From Cape Town to Lusaka: 7 entrepreneurs making their mark in Southern Africa

Matlhogonolo Mongwa-Mouwane, founder of Kalafhi Medical Center in Botswana

Matlhogonolo Mongwa-Mouwane, founder of Kalafhi Medical Center in Botswana

From a Cape Town clothing brand backed by rugby captain Siya Kolisi to a company commercialising goat meat in Zambia, we highlight seven entrepreneurs building businesses in Southern Africa.

1. Corporate to coffee: Surfer builds coffee chain in Namibia

Dennis de Wet is the founder of Namibian coffee chain Slowtown. Upon deciding to leave his corporate career, he listed the things he was passionate about: surfing, Grand Prix, wine, food, and coffee, and looked at each industry to see if he could spot a viable business opportunity. At the time, specialty coffee roasting was just taking off in neighbouring South Africa but had not yet found a foothold in Namibia. In October 2011, Slowtown opened its first shop in a central and popular spot in Swakopmund. Today, the company has a chain of six retail outlets. Read the full interview

2. Botswana: Doctor-turned-entrepreneur capitalises on healthcare opportunities

When Matlhogonolo Mongwa-Mouwane founded Kalafhi Medical Center in Botswana in 2018, she kept costs to a minimum. She was the only employee and refrained from spending on décor or any extras until revenue permitted. “It doesn’t actually cost a lot of money [to open a private practice],” says Mongwa-Mouwane. “We are always so afraid to start because we envision the bigger picture or where we want to end up being [that] we don’t allow ourselves … to start with the bare minimum.” She used her own savings to buy the basic equipment needed like desks, beds, blood pressure and vital signs machines.

This strategy paid off. Today, Kalafhi has four clinics, three pharmacies, a physiotherapy centre, and an aesthetic clinic. Read the full interview 

3. Chilli sauce from Eswatini finds global success

From its base in Eswatini (formerly known as Swaziland), Black Mamba, a chilli sauce company, is tapping into the growing global demand for spicy tastes and the increasing allure of African foods. To date, it has exported to over a dozen countries, with the UK, Norway, and Germany standing out as key markets. Claudia Castellanos, co-founder and CEO of Black Mamba, notes that from its inception, the company aimed its products at the export market.

The founders shifted to a premium market positioning for their products after facing financial challenges early on due to incorrect pricing. Initially, Black Mamba products were priced to drive volume growth, but by 2014, the company’s financial situation was dire. However, they managed to restructure the business and introduced a new approach by mid-2015. “By changing our pricing strategy through rebranding, we managed to make Black Mamba profitable again. We also realised that it’s not always about volume, sometimes it’s about charging the right price for the right market. So I would rather sell less at a price that it needs to be sold, than sell at a price that is not good for me,” Claudia noted. Read the full interview

4. A South African clothing business built with a little help from a rugby captain

Freedom of Movement is a South African clothing and accessories brand co-founded by the Boezaart brothers. With South African rugby captain Siya Kolisi as a minority shareholder, the company has expanded to 21 stores and has a growing international presence.

While the company has found its stride in recent years, co-founder and CEO Léan Boezaart says the initial five years were particularly difficult. In those early days, the brothers led a modest lifestyle, with their first self-issued pay cheque amounting to around R8,000 (about $425), which, as Boezaart points out, was hardly enough to live on. During this time, Boezaart, who married in 2012, supplemented his income with consulting work to make ends meet.

“It was tough because you start comparing yourself to other chartered accountants who are now buying houses and cars and whatnot, and you are sweating it out … But we fully believed that we could take this thing to the next level … You don’t necessarily need a magical idea. I mean, we didn’t reinvent the wheel, leather bags have been around for years. But we took a leap of faith and backed ourselves.” Read the full interview

5. Zambian entrepreneur taps into goat meat market

Zambian entrepreneur Paul Nyambe founded Zamgoat with the goal of commercialising goat meat, a product that was surprisingly scarce in supermarkets despite widespread goat farming in the country. Zamgoat quickly found success, experiencing rising demand for pre-packaged goat meat. To meet this demand, the company established a network of smallholder farmers from whom it sources goats. With financial backing from various entities, including the African Development Bank and the World Bank, Zamgoat set up a goat slaughterhouse and processing facility. The company has also launched a quick-service restaurant chain, Zamgoat Xpress. Read the full interview 

6. Zimbabwe: Solving farmers’ transport issues with electric tricycles

Mobility for Africa’s low-cost electric tricycles cater to the transportation needs of small-scale farmers in rural Zimbabwe. “We created Mobility for Africa to help improve the quality of life, create economic opportunities and increase access-to-market for these rural communities,” says managing director and founder, Shantha Bloemen.

The company is currently focused on deploying fleets of electric tricycles, called Hambas, with off-grid battery charging and swapping. “We target areas where there is already access to the power grid and build solar stations to supplement the existing electricity supply,” Bloemen explains.

Mobility for Africa has three different revenue models: farmers or small business owners can group together to rent the tricycles on a monthly basis, opt for a lease-to-purchase model, or use the tricycles to provide transportation and logistics services on a commission basis. Read the full interview

7. This entrepreneur went where nobody goes to start dried fruit business in Mozambique

“We go where nobody goes,” reads a line on Mozambique-based fruit-drying company AfriFruta’s website. It adequately captures the journey of founder Jaco le Roux over the past decade or so. In a remote area with little infrastructure and a dearth of educated workers, he created a dried fruit business from scratch. AfriFruta is a producer of organic dried mango and coconut oil, among several other related products. Its production facility is located about 90 minutes south of the coastal town of Inhambane. Read the full interview