By Rolan Gulston
Two years ago, twenty-nine year old Ayanda Mkhwanazi would never have envisioned that soon, he would be the proud owner of a maize meal production company. One of 13 children at home, he grew up in the humble farmlands of the Umgungundlovu District in northern KwaZulu-Natal.
After matriculating from Wartburg School, he pursued his passion for sport and studied Sport Psychology for two years. Although this helped Ayanda in developing a strong sense of focus and determination, he faced daily challenges in journeying home each evening after late lectures when public transport had already closed operations for the day.
Sadly, he did not have the financial means to further his studies as his grandfather, who had taken the role as his primary guardian since the passing of his father, already had the responsibility of supporting Ayanda’s two younger brothers.
With his dream of becoming a professional soccer player slipping further out of reach as he got older, Ayanda made a decision to go a different route and work as a promoter for a well-known liquor brand, but continued to play soccer socially for a local team. He developed a close friendship with one of his team mates, Bradley Bester, who welcomed Ayanda into his family. Bradley’s mother, Nicky, in particular, played a strong, supportive role in mentoring Ayanda.
The Bester family moved to England for two years, their absence strongly affecting Ayanda’s sense of stability. He began drinking and smoking to cope with the pain, negatively affecting his behaviour and attitude to the point of being kicked out of the house by his aunt whom he was living with in the city.
With nowhere else to stay, he returned home to live with his grandfather on the farm. In this environment, job opportunities were scarce. Having few other options, Ayanda asked a friend living in Pinetown if he knew of a room available to rent. He received a positive response, with the owner generously agreeing to keep the room for Ayanda until he could raise funds to pay the R820 ($63) rent.
By God’s perfect timing, the Bester family returned to South Africa the very next week. In seeing the stagnation of Ayanda’s progress since their emigration, they assisted him in raising the rent money by paying him R200 ($15) an hour to train with Bradley for soccer. Soon, not only did Ayanda have enough money to pay the rent, he could also afford to furnish the room with a fridge, bed and kettle.
After soccer training, Ayanda and Bradley frequented the then newly-opened Talkhouse Coffee Shop at Westville Mall for coffee and breakfast. Shane, the owner of the coffee shop, soon took an interest in Ayanda and offered him a job. Without prior experience as a waiter, Ayanda began working part-time as a ‘runner’ cleaning tables, but, gradually, under Shane’s guidance, grew in skill and understanding of the business. During this time, the Westville community took a strong liking to Ayanda, his humble and gentle manner resonating especially with older customers, who urged Shane to hire him as a full-time employee.
A frequent customer at the Talkhouse from a local Westville church would seek out Ayanda especially, and came to be known as his ‘granny’. She gifted him with a brand new Bible, which Ayanda accepted, but admittedly first started reading simply to pass the time after work. His view changed as he found himself engrossed in scripture for hours at a time.
One Sunday, Ayanda accepted the invitation from a friend to attend a service at Westville Baptist Church after his morning shift at the coffee shop. This is where the Bible “came to life” for Ayanda, who was new to this style of worship. His exposure to the teachings of the Christian faith led him to become more consciously aware of the areas in his life where he was not following a Christ-like path. Within two months, he joined a cell group and signed up for the Alpha course, which helped him to gain a clear sense of direction and inspired him to take another bold step forward in his personal growth.
In 2017, Ayanda made the difficult decision to leave his job at the Talkhouse and start his own business. Bradley Bester came on board as his business partner, and together they launched “Numzane Super White Maize Meal”. Growing up, the maize grown on his grandfather’s farm was a main source of nutrition for Ayanda, and the brand name “Numzane” meaning “sir” in isiZulu also carried with it a sentimental meaning as the title his grandfather often called him as a term of endearment.
In the months following, Ayanda and Bradley worked closely to learn the ‘ins and outs’ of running a business. They decided to primarily market the product to suit the financial constraints of those living in rural areas. “I don’t care about the big shops”, Ayanda asserts, as he works long hours to personally deliver the maize directly to customers in the KwaZulu-Natal region. His dream is to make a meaningful impact in helping to end hunger in poor communities. CAST has partnered with Ayanda to supply the maize meal for food parcels distributed to seven local communities each month as part of our Relief Services Programme, made possible by generous donations in funding. This programme benefits 280 families living in poverty, 77% of which have a household income of less than R2 000 ($154) a month. CAST empowers these families through Poverty Stoplight, a visual survey that helps the families to self-diagnose their level of poverty and develop a personal strategy to lift them permanently out of poverty. Through CAST’s Business Development programme, food parcel beneficiaries are also empowered with the tools to start their own small businesses like Ayanda.
For others wanting to become entrepreneurs, Ayanda advises that it starts with good mentorship, because “you need someone who can help you understand where you want to go, and what you can do with your life.” CAST’s Business Development programme offers the opportunity for those with the knowledge and skill to mentor others like Ayanda to reach their business goals and become strong leaders in their communities. To get involved in this programme, or sponsor a food parcel for a local family in need, contact CAST at: 031 266 8830
Additionally, if you would like to support Ayanda through purchasing Numzane Super White Maize Meal, please contact Sandy Reid at: firstname.lastname@example.org