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AFDA: Garth Holmes & Bata Passchier

How two education entrepreneurs created one of the world’s top film schools.

Monique Verduyn



Garth Holmes & Bata Passchier of AFDA

From the dusty mining town of Krugersdorpon the West Rand, Garth Holmes would gaze longingly at the bright lights ofJoburg as they twinkled in the distance. He moved there straight after schooland qualified as a teacher, a career choice that forced him to work part-time atrestaurants to make up for the shortfall in his salary. The experience gainedthere led him to start his own successful restaurant. His yearning to be partof the creative world, however, made him sell the business, a decision he calls“naïve and impetuous”, but it saw him team up with controversialwriter-director Deon Opperman, with whom he co-wrote several successful plays.“For the first time I was recognised for my creative talents,” says Holmes.

It was then that he met Bata Passchier, hiscurrent business partner and CEO of AFDA, the film and acting school theylaunched in 1994, a time when the future of the country was uncertain andconfidence was low. AFDA’s origins lie in the failure of aprivate art school owned by a close friend of Holmes’s. “She was an amazinglecturer, but a terrible businesswoman,” says Holmes. “She taught me one of themost important lessons about owning a private university. It’s one hell of aresponsibility; you have everyone’s hopes, futures and dreams locked up in the institution– so collect the fees or close.” The bankrupt school, at which Holmes hadlectured in design and film, provided him with his first six students. “I wasdown and out, but the Design Centre in Greenside took me and the students in.Armed with a rented TV, a VCR and free lectures provided by friends in theindustry, I put the word out that the best film school in South Africa was openfor business.”

Holmes and his partners soon realised thatthey needed premises if they wanted to develop a great university. They set upa campus in a derelict Lever Brothers warehouse in Milpark which cost themR6,00 a square metre. They now own it and it accommodates 650 students. Another600-odd are at the Cape Town campus. The curriculum, and teaching and managementsystems were forged by Passchier. A student of martial arts and Japanesepainting, he developed a passion for ancient training philosophy, theories andpractice, before he turned to creating training videos for a number of bluechip companies. That’s where he was exposed to management methods that he wouldlater fuse with the training theories of the ancients to develop AFDA’s systems.The school was funded with student fees,and post-production facilities were provided by The Video Lab. Holmes says it wasbuilt on the generosity of many people who offered their services. “Three SouthAfricans who were eking out an existence in Hollywood at the time, and a localIT entrepreneur, gave us the original R30 000. We used that, with anamortisation on renovations, to get us going.”

The first formal management controls wereput in place in June 2003 by Passchier. “We had run the company without anyreal management structures until then,” Holmes recalls. “Each partner trustedthat the other would fulfil their responsibilities, but this could only workwhile we were a small company.”AFDA’s early challenges included oppositionfrom within the industry, achieving accreditation and the ever-present threatof bankruptcy. “We had cash flow problems stemming from the fact that we had toconstantly develop the school to deal with the demands of the marketplace. Theearly days were all about growth which meant more staff, more space, moreequipment, more facilities – all of which had to be bought without any supportfrom the state or any other resource.”

Ask Holmes what sets the school apart andhe talks about contributing to building a sustainable and vibrant filmindustry. “We have always been convinced that we are making a difference andthat we will leave a legacy of film practitioners, artists and performers whohave genuine ability to excel and to help create a unique and inspirationalcultural identity for all South Africans.” The school’s achievements include winningan Oscar for best student film, having a film in the finals at Cannes 2006,making the feature film Soldiers of the Rock, and achieving Mastersaccreditation.What AFDA’s success has proved, is theongoing relevance of drama and film in education. “The nature of today’sconsumers coupled with our technologically driven society has placed greateremphasis than ever before on the development of entertainment and mediapractitioners; they are responsible for reflecting society, creating meaning,and capturing the beauty of the human spirit.” Contact: +27 11 482 8345;

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+.


25 Of The Most Successful Business Ideas In South Africa

Find out who’s making waves in numerous industries and how they managed to differentiate themselves in local and international industries.

Nicole Crampton



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“Disruption is all about risk-taking, trusting your intuition, and rejecting the way things are supposed to be. Disruption goes way beyond advertising, it forces you to think about where you want your brand to go and how to get there,” says Richard Branson.

South Africa has its fair share of innovative and disruptive businesses taking both local and international industries by storm. From cutting edge space technology to reimagined logistics, and innovative business models, here are 25 of the most successful business ideas in South Africa:

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Colin Timmis Says ‘Position Yourself For Success By Starting With The Numbers’

People pay first who they feel pressure from, so people will pay you when they feel pressure from you.






Entrepreneur Colin Timmis founded South Africa’s first cloud accounting practice in 2011, Real Time Accounting. Then, a few years after being appointed as South Africa’s first Xero partner Colin became Xero Country Manager South Africa. Xero is the emerging global leader of online accounting software that connects small businesses to their advisors and other services.

Related: Pat Pillai On How He’s Helped Over 5000 Entrepreneurs Using 3 Key Steps

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Two 20 Year Olds Reshape Entrepreneur Landscape With New Social Investment Platform

The Merge vision is to become the ‘go to’, digital meeting place for entrepreneurs and investors, and to truly make a difference in the world.

Merge Connect




Vital Stats

It’s no secret that finding the right investor for your venture is a challenge that most entrepreneurs face. The current process of finding investment is one that is outdated, and limits entrepreneurs due to a lack of time, and network that is needed to find the right investor. But, this doesn’t have to be the case in today’s digital society, says Zander Matthee and Brandon Bate, co-founders of Merge.

“By making the Internet the middleman, we are able to connect with each other much simpler and faster than before” was Zander’s response. “We have taken advantage of this, and have created a digital meeting place for entrepreneurs and investors” added Brandon.

Merge is a social platform that connects entrepreneurs and investors. It aims to simplify, refine and accelerate the process of finding investment for entrepreneurs, and the process of finding investment opportunities for investors. From idea to developed, the platform allows entrepreneurs to present a brief outline of their venture to a network of all investor types. While doing this, entrepreneurs are able to browse through, and connect with investor profiles that suit their requirements.

Related: 8 Codes Of Success That Helped Priven Reddy of Kagiso Interactive Media Achieve A Networth Of Over R4 Billion

From Private Investors to Venture Capital, and everything in between, Merge allows all investor types to join. Investors have the opportunity to personalise their feed to suit their investment preferences, and will be able to connect with innovative businesses – that are looking for investment – at their fingertips. Only once there is a mutual interest in each other, are users able to enter a secure private chat where they can discuss further and share documents under the protection of a digital NDA.

The two boys became good friends during their time in high school at St Stithians Boys College. However, it was only in their last year, 2016, that they decided to pursue their dreams and create the platform. They didn’t know how to code, so rather ironically, they needed some form of investment to get the platform off the ground.


“We knew we had a mountain to climb, but we believed in our vision and that we were really trying to make a difference, and if we could get others to see that, they would be onboard.” said Zander.

Related: Lessons From The Rich And Famous: Manage Your Money Like Oprah To Avoid Going Into Debt Like Nicholas Cage

Chris Peters is one of these individuals that bought into their vision, and became Merge’s first investor. As a successful entrepreneur and part time investor , Chris saw how much value the platform could bring to all entrepreneurs and investors alike. His marketing and strategic background gave him insight into how Merge could play a vital role in a lucrative space, Brand involvement.

“Entrepreneurship and SME development are two key factors that drive economic growth in developing countries like South Africa. That is why brands are currently getting involved, and looking to support entrepreneurs through various means. We have built a platform that allows these brands to successfully market, and execute on the programmes they have created to assist entrepreneurs.” said Chris

Merge was created to assist all entrepreneurs and investors in finding exactly what they are looking for, regardless of age, race, sex, financial position or social status. That is why anybody can sign-up as an entrepreneur. As long as you are determined and willing to work for your dreams. For too long has the investor space been seen as an “elite club for the select few”, and Merge is here to change that. Whether you’ve gotten your bonus at the end of the year and looking for new investment opportunities, or are an active investor, you can sign-up. Whether you’re currently working, or a retired industry leader, you can join as a mentor.

Their vision is to become the ‘go to’, digital meeting place for entrepreneurs and investors, and to truly make a difference in the world.

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