Imbizo Shisinyama: Rita Zwane

Imbizo Shisinyama: Rita Zwane


Rita Zwane, founder of Imbizo Shisinyama, believes that the road to economic freedom for the majority of South Africans is as hard as the road to political freedom was. And she should know. In 1997, after many failed attempts at starting her own business, Zwane found herself walking the streets of Tembisa looking for yet another new business opportunity.

A few weeks later, armed only with the right attitude and support from her family and community, she set up a small shisinyama on a street corner in Ivory Park. With only a single pot, gas griller, display fridge, gas paraffin stove and two employees, the concept of Imbizo Shisinyama was firmly established.

Her secret to success was the commercialisation of the traditional South African braai – something that is an ingrained part of all South Africans’ heritage and culture. Today, shisinyama has become one of the biggest growth areas in the food, beverage and hospitality industry in South Africa.

“I had tried several other business ideas, but after looking at my environment and
understanding the needs of my community, I believed that a shisinyama was the most viable business opportunity and one that would have a lasting impact on my surrounding community,” says Zwane.

Community spirit

“It’s been 15 years since I walked down that lonely road in Tembisa and I now have a successful growing business that employs more than 30 permanent staff members who receive provident fund and funeral cover benefits,” Zwane says.

“We have also made a commitment to help uplift our surrounding community by involving people from the area in the everyday running of the business. On weekends, we use the services of car guards and braai masters, initiatives which help to support a further 20 families. We have also outsourced our cleaning service and security in an effort to develop other small local businesses. I am merely extending to others the opportunities that have been presented to me and I want to continue to have a positive impact on my community.”

Six years after launching her business, Zwane took advantage of the opportunities government was offering to take her business to the next level. In 2003, with the granting of temporary liquor licenses by the Gauteng government, Imbizo Shisinyama was granted an 18-month window in which to obtain a permanent licence.

What seemed an impossibility became a reality and the already popular shisinyama was on the road to growth and prosperity.

Zwane believes that there are a multitude of opportunities out there for young South Africans wanting to enter her industry, especially in their own communities. “But you need to be out there, ready to grab those opportunities, to work hard and to patiently wait to see the results of your hard work. There are no quick wins.”

She cites partnerships between big organisations and the FoodBev SETA, many of which offer opportunities to suitable candidates for potential placement in internship programmes as an example. This gives young people practical work experience and in-service training.

“It’s an ideal opportunity to gain real world working experience. The interns are placed in jobs within the industry and receive a monthly stipend from government to cover their costs and expenses for a full year. If the interns demonstrate real potential, hard work and commitment then many of these internships become permanent jobs – but only for those youth who show initiative and apply themselves.

In line with supporting the continued growth and development of the South African youth, Imbizo Shisinyama is launching a dedicated bursary fund at its 15 year anniversary celebration, targeting the youth from Zwane’s community.

“Through this programme we hope to promote economic freedom by giving youngsters from our community the opportunity to gain a solid education in the food, beverage and hospitality industry that will also assist them to become successful entrepreneurs, and maybe buy an Imbizo Shisinyama franchise in the future. A good education will enable these youngsters to face the world with confidence. We also hope to eliminate the perception that restaurants in the township areas are sub-standard.”

A word from the wise

Rita Zwane believes there are four key character attributes that young South Africans should be striving towards.

“Nothing can replace good old fashioned hard work, discipline, keeping a positive attitude and then of course patience. Our youth need to take advantage of the many opportunities presented to them and, combined with these character attributes, success is inevitable.”

1. Hard work

Research has shown that nobody is great without work. There’s little evidence of high-level performance without experience or practice. Reinforcing that ‘no-free-lunch’ finding is vast evidence that even the most accomplished people need around ten years of hard work before becoming world-class, a pattern so well established researchers call it the ten-year rule.

2. Discipline

The one quality that no entrepreneur can be successful without is discipline. To transform a dream into a business reality, you have to have the discipline to do the hard work, even doing the least fun parts of running a business, like book-keeping.

When you’re the business owner, there’s no one to keep you at work except yourself — and there are no short-term consequences for leaving early. But remember that if you don’t show the discipline and put in the hard work your dream of owning your own business will not last long.

3. Positive attitude

Your attitude rubs off on your existing and potential customers, your staff, your suppliers, your investors and all those you come into contact with. If you maintain a positive attitude, this will be infectious. Everyone in your company will feel positive and customers will want to do business with you. This in turn will help you to maximise the performance of your business.

4. Patience

There is much media hype around getting ‘rich quick’, but most ‘overnight successes’ in business take at least seven to ten years to be truly successful. Most entrepreneurs who sell their company have been building toward that sale for a decade or more.

Being patient is not easy, but it enables a longer-term view of your company’s success. Impatience can actually be a company killer. It tempts business owners to constantly change direction and stray from the chosen path.

Vital stats

Player: Rita Zwane

Company: Imbizo Shisinyama

Launched: 1997

+27 (0)11 312 2468,

Monique Verduyn
Monique Verduyn is a freelance writer. She has more than 12 years’ experience in writing for the corporate, SME, IT and entertainment sectors, and has interviewed many of South Africa’s most prominent business leaders and thinkers. Find her on Google+.
  • Neyoor nav Naj

    Awesomeness!!! We need more success stories like these! We need more people like Rita to take entrepreneurial initiative in this way!

  • I frequent this place often, and a friend showed me Rita, at that point, I had no idea she was the owner. I’ll tell you now, she is polite, she works amongst the staff as a waitress, she’s attentive and the operation is one of the best run establishments ever. A real success.