Sipho Ndaba, Managing Director of Mbawula Investments, has come a long way since graduating as a qualified Mechanical Engineer. After a short period of working as a representative for Bavaria Breweries, he began distributing juices and liquor to the townships after identifying that as a viable business opportunity.
“That was the gap I identified because no-one wanted to deliver in the townships at that time, but now it has improved because government has prioritised township and rural development,” he recalls. It was through this experience that he was exposed to the world of eventing and he soon realised it was an industry he wanted to be involved in.
“I knew I couldn’t be an artist but I also knew that I was able to identify with the industry and that I could fit into it,” he laughs.
With the low-profit margins prevalent in the distribution business, along with the challenges of high-risk insurance cover and the constant threat of hijacking—he lost R250 000 of stock in a single hijacking—he soon turned his focus to events, buying a sound system worth R1.2-million, which he successfully hired out to corporates and the government. However, he soon discovered that the market was overtraded.
“I am a businessperson, but I can’t sit and wait for someone to hire me, I developed this concept of an event in a smaller city. We did some research which highlighted Richards Bay as a viable location, as it is an industrialised, rural town with a lot of industries as well as a harbour.
“We realised that, in 20 years time, the town has the potential to develop incredibly, once the corporates such as RBM, Hillside Aluminium and others have started moving in as the town grows and the population swells.”
Their research also pointed to the fact that hotels in the area were running at 10%-15% occupancy, as nothing like event tourism was happening over the festive season.
“We thought to ourselves, ‘Let’s start a tourism event here that will benefit people, help economic development, for job creation and also benefit the tourism industry.’”
Working with King Cetshwayo District Municipality they conceived and launched the Last Dance Music Festival located at the city of Umhlathuze in Richards Bay.
It started small, with 250 people at the first event and this swelled to 500 people the following year. The growth continued and that’s when they were alerted to the positive spinoffs the event was having in the hospitality industry.
“People in the industry were really happy because their occupancy had risen from 10% to 40% and then five years later, they had 100% occupancy throughout the area,” he recalls.
In 2016, working with the local tourism organisation, it was calculated that the increased benefit to the local hospitality industry was in the region of R45-million.
In 2016, we got into a partnership with SABC whereby the event was promoted on SABC1, Metro FM and Ukhozi FM, and the event was also broadcast live on SABC1 and Ukhozi FM, whereby SABC1 recorded over 3-million viewers and Ukhozi FM recorded over 7-million listeners on the day. All of this played a major role in marketing Richards Bay and KZN as a whole, making the town “the most trending town in South Africa”.
This incredible success had, astoundingly, come off the back of not having any major sponsors or investors.
Growing the business
The Last Dance Music Festival started as a one-day event but quickly expanded into a three-day event, starting with a workshop aimed at empowering local artists.
The three-day event has hosted over 100 000 patrons from all over South Africa and across African borders.
Mbawula Investments also provides artists for events, facilitates workshops for cultural and creative industries (notably music training), as well as talent scouting and the development and mentoring of upcoming events organisers. However, it is in terms of events that there is so much scope for growth.
“Normally, big events and conferences take place in big cities like Johannesburg, Pretoria, Durban and Cape Town but I would like to see a shift so that we can see more of these conferences and events happening in rural areas to support the government approach to Rural Development and Industrialisation,” says Sipho.
The major obstacle at present is a lack of funding opportunities needed to grow the business, either through investing in Mbawula Investments itself or to invest in the company’s projects, such as the Last Dance Music Festival, both of which are attractive offerings as the company is anticipating that it will expand by more than 50% over the next three years. The company will also now focus more on events management, while the African Last Dance Music Board will govern the festival and its programmes.
“Our strategy is to become a major one-stop shop in the music industry and we’re placing a priority on rural areas for hosting conferences and events in order to create employment and a revenue base.
“The big cities are already busy, thereby triggering an influx of job seekers and upcoming artists looking for platforms and greater opportunities, which, most of the time, is never the case,” says Sipho.
Although a relatively small organisation, Mbawula Investments is actively involved in CSI, including running a Back To School Campaign, artist workshops, job creation initiatives and playing a key role in local economic development.
“We have a traceable record of helping over 5 000 underprivileged pupils who we have supported with full school uniforms and school shoes in the past five years, as well as 50 students who we have assisted with tertiary registration fees and by settling their debts,” says Sipho.
“The company also started a programme whereby uniforms are manufactured locally by NPOs, in particular, individuals who live with disabilities. We have also established a Magwaza Maphalala Foundation NPC to deal with fundraising and other social welfare issues in a more structured manner.
“The business has grown really big now and it has had a huge influence on the local economy as well as in the lives of the people of the region. However, for us to move to the next level, we need a main investor to partner with us,” says Sipho. Considering the incredible success the company has enjoyed and the scope for future growth, it’s certainly a space worth watching.
For more information, call 035 789 2876,
visit www.mbawula.co.za, Facebook Last Dance Music Festival, Twitter @lastdancemusicfest.