Meet Themba Kumatana. Less than a decade ago he was a trolley-pushing “dispatch guy” on a wine farm. Now he is the co-owner of an HR firm servicing one of the biggest agritourism businesses in South Africa.
Konnekt provides people, payroll and compliance services to almost 20 Paarl- and Stellenbosch-based clients. The biggest of these is Fairview Wine and Cheese, which is where a chance encounter with the owner put Kumatana on his path towards business ownership.
“I started working at Fairview in 2007 as a guy in dispatch, pushing trolleys to customers’ cars. I expected to do a job, make cash and go home. But in January the next year I enrolled to study Human Resources Management at Boland College and one day Charles (Back, owner) found me in the garden where I was studying.
“I told him that I was going straight to class from work and that I was paying for my own studies. He offered to share the load and from then on Fairview paid for my studies.”
Kumatana obtained his qualification and went on to work as part of the Fairview HR team. In 2016 he and business partner Estienne Venter set up Konnekt with an interest-free loan from Fairview. “Charles basically said that we have matured enough and that we were ready to do our own thing. Fairview would be our first client.”
Kumatana and Estienne bought out Fairview barely a year later and became 50-50 shareholders who now employ three additional staff members. Their offices are still located on the Fairview farm outside Paarl. “We have spread our wings as far as we could and just continue to make sure that we take good care of Fairview as our main client.”
The Fairview business is a well-recognised brand in South Africa and abroad, attracts more than a quarter of a million tourists each year and employs more than 600 people of whom Kumatana and his team have to take care. They have 16 additional clients in the agritourism, publishing and hospitality sectors.
Kumatana views his own career path as a prime example of a meaningful empowerment venture: It started off on merit and the investment included a longer-term and purposeful transfer of skills; a chance to develop an own identity while receiving financial support.
“When it comes to black economic empowerment, businesses need to know that the person (beneficiary) is fully fit for the project and will survive, so there needs to be merit. But in that process, it is also crucial that there is mentorship. I couldn’t have asked for a better mentor than Charles.”
One of the important lessons he takes forward into his own business, is exceptional conduct in working with people.
“I guess it comes from the way Charles sees people. He views them not merely as employees working for Fairview. He values people. He sees everyone as colleagues. That has taught me that no matter the situation, there’s a minimum standard for dealing with others. Absolutely!”