With no formal qualifications, Qubeka says he’s a graduate of the “University of Hard Knocks”. Yet his humble beginnings never defined his future, which is fuelled by an unwavering commitment to driving black success.
Born in Soweto, the young Qubeka’s parents divorced in the 1950s and he was sent away for a time to live with his grandparents in the small mining town of Venterspost outside Westonaria, which shaped his formative political experience.
“My humility and care for people in general arises from that upbringing, where respect and hard-work were the order of the day. My major exposure to discrimination, gross racial inequality and bias stems from that environment, where ordinary black mineworkers were not considered human enough. This environment influenced my Pan Africanist orientation,” Qubeka explains from his SBDI offices in Midrand.
Qubeka returned home in his late primary school years to Orlando West, to live with his father and new stepmother, whom he describes as a “wonderful soul and a true human being” whom he still considers to be his mother from the grave.
“She moulded my belief in ordinary but strong individuals who thrive through adversity,” he says.
Money was in short supply in the Qubeka home, which meant study was simply not on the horizon: Xolani left school early and had to earn his keep. By the age of 15, the ambitious youth was already trading in fruit, stockings, meat and cold drinks; participating in stokvels; and selling newspapers.”
Qubeka’s business acumen progressed from those informal days of newspaper sales, to include later forays into hair dressing, construction, IT and telecoms, yet he remains modest, stating: “I have achieved a lot through standing on shoulders of others."
His CV reads like an entry in a “How To” tome on entrepreneurship: one of his first “formal” jobs was working as a messenger at a trading company. After that, he moved to Market Research Africa as a field worker, team leader and then supervisor, an experience which he says emboldened him in terms of his understanding of marketing and consumer behaviour. His third job, as a salesman for empowerment pioneer Richard Maponya’s General Motors dealership in Soweto, encouraged Qubeka to open his own car sales brokerage and later, he ventured briefly into construction.
During the black hairdressing boom of 1986, Qubeka opened five salons and, on the anniversary of his first store, he published “Hair Vision” - the first proudly black hairdressing magazine in the country. He was appointed the president of the African Hairdressing Association, an affiliate of the Foundation of African Business and Consumer Services (Fabcos), and later became its marketing manager.
He credits Telkom chief executive Jabu Mabuza - then Fabcos’ chief executive - for giving him his big break, when he invited him to join the Fabcos fold. “I suddenly got noticed and head-hunted in major corporate firms such as MultiChoice, Denel, the Gijima Group, and served as non-executive director during the establishment of MTN.
“Fabcos seconded me to M-Net, to its team that was working on the licensing for MTN, which culminated in me being appointed non-executive director at MTN.”
Qubeka’s career trajectory and will to succeed have inspired him to help other black entrepreneurs by smoothing their paths. He says his term as founding chief executive of the BBC, and subsequently as its secretary general, is a “monumental period” of his activist years, because there were tangible and notable successes such as the amendment of the Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment Act, the Amended B-BBEE Codes of Good Practice and the enactment of the Ministry of Small Business” .
Access to education is a matter close to his heart, because his own lack of studies frustrated him professionally. Short courses at Walton in University of Pennsylvania and Insead in Fontainebleau, France, have been valuable in “repackaging” his informally acquired business skills.
After years in leadership at the BBC, Redisa, Pamodzi and his own business, Qubelisa Enterprise Empowerment and Training, Qubeka’s relinquished those positions, handing over the reins to his son at Qubelisa, which focuses on accredited skills development and training, while he remains devoted to the SBDI.
“The SBDI is my passion - we look at interventions that give people access to major value chain of large companies. We build competence,” he explains. He says his uncompromising hard work ethic drives his daily behaviour. “Be ethical and use every minute wisely,” he believes. “Learn from those with better judgement and always have an inquisitive mind.”
Catch our live interview with Georgie Crouth this Wednesday, where she discusses the timeshare industry and a new class action lawsuit.
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- BUSINESS REPORT