Africa Race International: Phindi Kema

Africa Race International: Phindi Kema


Phindi Kema doesn’t seem to know what it means to think small, and her concept of limitations is, well, limited. When the stud farm neighbouring her citrus farm in the Eastern Cape was up for sale, she acquired it through the Department of Land Affairs and become South Africa’s first black stud breeder. While she knew very little about horses at the time, her ambitions paved the way to success – her thoroughbred filly,

Midnight Queen, was purchased by Mary Slack, daughter of Harry Oppenheimer, and another horse, Fair Report, went on to become a race winner.

Setting a new bar

Then, when a visit to the Middle East opened her eyes to the international potential in horse-racing events, she returned home, founded Africa Race International (ARI), and set about establishing Africa’s first-ever international horse-racing event.  True to form, Kema was not  content to start small and grow. She has – in less than a year – signed on as a partner UK-listed International Racecourse Management (IRM) who’ve established world-class racing events around the globe and are responsible for Britain’s famed St Leger Festival, appointed internationally-renowned racing figure and former CEO of the Qatar Racing Authority, Michael Fenton, to her board as race director, and secured a R25 million purse for the event.

This last achievement is nothing short of extraordinary, particularly when one considers the fact that the country’s most prestigious horse-racing event currently offers a winner’s purse of no more than around R3 million. For Kema, though, it’s a vital part of placing this event, the country and the continent firmly on the international horse-racing map.

Shaking things up

“The money is critical if we want to attract the international market. You need to bear in mind that some of the thoroughbreds are worth £30 million and owners are not going to transport these animals and send them to race in an event unless it is worth their while. Even if their horse doesn’t win, you need to make the event high profile enough for them to want to come. And while R25 million is a lot on the South African horse-racing scene, it’s not as much as the big established international events – the purse for the Dubai World Cup, for example, is $8 million,” says Kema.

These comparisons show her bigger-picture vision for the South African horse-racing scene. “I want to aid the development of an internationally recognised horse-racing culture that places the race horses front and centre of every event, not as an aside or afterthought to the social things that may be happening on the day,” she says. Her vision extends to Africa where, she hopes, thoroughbred breeding will develop, provided there is an internationally renowned annual event on the continent for such horses to race in.

Building power partnerships

Getting all this off the ground – financially and logistically – is no mean feat but Kema  understands the power of partnering with the right people. “Starting an event is very difficult because you need established prestige to be able to attract the money and sponsorship, but you also need the money and sponsorship to establish a prestigious event!” she says.

Her solution to the conundrum has been to surround herself with prestigious partners, the likes of IRM and Michael Fenton, who lend their established international reputation in the horse-racing world to Kema’s venture. “International players not only elevate the status of the event but they lend invaluable expertise so we can be sure we have the skills necessary to cover all aspects of the project,” says Kema.

That said, building partnerships with such big-name players is not an easy task, particularly for someone who has no track record in horse-racing events. What Kema does have however, is a unique ability to share her vision and ignite passion for it in others. Her relationship with Michael Fenton was forged in Qatar when she outlined her plan for ARI. He in turn introduced her to the founder of IRM who, as it happened, had for some time been interested in the potential inherent in the South African market.

The launch event is set to take place in 2013 and between now and then much remains to be done. Kema will be spending some time in the UK in order to be closer to her international partners and to gain the expertise necessary to make ARI work. In the meantime, she’s established a foundation that can best be described as highly pedigreed.

Africa Race International

Player: Phindi Kema

Est. 2009

Juliet Pitman
Juliet Pitman is a features writer at Entrepreneur Magazine.