Johannesburg - Apiwe Nxusani-Mawela’s entrepreneurial journey is characterised by many challenges, extreme highs, and adversity. Most importantly, her resilience shines through when all is said and done.
Nxusani-Mawela was part of a panel at the “Sober Discussions” event held at the Box Shop in Soweto on the famous Vilakazi Street Tuesday, 15 June, the eve of Youth Day.
The event was hosted by the #WeUprising Movement, a non-profit company that seeks to empower budding entrepreneurs in the township.
The premise of the event was to reflect on the challenges the youth of 1976 faced, discuss the challenges today’s youth face like unemployment ,and map a way forward for township entrepreneurs to thrive and build a sustainable future.
Nxusani-Mawela’s claim to fame is that she is the first black woman in South Africa to found a microbrewery. She describes herself as a proud African woman and a brewmaster who celebrates beer-making by taking Africa to the world.
She laments how women have been robbed of their legacy, when it comes to making beer.
She said: “My brand is about paying homage to female brewers because, as women, we’ve been making beer for centuries, but through civilisation and industrialisation, it has become a very white male-dominated industry, and for me, I feel it is up to our generation to reclaim some of these things.”
Pre-Covid, Nxusani-Mawela established her own microbrewery, Brewsters Craft, where she produced her beer and cider brand Tolokazi.
She spoke about the difficult processes young entrepreneurs have to go through to access funding to kickstart their businesses. Referring to the loan she received from the IDC, she bemoaned the amount of time it took for her to access the funds she had been promised because of the red tape around acquiring a license.
“When I received my money in writing when I signed, I had to wait nine months to get a license. At that time, the landlord wanted his rent.”
“Where do you get R40 000 to just give someone while you are waiting?”
She also feels that the lawmakers in South Africa are out of touch with what entrepreneurs are going through on the ground, and she has come to the conclusion that entrepreneurs are on their own. Her fellow panellists agreed with the notion.
Nxusani-Mawela went on to describe how she had shut down her microbrewery in 2021 as a result of the lockdown restrictions imposed by the government when the country was in the grip of the covid-19 pandemic.
She was due to begin her loan repayments to the IDC in 2020 but had been able to make little or no income as a result of the restrictions. She asked the IDC to restructure her loan agreement, but her request was declined, and as her bills piled, she had to shut down operations.
The shutting down of her microbrewery was not the end of Apiwe, though. She made peace with the capitulation of her business which made it easy for her to see opportunities to pivot and make her next move.
“I thought about the worst-case scenario. If I am unable to make my payments, then what can I do? They will repossess my assets, but I will still be here. They will take my house, and I will go find a back room somewhere, but I will still be here”.
Since losing her brewery, Nxusani-Mawela has focused her energies on growing her brand Tolokazi.
Her efforts are bearing fruit, and earlier in the year, she partnered with Beer52, headquartered in Edinburgh, England. Beer52 is a club that introduces beer drinkers across the UK to new beers from around the globe.
This partnership saw 200 000 cans of her Tolokazi beer being produced in Croatia and distributed to 100 000 subscribers across the United Kingdom.
Her beer is now available on online platforms and in-store all over the country.
Apiwe stressed the importance of collaboration amongst township entrepreneurs and using local suppliers to create a sustainable business ecosystem.
She said: “I believe supporting local starts with me, so wherever I go, always try to support local, and I appreciate when people go out of their way.”
She also stressed the need for young entrepreneurs in attendance to look at ways to disrupt the status quo so that young black businesses can own the value chain.
“We need people in this room to start growing barley. Barley is like maize. We can grow it, but we do not have black farmers”.