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Township economy vital to country’s revival – young entrepreneur Mbali Zulu

Published Jun 14, 2022

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Johannesburg - A robust and thriving township economy is vital if South Africa’s economy is to be revived.

In a country with an unemployment rate of 34% it is imperative that the youth of our townships take matters into their own hand to turn the tide.

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One such young pioneer is Mbali Zulu, 34, who is the chief executive of The Box Shop Think Tank in Soweto, on the famous Vilakazi Street.

Zulu’s passionate about unearthing and harnessing entrepreneurial talent within townships and it is for this reason that he and his partners established The Box Shop Think Tank.

President of the youth-based NPC #WeUprising Movement Mbali Zulu believes that collaboration among entrepreneurs is the best way to grow the township economy. Picture: Supplied

“In Soweto, we have The Box Shop Lifestyle, which is really a creative innovative hub and a skills development hub,” he says.

“So we’ve created a space where youth entrepreneurs in the township can come and access resources like the internet and a place where people can come together and collaborate.”

What began as a response to the government’s call for township economic development solutions about five years ago has mutated into a local business hub that has since benefited and supported more than 500 young people while generating over R1.2 million annual average.

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The initiative has empowered more than 120 local businesses in the fashion, arts, food, beverages, multimedia, hospitality, entertainment, tourism and sports sectors.

Through his non-profit company #WeUprising Movement, Zulu continues his mission to empower young budding entrepreneurs.

The company was founded in 2019 as an annual June 16 commemoration activity and fund-raising drive to support youth development programmes.

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Zulu believes the youth of today need to adopt the same fighting spirit in tackling their socio-economic ills as that of the youth of 1976 when they fought against apartheid.

“I thought, what can we learn from that generation? And really what we can learn is that if we get together, if we face our challenges head-on, there are always solutions.

“As much as that watershed moment changed our country, when young people get together today we can change our situation today.”

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He lamented the fact that the meaning of June 16 has been lost, with the youth drinking and partying instead of taking the time to reflect on the past and begin to contemplate the future.

#WeUprising Movement will be hosting a free workshop, under the name The Sober Discussions, tomorrow on the eve of June 16 and access is free.

“The title itself, Sober Discussions, tells you that we just need to take stock, just have a sober conversation about our challenges,” he said.

The Sober Discussions panel comprises entrepreneurs from the township who will look to impart their knowledge to aspirant entrepreneurs.

One such entrepreneur is Aphiwe Nxusani-Mawela, who before Covid-19 was the first black woman to own a microbrewery and the craft beer brand Tolokazi Beer.

She will detail her experiences and the hardships of having to shut down her brewing operation, but will also speak on how she managed to reinvent herself and her business, which now sees her beer being distributed across Europe.

Zulu believes that the key to building a successful business in the township is collaboration.

One of the most prevalent barriers to entry into the world of business for entrepreneurs is a lack of capital and funding, but Zulu believes that there are ways to work around the issue of money.

“For me there are two things: one is to say when we don’t have money, we have each other. So through collaboration through working together we can find solutions,” Zulu said.

“The second thing is that we now have the township economy act, which for me is a victory for township business because it says that it is now law that the government assists us in creating value within townships.”

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