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The grain milling trailblazer

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South Africa needs mavericks that embrace innovative entrepreneurship like Xolani Ndzaba to take charge in redressing the post-Apartheid lingering economic imbalances. Ndzaba is the founder and managing director of Lethabo Milling, a fastest growing black-owned grain milling company.

Ndzaba optimises the extraordinary feats that black South Africans, indeed all South Africans, can attain if they put their minds to something.  His knack for taking calculated risks drove him into a field that is still considered ‘un-black’ even twenty one years after the country’s democracy, and he has excelled.

Like many a successful entrepreneur, Ndzaba is informed by the circumstances experienced from his background. Unlike his peers, Soweto born and bred and the only boy in a family of seven sisters, Ndzaba was in a privileged position of being introduced into business at the tender age of eight by his father, learning to buy items and selling them at a profit, mainly peanuts, apples and cheap perfume.

A family tragedy in 1977 would alter the course of Ndzaba’s life forever.  The untimely death of his father through a political assassination meant that he had to mature faster and become more independent. Feeling that the best way to pay back his late father was through working hard in an area in which his passion was, he engrossed himself in business.

Indeed, Lethabo Milling could have made the late Ndzaba senior a very proud dad!

Looking back, Ndzaba confesses to Transform SA Online that the decision to venture into milling was very brave one in 2007, when some black South Africans’ idea of business was (and sadly still is) tenderprenuership: supplying products to government institutions at inflated prices. But he knew that he needed foresight and good application.

About what inspired him about milling, Ndzaba says: “Maize meal is a food product that is consumed daily which makes it a good business case and presents an excellent business opportunity for us. Most of the consumption comes from the black population but none of the maize meal producers were owned by black people until our arrival in this market.”

The 25 years of experience he gathered in operational and strategic skills in manufacturing, sales and logistics from stints with various organisations as an employee in the Fast Moving Consumer Goods (FMCG) has turned out to be Lethabo’s invaluable human resource.

“I am very fortunate and privileged to have worked for some of the big and best food processing companies in the Republic of South Africa and have applied most of the acquired during my term of employment and my experience is solely based on food processing / production.”

He studied Production Management, Sales & Marketing Management then completed Management Development Programme at the Unisa School of Business Leadership. He has held posts such as Production Manager, Plant Manager, Factory Manager, Manufacturing Development Specialist and Sales Manager.

Ndzaba’s experience, together with the business vision and plan he articulated was the reason ABSA Bank did not hesitate to provide seed capital for the milling project.

Moreover, Lethabo Milling has made the most of a grant and guarantees committed from Massmart’s Supplier Development Fund.

“We (Lethabo Milling) have also also invested cash injection into the business as commitment to the venture,” reveals Ndzaba.

Lethabo’s supplies its products mainly to the Massmart Group and United National Breweries, but it caters for other clients when demand arises.

In a fiercely competitive market, Ndzabo says his company does not rest on its laurels and is always looking for ways to improve its productivity. “We have plans in place to enter and sustain its existence in the market. We also have a solid sales, marketing and route to market plan that is based on the current and future market requirements.”

Lethabo’s long term business objective is to expand its product line and acquire a much bigger mill and to create more jobs in a region that has extremely high unemployment.

The milling plant is based in Ventersburg in the Free State Province and the company has also offices in Roodepoort, Gauteng Province. Lethabo currently employs around 25 people and the number will increase to 40 in coming months.

On what government can and should do to improve the conditions for Small, Micro and Medium Enterprises (SMMEs), Ndzabo suggests: “There is a need for ongoing training and non-financial support in terms of obligatory mentorship/coaching so as to facilitate the success of the businesses.”

Besides, he firmly believes obligatory mentorship for small businesses to share ideas and to further enhance entrepreneurs’ skills and knowledge could realise the potential of the small business sector.

First published in  TrailblazserSA

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