From as far back as she can remember, Omphile Matane had itchy feet. Her hankering to travel to foreign shores took her into the hospitality industry where she acquired the technical skills required by hospitality industry professionals, including tremendous self-confidence. She recognised her own ability to communicate with people, to anticipate requests, and – most importantly – she realised an innate desire to meet people’s needs and a capacity to solve their problems.
During a stint in the United Arab Emirates, while building her career in an international five-star beach resort, she thought about the oasis that had been created in that desert environment. Another dry and dusty place she was calling to her – the place called home. She knew there was more to entertainment than night clubs and bars and she felt an urge to run her own establishment.
The seed has been sown and in December 2009, Omphile resigned and returned home. The dream of opening Monakaladi Gardens Wedding and Conference Venue took root in 2010, but it took a few more years to bear fruit. There were many hurdles to overcome, not least of which was the drought.
Omphile shares her story: “We spent the first two years without electricity. On top of that we lost all my savings to a dodgy contractor who let us down badly. Soon after the construction was complete, the roof began caving in. the structure had to demolished and we started all over again.”
Her husband, Rapula, resigned from his job and they used his State pension to start again. Fortunately, the payment came through in just six weeks and they the reconstruction began.
“After we got married we were renting a municipal house in the location, travelling between our home and the building site. We chose to build Monakaledi Gardens on an open piece of land in the new area. Nobody else had done anything like this. We were the first, but after building disaster, we gave up our house, erected a wendy house at the building site and moved into it with our 14-month-old daughter. Living right there, even though we had no running water, we could ensure that our building supplies weren’t stolen, whilst hoping and praying we would overcome this rocky start.
Many challenges prevent a fledgling business getting off the ground, not least of which is the dusty ground of the North West province. With a borehole and a water tank, they kept the water features sparkling and plumbing up to health standards. A little garden was pushing up new leaves too while Omphile figured out the basics of doing business. In the absence of electricity, they used ice to chill the drinks (and to water the plants once melted!) as well as gas cookers for food preparation. Petrol generators kept the events lit, but the constant anxiety of running out of petrol and the need to hire a back-up generator consumed precious resources of serenity and cash.
When Omphile was accepted onto the Tholoana programme last July, she outlined a business plan with her mentor, Ernest Mahloane. She also benefitted from attending workshops where she learned new skills that helped her put better systems in place as well as the collective wisdom and friendship of a network of other small entrepreneurs. On meeting her milestones, Omphile qualified for grant funding from SAB Foundation, which enabled her to sink a second borehole, and to fully equip her kitchen.
“Things are much better now,” says Omphile, “thanks to the grant funding that enabled us to has install electricity and equip our kitchen. This also enabled us to sink a second borehole. We no longer worry about the generator breaking down and the swimming pool and garden are in better shape.”
The challenges are ongoing, but Omphile is resourceful and resilient. All these years since her personal dream began to become a reality, she is still solving problems! Her second baby was due in May this year. “There was no space for another body in the wendy house so we moved into a new house…” With a rueful smile, Omphile continues, “… actually, it’s just half a house… We are building, still, but it’s a big improvement on a wendy house!”
Liesl Jobson is an writer, photographer and musician. Formerly a consulting editor of Books LIVE, she is now Fetola’s media co-ordinator. She is the author of Ride the Tortoise, 100 Papers, (which was translated into Italian as Cento strappi) and View from an Escalator as well as three Book Dash children’s books. She enjoys promoting the success of the small business entrepreneurs who make South Africa work.