A crowd of over 300 was left speechless after ex-offender, Sihle Tshabalala shared his turnaround story to success during the SMME Opportunity Roadshow at the CTICC yesterday (Wednesday). Picture supplied.
A crowd of over 300 was left speechless after ex-offender, Sihle Tshabalala shared his turnaround story to success during the SMME Opportunity Roadshow at the CTICC yesterday (Wednesday). Picture supplied.
Caption: Sihle Tshabalala delivering his keynote speech during the SMME Opportunity Roadshow at the CTICC yesterday (Wednesday). Picture: Justin Asher/Picup Technologies.
Caption: Sihle Tshabalala delivering his keynote speech during the SMME Opportunity Roadshow at the CTICC yesterday (Wednesday). Picture: Justin Asher/Picup Technologies.

JOHANNESBURG - Local entrepreneur, Sihle Ttshabalala, an ex-inmate has turned his life on crime around to help others in his community gain jobs via a digital skills training programme.

Tshabalala, co-founder and chief executive for not for profit company Quirky 30 NPC and Quirky Innovations was a keynote speaker at the SMME (small, medium and macro enterprises) Opportunity Roadshow at the Cape Town International Convention Centre yesterday.

During his time in prison, he became a key member of the Group of Hope programme, a prisoner initiated project that changed prison rehabilitation in South Africa, where he decided to spend his life helping others and co-founded Brothers for All.

Tshabalala taught himself how to code and has become a key voice in his community and a game-changer in teaching high school dropouts, teenage moms, unemployed youth, ex-offenders and prisoners Computer Programming / Coding, Entrepreneurship and Digital Marketing.

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"How did that journey come about. I started school at the age of four, I finished matric aged 16, had nothing to do, no aspirations to go to university so I started doing business robberies and heist jobs and when I was about to turn 19 I got arrested and went to prison for 11 years. So it is been almost four years now since I have been out of prison and just last week I was doing a feature documentary for WesBank and it was the first time going back to the crime scene where my last robbery took place which was in Sea Point main road. I was anxious but overwhelmed with the whole experience because it has been 15 years since I have been there and since I got arrested in 2002 I never went there again."

Caption: Sihle Tshabalala delivering his keynote speech during the SMME Opportunity Roadshow at the CTICC yesterday (Wednesday). Picture: Justin Asher/Picup Technologies.

He said sometimes one has to face up to ones worst fears. "That's what prison has taught me because in prison you learn a different type of psychology that you can't get out of psychology books, you can go to the best universities in the world whether it is Harvard, Oxford, Cambridge, Stamford, you'll never find it. The gift about prison is that it is not about fixing the external, it's about fixing you."

Tshabalala said he started his entrepreneurship journey in prison.

People don't believe that I started my business in prison, even though I was smuggling marijauna but it was a business because I had four prison officials on my payroll. For four years awaiting trial I never ate prison food in Pollsmoor, I ate all the KFC's and the Nando's. I had everything figured out from production to supply chain, product and market."

He said everything changed when he was transferred from Pollsmoor Prison in Tokai to Brandvlei Maximum Security Prison, based in Worcester Prison.

"In Brandvlei Prison they used to have a section there called 'Afganistan'. Firstly no prison warder wants to work there and secondly no prisoner wants to serve time there. Now in South Africa we have over 224 prisons and if you are a troublemaker in all of these prisons they send you to Brandvlei, which is like a dumping site for all the troublemakers."

Tshabalala said while at Brandvlei he realised that South Africa is blessed with amazing people with great intellect.  "I never went to university or college and I'm grateful I never went there because today I can be able now share authentic and original experiences. Spending time in 'Afganistan' is one of the reasons why  I always tell people that if you are looking for best entrepreneurs, go source them in prison because there are three important qualities that make a successful entrepreneur."

He said the firstly that if one wants to become a successful entrepreneur they must know how to hustle as prisoners know how to hustle and the secondly is that one must have the courage to take risks.

"In Prison we have the best risk takers. Three, you must know how to network and in prison we have the best networkers, it is just that they choose the wrong product in life which is crime."

- BUSINESS REPORT ONLINE