Skweyiya is the CEO of Origins Foods Holdings, situated in Tygervalley, Cape Town.
Skweyiya is the CEO of Origins Foods Holdings, situated in Tygervalley, Cape Town.

Tenacious entrepreneur Yongama Skweyiya knew that he wanted to be in business from a very early age. “At seven years old I even had a name for my business – Skweyiya Inc,” he says.   

The 34-year-old was born in the beautiful Karoo town of Cradock in the Eastern Cape, and his story started like many other successful entrepreneurship stories. While studying at Stellenbosch University towards a BComm in Entrepreneurship and Innovation in 2004, Skweyiya started his first business with a group of friends.  

The venture, called IsimoSethu Logistics, filled Skweyiya with excitement. The group purchased a truck and transported cargo for various clients. “I was underage and couldn’t register the company in my name. I gave a friend of mine the power of attorney.” 

Barely 20 years old, Skweyiya and his partners started a subsidiary company called IsimoSethu Investments (Pty) Ltdwith the aim of developing the wealth prospects of its shareholders.  

Yongama Skweyiya with his wife Ntlantla and their two sons, Phalo and Khaya.
Yongama Skweyiya with his wife Ntlantla and their two sons, Phalo and Khaya.

“As I learned more about business and gained experience, I started looking at other opportunities.”  

As often happens with partnerships, Skweyiya’s partners slowly started dropping out and he was left to run IsimoSethu Investments alone. “It ended up being a family owned business.” 

After his graduation in 2009, Skweyiya secured a post

at Innovus, Stellenbosch University’s industry interaction and innovation company, where he acquired vital business knowledge in product marketing and technology. Thereafter he joined IT skills development company The Developer Factory in 2011 as their new business development manager. 

“My journey in business has taught me that leadership starts with you and that selling is the only way to make a business work.”  

These lessons propelled Skweyiya to start his next business venture. “I needed something with greater tangible substance. With technology there’s hardly any human contact. When you create an app, people engage with you through a device and I wanted more,” he adds. 

At seven years old Yongama Skweyiya already knew that he wanted to be an entrepreneur and fell madly in love with agriculture.
At seven years old, Yongama Skweyiya already knew that he wanted to be an entrepreneur and fell madly in love with agriculture.

Motivated by a previous acquaintance, Skweyiya started looking into the agriculture industry with much scepticism. He went back to his birthplace, where he helped his parents farm with cattle. He also helped other agri enterprises in the community, selling lucerne for animal feed. 

 

After working there for a few months, Skweyiya was convinced that the industry was for him and he started Origins Foods Holdings (OFH) in 2016. Situated in Tygervalley, Cape Town, OFH is involved in agricultural enterprises in the Northern and Eastern Cape, selling the produce of emerging farmers in those provinces in the Western Cape. 

“We are lucky to be involved in some niche markets, from milk, snacks, honey, and other goods,” Skweyiya says. 

He considers OFH is “an artwork in progress” and he knows true success and real significance for the company will take time. 

“Whether it will still be OFH-Africa in 10 years or not, I cannot say, but the basic ethos is to work with emerging farmers to source quality ingredients, and to manufacture products that can be sold to niche markets. All our products can be traced back to their origin – hence the name.” 

“My journey in business has taught me that leadership starts with you and that selling is the only way to make a business work.

Being a young entrepreneur definitely has its challenges, Skweyiya says. “Starting small and building a reputation has been the most significant challenge. I am quite young, so I also suffer from the now-generation of wanting things immediately,” he says. “My wife, who I met in varsity, was my pillar of strength during this time. Because she has a background in finance, she is quick to caution me against bad business decisions.”

Throughout his journey into agriculture, there have been many disappointments. He mentions friends who have stabbed him in the back and others who have even fled with money. 

Skweyiya says he has learned the importance of choosing business partners carefully and took this into consideration when he teamed up with Francois Bezuidenhout, who he met at university.  

Yongama Skweyiya pictured with chef Mogau Seshoene, also known as "The Lazy Makoti"
Yongama Skweyiya pictured with chef Mogau Seshoene, also known as “The Lazy Makoti”

“He was sort of my protective senior and I was the junior who he asked to do menial work for him. The way things usually work in a male only hostel.”  

The duo wanted to start something in the alcohol trade and realised that their skill sets clicked. Skweyiya had marketing, sales, and business acumen, while Bezuidenhout had experience as a winemaker and had superior knowledge of production and distribution. 

“We toyed with a few ideas and ultimately decided on gin. The time was just right as the uptake of gin as a category is massive.” 

After formulating a uniquely African gin, all that was left was coming up with a great name. “We came across the story of JH Pim, and what he did in establishing the township of Pimville, which was named after him.” James Howard Pim was an Irishman who came to South Africa in 1890 and became a member of the very first elected town council of Johannesburg, as well as a founder member of the South African Institute of Race Relations. He advocated for the establishment of a settlement for black people. 

In 2018 OFH launched Pimville gin in South Africa. “In quality, we followed international trends, but ensured that the product remains proudly African and we hope that it will grow in the global market.” 

Apart from running a successful company and gin brand, Skweyiya also sits on the board of the Peninsula School Feeding Association (PSFA) as a non-executive board member.  

“My belief is that all children have similar and equal potential and that potential is improved or diminished firstly by adequate or lack of access to good nutrition.” 

Skweyiya adds: “Food makes us who we are, and that is especially true for children. PSFA offered me the opportunity to contribute to ensuring that the potential of children is protected.” 

Despite all his achievements, Skweyiya says he definitely does not feel successful yet. He says he updates his goals as he makes progress, always striving to do better and more. 

“I once read: ‘Random is not cumulative, therefore one needs to be consistent for anything to work.’ This is the mantra by which I live.” 

His personal goals motivate and push him to go after opportunities. Skweyiya firmly believes that challenges can be overcome through prayer, family support, and tenacity.  

“Tenacity, tenacity, tenacity,” he says, is what has gotten him this far.