes left us (me and Jabu) with clear tasks that needed to be carried out.

I remember one day she had to make the most difficult decision of her life. By taking up that decision she could have lost her job. There was an exhibition that was going to take place. We had worked very hard for the presentation. And one of her colleagues said that since she had taken it upon herself that she would be taking her boys (Me and Jabu) to the Mogale city for the exhibition, she had to sign some documents.

She did this and explained to us of the situation. One of the lessons that she taught us was how to speak in public. I remember there was a lady by the name of Thandi. I found out later she was the chairperson of BOSASA Youth Centres. We called her Sis Thandi. She was taking guests around the exhibition area, when they approached our presentation and Jabu we had to talk around our presentation.

This went well because after the exhibition we received alot of presents and chocolates. Chocolates then were an achievement of a life time. I enjoyed those times. One of the promises that BOSASA made to us was after the programmes they would find us a job. Jabu got the offer and I was not fortunate because I received 12 yrs sentence from the court and was not allowed to be kept IN the BOSASA Youth Centre. I remember Tanie was there, crying.

Life after BOSASA

I served my time under maximum supervision, the type of sentence which made me stay in solitary confiment. After four years I was sent to medium prison security. Again there I had to choose which workshop would best suite me. Because there was no Arts and Craft, I chose the lrarning area of Hospitality. My daily routine there was to cook (a chef).

My mother could not come either to visit me because she did not have an ID, the only place she could come and visit it’s when I had court date where should could kiss me and hug and give me goodies. She could not visit also during family days because she did not have an ID.

Life after the sentence

I was released in 2010by the parole board. My sister was the one who signed my release documents. So I went to stay at her place. Within a week, she told me that I needed to move out because she was uncomfortable with me staying at her place. She also didn’t like the fact that I had visits from correctional officers who were ensuring that I was adhering to the parole conditions at all times.

At that time I had neither an ID nor a job. So I went around looking for a place to stay until I walked past an old friend who was willing to offer me a place to stay. I relocated immediately. I also realised that I had nothing to pack because already I was wearing the clothes which one of the correctional officers had bought for me for my release. My sister also gave me some few blankets.

My friend’s father was not comfortable with my moving in because of my background. I realised that I needed to look for a job, so I went to another friend’s house for a visit. There I walked into her sister Veronica whom I knew from a long time ago. She advised me that her brother was not around. She then accompanied me to my new place. On the way I was explaining my situation to her.

I could see sadness in her face, so she volunteered to do a CV for me. I then remembered that at some stage BOSASA had promised me a job, so I went back to BOSASA and I spoke to Sis Thandi. She advised me that there was someone she could speak to about a vacancy for me. Then she advised me that the guy could not take me for the available position because I did not have an ID.

That was difficult for me because I was desperately looking for a job. In the meantime I used to do domestic duties around my friend’s place as a token of appreciation to them (I cleaned the dustbins, swept the yard and did the old man’s laundry among other things. Sometimes I would sleep without eating anything but because Veronica was still around, she sometimes brought food for me.

Then one day my mother and I decided to go to home affairs to do an ID application. They advised us that they needed family members to represent us. My mother’s family was living in Sasolburg. Veronica assisted me with transport money to see family in Sasolburg. When I explained the situation to them they advised me that I needed to bring my mother to Sasolburg because they had financial problems.

I went back to BOSASA for assistance. I spoke to Sis’ Thandi about the situation and she gave us money for transport and money for food. So the following day my mother and I went to Sasolburg home affairs for ID applications. When we came back I gave the feedback to Sis Thandi and she was excited for me. We waited for the ID application for 6 months.

When we did the follow up the ID application was still pending. We escalated the matter until we both got our IDs. I went back to BOSASA and I gave them the feedback. Sis Thandi was happy but she could not place me in a job that she once had because at that time nothing was available. So I had to come up with a plan. What really made me to focus on my plan was I did not like my domestic duties.

So I remembered that at some point I was placed at Arts and Crafts workshop. So went back to BOSASA to present my skills. The lady I spoke to was Mrs Karren. She was fantastic. She was the lady who gave me the kick start of opening a business. She applied for funds from BOSASA so that I could manufacture candles.

So I made candles and sold them. Some of the candles were placed in one of BOSASA display areas. For a while my little candle business went well. I could afford the basics and also walk with my head held high. The business did not last for long because of lack of marketing skills and basic business fundamentals so it lapsed.

Then we decided to open a business called African dreams. There were 3 directors, Veronica, my friend and I. We did not give up. We then opened up a business called Shinning Future with the same expertise as African Dreams. It also lapsed because of the above reasons but mostly was because we had too many directors.

I remember the department of finance loved how we did things and so they called us. The man that called us advised us that there was a vacancy that was due for our business. He requested few documents such as: business bank acc, tax clearance, BEE certificate, ECT.We had everything but accept for business acc which we could not do because of too many director, we could not meet at once to sign off the business acc.

We did not give up, so Veronica and I decided to open up a business now called Orebotse Leruo Projects PTY (L.T.D).Because of our previous experience, this time we sat down, planned, analysed all the loop holes that we had. The solution that we had came up with proper systems that we thought we should put in place. We had proper planning and adapted to the philosophy of the small business which was buying,

We started Selling, Borrowing, Paying, Marketing and Keeping the clients. Then we got all the relevant business documents for our business. We also registered with one of the government department for a vendor number. For capital no one was willing to assist us because we were a small business with minimum experience.

Some of the investors stated that they couldn’t assist us financially because we were a risk to them. I remember reading a book called ABC OF GETTING OUT OF DEBT by Garret Sutton. What I learned from that book was the bad debt and the good debt. We learned also how to make an income debt and we also learned that bad debt can make you poorer and poorer. So we went ahead and applied for a personal loan which we used as capital.

But before we started with our business we did our investigations such as: what is the need around us, how quick can this product sell, can we make a profit out of it? The need that we both picked up was selling ladies leather bags. These bags are not just leather bags; they are unique, stylish corporate bags. Because our bags are so unique they come with the cost so we had to sit down and come up with a strategy that we could offer them at a reasonable selling price.

It was a bit challenging because our suppliers were selling at a high price and on the other side our customers were all types of customers. So we both decided to come up with a credit facility. We marketed the types of bags to our customers via emails, catalogue, then we would go and buy the bag from our supplier then offered free delivery.

The customers did not make the payment immediately. They only paid at the end of the month. Credit business is challenging for any business unit. But we risked it, we made our customers to sign a contract to show commitment for their next payment date. The contract also stipulated that the client had received their items that they had ordered. It was in good condition and it also had instalment agreement, our installments were interests free.

We started off with 23 customers. Our client base expanded simply because our clients loved our services. We made their shopping easier. We brought our catalogues into their work places and even delivered their bags at work. We now have 300 clients.

Before payment date, we dedicate time to send reminder smses to our customers reminding them of their due amount and the appointment date as per their contract agreement. We did experience a loss in our company when a customer resigned and did not communicate with us nor leave a forwarding address.

But we are happy to announce that our client base is increasing on daily bases. We are now looking into investing in property. But my heart goes to the young men and women who are going through what I experienced. If God allows it, we will get a bigger operation and I will spend a lot of time assisting these young children and also assist the government in job creation especially for the youth in South Africa.
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