MTHOMBO’S STORY: A turn in life that led to greater opportunities

After an accident on 8 November 1991, Mthombo Nkula became physically disabled, a hard adjustment as he had never anticipated being disabled. Because of the injuries he sustained after the accident, Mthombo has been using a wheelchair for over twenty five years. During these difficult times, Mthombo didn’t lose hope and said “God’s grace and tremendous support from my family and friends kept me going.”

After his accident, Mthombo worked at a start-up company previously known as Cripple Care, and earned R600.00 each month. This money was not enough to sustain him and he looked for a better job. “Eventually, I got a job as a teacher at a non-profit organisation (NGO) under an Early Child Development programme earning R13 000.00 each month,” he said.

However, because of discrimination, Mthombo was fired before finishing probation and he went to rent a house at Gompo, Mdantsane, where his life took a turn for the best.

“As a father of four boys, a single parent and unemployed, I made ends meet and ensured that my sons had an education and food to eat. Now, two of my sons are graduates, with one of them studying towards a PhD,” Mthombo said.

Mthombo’s entrepreneurial spirit led him to open his business Funqukani Enterprise, offering tendering services. His breakthrough was through ABET, a learning centre, whereby he employed teachers to help him in the region of Amathole, Eastern Cape.

“This achievement helped me buy a house I’d live in together with my sons and provide my own entertainment,” Mthombo laughed.

Mthombo went on to open his own entertainment business, which he identified as a way to make an income doing something he enjoyed. Although his business did not succeed, because his tavern did not have a liquor license, in support of his vision, his friends and members of the community would buy liquor elsewhere and drink it together with him at his house. “At the time I’d ventured into a few more businesses, therefore, losing my tavern was not a big blow. Despite that business ending, people still come to my house to relax and enjoy themselves,” Mthombo said.

Not deterred, Mthombo went on to apply for a liquor license and permit to sell food. He opened another business called Mthombo’s Palace, a retro lounge and restaurant, serving delicious meals by qualified chefs. The Palace Lounge aims at creating an environment for business networking, meetings style & entertainment.

At the conceptual stage, he contacted the Small Enterprise Development Agency (SEDA), in the Eastern Cape, and spoke to a gentleman by the name of Siphiwo Soga, the Provincial Manager for SEDA. “Soga volunteered to mentor me until my business would be officially launched and opened,” Mthombo said. “In the early stage of the business, I attended staff meetings to help motivate my staff and mobilise them for optimum performance.”

The palace has employed twenty permanent staff and ten part-time staff for busy days. The business is registered as a SEDA beneficiary and is further supported by one of their service offerings that provide business signage.

Amongst the challenges of the business there were many gangsters in the area of his business and was plagued by the N.U.7, a supremist gangster group. Because of the high profile of the Palace, Mthombo decided to charge clients R30.00 for entrance to avoid gangsters coming into the Palace. “People come here for comfort so I had to provide it to them and safety,” He said.

Another challenge was employees’ stealing from the business which Mthombo says was because “they didn’t share the same vision as me for the business and did not realise that stealing from the business affected cash flow, profits and sustainability.”

However, Mthombo says the biggest challenge was prejudice and discrimination from the community because of his disability.

Nonetheless, Mthombo highlights the successes of his business; one of them was the Palace being a tourist venue for MTV Base. The channel saw potential in his business and noted the business’s commendable compliance with clients and other businesses, which led to the channel giving him a contract that enabled him to employ more staff from his community. 

Another one of his successes was being interviewed by uKhozi fm and Umhlobo Wenene.

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