From sleeping in garages on cardboard boxes to owning a R1.5 billion business, this is the story of Senzo Tsabedze. Max Matavire spoke to the talented businessman about his story and what makes him tick.
After running away from home at an early age out of fear that he would go the same route experienced by most Mpumalanga youths of working in the numerous surrounding mines, he earned R15 a day and slept in a garage with a cardboard box as his mattress.
This is the story of self-made Mpumalanga businessman Senzo Tsabedze, who now owns a R1.5 billion business empire.
Born in 1977 to poor parents who abused alcohol—and being the fourth born in a family of eight—Tsabedze’s father was the sole breadwinner supporting the family from his meagre salary he received from Msauli Asbestos Mine where he worked. Seeing the hardships his family was going through, the young Senzo vowed not to live the same life of struggle.
“I was afraid to go underground. I did not like working in the mines as what most youths in my area did,” says the astute businessman in an interview with Leadership. After completing his higher education at Ekulindeni, he connived with a friend and decided to run away from home to Nelspruit, now Mbombela, in search of better opportunities. Tsabedze says this was the best decision he had made in his life.
“I did not tell anyone at home where I was going as both my parents were alcoholics, so it was pointless to tell them as nobody cared,” says the humble businessman. It was not easy in Nelspruit as he went door to door looking for employment. Finally, he landed a job in a Chinese restaurant washing dishes and doing general cleaning. He was working long hours, finishing work at around midnight and earning a pittance—R15 a day.
“After finishing work at midnight, I would go and sleep under a tree near Rob Ferreira Hospital. After noticing that each day I would come to work wearing the same clothes, the manager asked me why, and I related my predicament to her. Feeling sympathy for me, she offered that I sleep in her garage, and gave me a cardboard box to use as a mattress and a blanket,” he says.
As an ambitious young man who was not easily contended, he left the Chinese restaurant where he had worked for a year after getting another job at a newly opened shopping mall. He worked again at a restaurant, but this time he was a waiter at an Italian spot.
Always looking to better himself in life, he got another job—a better one this time—as an assistant food and beverages manager at a five-star hotel in Sabi. The hotel group often sent him for on-the-job training in Stellenbosch, resulting in him acquiring wide knowledge about the catering and hospitality industry. He stayed at the hotel for two years before moving on.
This time he joined a company which ran restaurants within the Kruger National Park as operations manager. His first major break into business came when he was still at the Kruger National Park when he got a contract to supply linen to different hotels. This was in 1999.
“I quickly registered my first company—Siyenza Consulting—and landed a three-year contract to supply linen to hotels. I resigned from Kruger National Park because I now wanted to be full-time and hands-on with my new business,” he says. As business ideas kept on coming, he decided to diversify into fleet management. He went to an auction and bought two trucks, which he rented out to a fleet management company for R35 000 per month. Realising the handsome profit he was getting, Tsabedze bought more trucks and ended up with nine, which he continued to rent out.
He decided to register his own fleet management company—Indalo Fleet Solutions—with his first R37 million contract bagged with Bushbuckridge Local Municipality. Business grew as he kept on bagging contract after contract, resulting in him rebranding the company to Afrirent Fleet Pty (Pvt). Tsabedze started investing in several other business sectors such as financial services, fuel supply, vehicle tracking, waste management, and the hospitality industry.
In 2017, Tsabedze started Afrirent Holdings, which now serves as the holding company of other entities such as Indalo Hotels and Leisure, Sobantu Rent to Own, Afrirent Energy, Afrirent Logistics, and others. Afrirent Holdings has a contract valued to the tune of R1.5 billion with, among others, the City of Johannesburg, Coca-Cola Beverages SA, La Farge SA, and numerous municipalities.
As a strong believer in God, Tsabedze believes about 70 percent success in business is through God’s blessing and 30 percent is due to one’s hard work. Afrirent Holdings employs just over 500 people in its various subsidiaries.
Tsabedze has high regard and respect for his employees, and believes a happy workforce is a recipe for business growth and sustainability.
“A happy, dedicated, honest, and professional workforce is an asset to any business. They are the face of the business. The way your workforce treats customers brings in more business, as the happy customers will go out there and spread the word.
“No client wants bad or unfriendly treatment after paying their hard-earned money,” says the businessman-turned-philanthropist.
Through one of his foundations, Tsabedze supports numerous community projects in Mpumalanga which put food on the tables of the most poor rural folk. He has also built and renovated schools.
Max Matavire is a Freelance Journalist.