While other learners in her grade 11 secondary school year responded with unsurprising answers to questions posed by a teacher about their career ambitions, Sipamandla Manqele, just a slip of a girl, boldly stood up, emphatically stating, “I want to be the first woman Governor of the Reserve Bank!”
She laughs about the audaciousness of her early youth now, but the will and drive to contribute on a large scale to the economic development of South Africa at the heart of her statement echoes throughout our conversation about her business, Local Village, which supplies granola, African grain, African super-foods and gluten free grain to major restaurants and hotels across Johannesburg.
To be sure, Jozi-based Manqele’s business – currently home-based and self-run – is not an unripe practice based on lofty, ungrounded principles. It’s a lived, rigorously applied philosophy. It breathes beyond national borders and is located firmly in the ideals of her Pan-Africanist world view.
Raised by a single mother in the poverty-stricken town of Lusikisiki in the Eastern Cape, a young Manqele wondered why, with so much land and natural resources at their disposal, so many of her neighbours lived in such dire conditions.
How could so many possibilities for wealth-creation remain untapped? Her curiosity grew into a spread of enquiries which included concerns beyond our borders. As her consciousness expanded, so did her approach to business.
As a result, she actively searched out foods which harnessed the potential of other African agri-preneurs to grow her own brand of products, thereby allowing others in places such as Zimbabwe and Nigeria to benefit from her entrepreneurship. She sources ingredients for her products from our nearest neighbours, Zimbabwe, to as far away as Nigeria. She is also currently in the early stages of creating business opportunities for budding entrepreneurs of her home-town of Lusikisiki.
This ideological threading of her Pan-Africanist way of thought into a practice of greater good at levels both national and continental is not limited to her business, though. Her awareness of food as a point of ignition for greater understanding of the African political and socioeconomic condition is as sharp as it is instructive.
“Food,” she tells me, “is a great unifier. It cuts across borders and produces conditions for greater understanding of each other.”
Her words here are spoken as a deeply felt call to view the culinary arts as an agent of resistance in the fight against xenophobia in South Africa. Her belief, unswerving and fervent, that breaking bread over a meal native to Nigeria or Ethiopia, for example, can begin relations and frameworks to dismantle the untenable social boundaries that keep Africans in South Africa apart, as well as set in motion the makings of a veritable continental village from which current animosities between us are strictly barred.
At just 27, Manqele has crafted and put into living practice a business from which much can be learnt. Consequently she has rapidly made a name for herself in the broader agricultural community, winning such sought-after awards as the State-funded Pitch Perfect SEDA Award and the Black Umbrella Award worth R100 000 in the process.
Of course, it would be imprudent not to ask what a young woman who has won such respect among her peers thinks about the South African land debate. True to form, the little girl, troubled by the dire Lusikisiki surrounds of her upbringing who grew up to be an unabashed champion of African economic growth and development, shines through, “I’m not sure about the technicalities around it, but land must be redistributed. True transformation in our country cannot be said to have occurred until the injustices and inequalities of millions living in dire poverty have been addressed.”