Cape Town - Siviwe “Chippa” Mpengesi is not defined by his wealth, but rather through his tenacity to rise above the penury of his background.
Throughout an interview last week, the Chippa United owner and chairman spoke about the blinkered determination and perseverance upon which he built his fortune.
Having plotted his Philippi-based club’s return to the Premier Soccer League (PSL) - the elite division of club football in South Africa - the 37-year-old Mpengesi is now focused on ensuring that Chippa remain in the top-flight.
But just who is Mpengesi, the man whose vision has rocketed little-known Chippa into national prominence?
Originally from Nqamakwe, a small township in the Eastern Cape, Mpengesi had it tough as a child. With little income in the family, he took himself off to Cape Town in 1995. He was just 18. He had nothing, just a dream in his soul and a desire to work hard.
“I was living in a shack in Nyanga,” said Mpengesi. “I was unemployed and uneducated. But I was determined that I would make things work. I took a short security course and, afterwards, got a job as a security guard. And I can assure you that conditions in the industry at the time weren’t good. Life was tough.
“I got married in 2001, making things even more difficult financially. But the turning point in my life came about when I found faith. I was guarding an abandoned building, there was nothing to do all day. I was all alone, no-one to talk to. I used to take along books and magazines and read to pass the time.
“A colleague gave me a bible, which I read from the first book to the last. And it was as if God spoke to me, that he had a plan for me. I joined the church and, through faith, my desire to own a business grew.”
Mpengesi then decided to pursue the study of the security business. He registered a company and, even as his vision grew, he struggled because he had no track record.
“I hit upon an idea, which I took to Pick ’n Pay,” he said. “Having seen all the shopping trolleys in the township, I knew that they were losing many trolleys. People were using them as modes of transport and earning money by selling them at the scrapyard. So I suggested that they hire me to collect these trolleys, which could save them lots of money. At the time, Pick ’n Pay were unimpressed, they didn’t believe that they were losing so many trolleys.
“I insisted, I persevered, until they relented. I never got a contract, but they said they would give me a letter which would authorise me to round up these trolleys.
“That was my breakthrough. It was the start I needed... I hired one guy and, in the first month, we picked up 800 trolleys, which, back then, I think saved Pick ’n Pay a large sum of money. They were impressed and offered me a contract of R40 000 a month.
“That was where it all started and, from there, I built everything that I have now.”
In addition to the football club, which is a recent venture, Mpengesi has commercial interests in waste management, trucking, print/mail, clothing, security and cleaning services. He owns properties in East London, Joburg and Cape Town.
He currently resides in Van Riebeeckshof, near Durbanville, with his wife and four boys. His faith and church - the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God, in Buitenkant Street in Cape Town - remain an integral part of his life.
So where does football fit into all of this? How did Chippa United come into being?
“My security company was awarded the tender for the 2009 Confederations Cup as well as a part of the 2010 World Cup, while I was also responsible for the management of the Philippi Stadium,” he said.
“From my experiences, I was able to witness football’s power to unite people. And I thought it would be great to do something for the people in the township. I bought the Second Division franchise of Mbekweni Sundowns and renamed the club Chippa United, after my nickname.
“The nickname comes from my days as a kid growing up in the Eastern Cape, where we used to play football in the streets. I was never very good at the game, but we all used to name ourselves. “Ace” (after the legendary Ace Ntsoelengoe) was popular with many kids, so I decided to name myself ‘Chippa’ (after popular Orlando Pirates midfielder Chippa Moloi). The name stuck... and that’s what I named my football club.”
Chippa went on to win the Second Division, taking on the challenge in the First Division, and winning promotion to the PSL at the first attempt. Unfortunately, their PSL campaign faltered and they were relegated.
But rather than be down-hearted, Mpengesi’s trademark determination set in again - and he immediately got to work in re-shaping and preparing the club. Last season, they won the First Division and are back in the PSL, where the Chippa chairman believes they belong, and where he intends them to stay.
“In our first PSL campaign, because we contested the play-offs, we never had a lot of time to prepare. This time, having won the division, we have been able to prepare properly. Plans are in place, players we need to sign have been targeted and we have an experienced coach (Serbian Kosta Papic). We will have a different approach this time.
“We know what we need to do - and I think Chippa will be the team to watch this season.”