Madoda Khuzwayo is part of a new breed of successful trailblazers enlightening the South African business sector–and he’s a man who knows how to solve his own problems


Growing up in rural KwaZulu-Natal, Madoda spent his early childhood years in a turbulent time in South Africa’s history. At the tender age of nine, his mother, a political figure in the village where the family lived, was killed in a faction fight, which left him and his two sisters in the care of his grandmother. Like many families of the time, the young children’s father had left the village to seek employment on the streets of gold and had ended up working in the gold mines in Gauteng.

Yet life without father or mother was not too bad. Spending his days in the fields with the family cows, Madoda herded his way into his teenage years with little enough to worry about, and what the future would hold was not a consideration. Some would even call it idyllic. However, when he turned 13, things changed. Judging the area, which had become a hotspot for violence, to be too dangerous for her maturing grandson, his grandmother despatched Madoda, disguised as a girl, along with his sisters, to live with his father in Gauteng.

Arriving in Johannesburg in the midst of bustling urban life and discovering a whole new family, which he knew nothing about, could have been his downfall. But instead, something rather miraculous happened. Madoda discovered technology, more specifically, the television. The rectangular box held the magic that unfurled a realm of infinite possibilities and he was smitten.

Glossing over the years of high school is by no means diminishing the hardships and challenges that Madoda experienced, but it is the outcome of the everyday kilometres of cycle ride to and from school come rain or shine, or regular theft of his transport, that defines his story. Despite all odds, circumstances and challenging environments, Madoda matriculated top of his class including 100% distinction for mathematics—a remarkable achievement, which afforded him a bursary to study electrical engineering.

While qualifying, he was exposed to computers and the myriad of opportunities the Internet, still in its infancy, could deliver to a former cowherd. “It was love at first touch,” smiles Madoda as he fondly remembers the very first time he picked up a computer keyboard and typed his name, which subsequently appeared on the screen in front of him. “I was instantly and irrevocably hooked and it’s been a love affair that endures and has shaped my entire business life.”

Trying—unsuccessfully—to convince the grantor of his bursary to allow him to switch to IT, Madoda completed his qualification. But being summarily sent to one of the farthest outposts of South Africa’s electrical stations after graduating proved a bridge too far for someone destined to change the world, so Madoda handed in his ‘calculator’ and headed off to the United Kingdom to seek his fortune.

Having never been on a train, let alone an aeroplane, “to say it was daunting, is an understatement” he ruefully recalls.

Upon arrival in the dead of night, Madoda still needed to find his way to Holbeach, a small, Fenlandmarket town in the South Holland district of southern Lincolnshire, Englandwhere he was to take up employment. Realising very early on that all was not as it was promised in the newspaper advertisement, Madoda found his way to London. “I think I had all of eighty pounds and only my backpack when I finally got to the capital. But as scary as it was being alone in the big city, it was also one of the most thrilling times of my life,” he says.

Working a series of odd jobs and sleeping in accommodation inhabited by a mixed group of South Africans also looking for fame and fortune, summer passed. As winter approached, drastic decisions needed to be made and answering an advert for a busboy/dishwasher in a hotel in Oxford, Madoda welcomed a warm roof over his head and at least one square meal a day. It was at this stage that destiny intervened.

On alighting at the bus stop to take up his new ‘position’, Madoda came face-to-face with a job offer card attached to the window of the local job centre, which read, “Wanted: Electrical Engineers.”

“I don’t even remember walking into the place, before completing the aptitude test and being offered the job. I didn’t even know what business it was for,” he says.

But, the hours suited him—working Monday to Thursday in the hotel and Friday to Sunday (on the night shift) for BMW, who required his engineering skills.

Earning enough money over the next few months, Madoda finally went to Westminster College of Computing where he enrolled and aced his first IT qualification. This was merely the beginning as, subsequently, Madoda found his way to India to further his knowledge at SQL College in Bangalore.

Upon falling desperately ill while in India, Madoda had to return to the United Kingdom and subsequently to South Africa, as his UK study visa had, by then, expired. When returning to South Africa in 2012, Madoda entered the SAB KickStart competition and won the Gauteng regional contest with his first Internet-based business idea—an email-focussed business for Africa. It was also here that he met his long-term friend and business partner, Mnive Nhlabathi.

Ever the visionary, Madoda predicted the rise of cloud-based computing solutions, and has authored a book ‘Cloud-Computing for Africa’, well ahead of the curve, as he does most things, and founding several other digital businesses, including the highly successful platform, OPENTENDERS, which is helping small to medium enterprises navigate the world of private and public tender and procurement opportunities.

Since his initial foray into foreign countries, Madoda has travelled the world and counts Prague and Seoul as two of his favourite cities, along with London, which will always hold a special place in his memories, if not his taste buds. One of his latest ventures, RECIPE NETWORK, is a global portal and app that showcases recipes and food concepts from professional chefs and food brands from all over the world. Its online shop sells cooking merchandise and packaged recipes designed by professional chefs.

“Working insanely long hours—I did all the coding and development work for all of my businesses in the beginning—good nutrition is important to me. I love to travel and love to eat good food, but I could never find what I was looking for precisely, so I created something. That’s what I do.” There are big plans afoot, with the portal expected to go live in November 2016.

It’s a hugely exciting time, enhanced by the fact his larger-than-life personality is also gracing several billboards around the country, with a video on YouTube racking up hits.

“As scary as it was being alone in the big city, it was also one of the most thrilling times of my life”

Largely self-funded, like many savvy entrepreneurs, he’s started businesses to raise others, working incredibly hard to define his success on his own terms. Given the unsettling discourse and narrative of South Africa today, whose youth appear largely disenchanted with the future, Madoda stands as a real-life African role model, who young people could learn a lot from.

“Life is what you make of it. Do big things. Live your lives to the fullest because you only live once, so why hold back? Don’t be afraid to try new things. Don’t be afraid to fail either, because only by learning these lessons can we succeed. It’s not what you face, but how you face it that counts,” he concludes.

“Don’t be afraid to fail. It’s not what you face, but how you face it that counts”

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