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Women Entrepreneur Successes

Imbizo Shisinyama: Rita Zwane

A hunger for her own business led an eager entrepreneur to start a truly South African restaurant.

Monique Verduyn




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 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+.



  1. Neyoor nav Naj

    Feb 22, 2013 at 10:44

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

  2. Zamamiya Zee Ford

    Feb 27, 2013 at 13:43

    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.

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Company Posts

Designing Her Destiny

Oh Yay! owner, Emmerentia van den Hoven does business her way.

QuickBooks SA




In 2011, Emmerentia van den Hoven took a leap of faith when she decided to leave her graphic design job at an agency and pursue her real passion – and it has paid off tenfold. Here’s her story.

“When I started planning my own wedding eight years ago, I fell in love with wedding design and wanted to do that for the rest of my life. Designing for brands had become a set of rules rather than being creative, and I’d always wanted to work for myself. So, in September 2011, I turned my seven-month-old side gig into a fully-fledged business and launched Oh Yay!

I have to hustle every month to get new clients because every client will use my services maximum twice – first for the wedding invitations and then for the stationery on the day – so I don’t normally have returning clients.

Because my main business is seasonal and usually once-off per customer, I have branched out into branding for small businesses in the beauty and lifestyle industry. I also earn a passive income through the Oh Yay! online shop where I sell wedding décor items.  Oh Yay Kids – my other online store – is my passion project. I launched it just before my second child was born, adding items to the store that I made for my two boys when I saw a need for it. I then expanded into prints for nurseries and kids’ party stationery.

I work for myself and have no employees, so the fact that QuickBooks lets me load all my services, products and prices in one place makes running my business so much easier. Being an entrepreneur is difficult because you don’t know if you’ll be successful or not. But if you believe in and love what you’re doing, it reflects in your work and the service you give.”

Less admin, more of what you love


When Oh Yay! was launched, along with her dream of being an entrepreneur, came the nightmare of other administrative tasks. But that changed in 2018 when Emmerentia started using QuickBooks.

“When I was using spreadsheets to balance my books, I was spending 80% of my time on admin, which left very little time to tend to customers’ orders. I now spend no more than 25% of my time on admin, which is important, especially when it comes to the speed at which I send quotes. You don’t get any work if you don’t send out quotes and it’s tough to juggle the admin with your actual job of running the business.

Numbers were never really my strong point, so having a professional quote done in record time not only projects professionalism, but the format also changes the way new clients see me. In my industry, the quicker you can send a quote out, the likelier you’ll get the clients’ business. It gives legitimacy to my business. The QuickBooks system operates so seamlessly that clients communicate with me differently, like I have my own accounting department, when in fact, I’m a one-woman-show.

I used to dread doing admin, but now it’s so easy and quick. I’m not just saying this – QuickBooks changed my life.”

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Women Entrepreneur Successes

Watch List: 50 Black African Women Entrepreneurs To Watch

These female entrepreneurs are breaking barriers, transforming industries and inspiring change on the continent.

Diana Albertyn



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Women Entrepreneur Successes

Owner Of Nouwens Carpets Shares Success Lessons From Running A 50 Year Old Family Business

Embrace technology every chance you get.

Nadine Todd




A company that’s been active for more than five decades in an industry that’s hundreds of years old doesn’t sound like a recipe for innovation — and yet that’s exactly what Luci Nouwens, owner of Nouwens Carpets, is focused on.

The modern carpet has a history that goes back thousands of years. And despite the hipster trend of reclaimed and hard wood flooring, the carpet still remains a popular choice for consumers.

In South Africa, a name that’s synonymous with quality carpeting is Nouwens. When Cornelis Nouwens arrived in the country in the 1950s, bringing the skills of a trade which he had mastered alongside his father in Tilburg, the hub of the Netherlands’ wool textile industry, he passed on the skills and the love of the craft to his family and to workers in the Harrismith region in KwaZulu Natal.

More than 50 years after her father started it in 1962, the company remains family owned, and is headed by Luci Nouwens, who has been with the business for 48 years.

“We have maintained our reputation for premium quality all this time by paying meticulous attention to crafting standards and selecting only the finest raw materials,” says Luci. “Equally important is that we have innovated at every opportunity, embracing technology without ever compromising the traditional craftsman’s spirit.”

Innovation drives growth

Businesses that innovate are able to grow and hire more employees. As a result, they grab a bigger share of the market. That’s true regardless of the size of your business: If you innovate, you can scale up.

In 1968 Nouwens launched a pure karakul wool carpet that was extremely hard wearing and took the company into the commercial carpet market. Luci recalls the manufacturing of the carpet as “a major feat of unique textile engineering.” Another innovation in 2005 was the introduction of a totally new style of flat weave wool carpet, a very clean, minimalist and natural look requiring much less wool without compromising on wearability.

“These innovations are just two of many that have allowed the business to boost its market share over the years,” says Luci. “But beyond that, innovation has enabled Nouwens Carpets to form the backbone of economic activity and upliftment in the local community around Harrismith. This has allowed us to make substantial investment in providing education and skills development for the local population, to ensure that the craft is preserved for generations to come.”

Related: 10 Successful SA Women Entrepreneurs’ Top Advice On Balancing Work And Family

Innovation enables sustainability

Innovation in technologies and how they are applied is key to enabling a manufacturer like Nouwens to create new business value, while also protecting the planet.

“We have used technology to enable sustainable manufacturing, for the benefit of the business, the community, and our customers.”

Nouwens selects equipment, materials and manufacturing methods based on their degree of sustainability and protection of the environment. The company is also a member of the Green Building Council of South Africa and submits its products for VOC testing to ensure that harmful emissions are significantly reduced.

“Ultimately, we are driven by a passion for textiles and the ability to constantly find better ways to produce beautiful products. After the downturn in the economy, we started to produce more cost-effective commercial nylon yarns, and in 2017, we became the new kid on the block for synthetic grass. The bottom line is that a true entrepreneur does what has to be done when the time comes.” — Monique Verduyn

The role of disruption in creating value

A disruptive business is a business that challenges and potentially changes the status quo. From a mindset point of view, a culture that questions ‘why’ can help foster organisational and market disruption. But disruption for the sake of disruption is self-defeating, it needs to be on the back of making things better and based on commercial principles, i.e. people or market players actually wanting to be disrupted.

The starting point is this: Does someone, or a market, value what you’re producing? If the answer is yes, you have a commercially viable disruption. Disruption that is valued by its target market has the best chance of resulting in success.

Get that right and you’ll have a customer base, you’ll gain traction and you’ll attract investors, provided you’re also making a meaningful and sustainable difference to your target market or community. — Ian Lessem, CEO, HAVAIC Investment and Advisory Firm


Team up with customers and competitors.

There’s more power in collaboration than competition. We’re stronger together than when we’re apart. When it comes to working with competitors, consider this: They may have something that you don’t, or vice versa, and 50% of something is always more than 100% of nothing. You’re then positioned to add value before you add an invoice, so your clients benefit from your relationships, and the market wins. From there, you become your client’s go-to-person, because you’re putting them first.

Customers are also a great source of knowledge: They might just have the answers you’re looking for, but are you asking them the right questions? They often know more about an entrepreneur’s business than they know themselves, because they’re on the receiving end of your offering. One way to collaborate with customers is to ask them more questions about yourselves, themselves and their clients. Harness their perspective and develop yourself to give them what they want, not what you think they want. — Wes Boshoff, founder, Imagine Thinking

Related: Watch List: 50 Top SA Business Women To Watch


Know what your audiences are interested in

As a brand, there are many ways to ensure your audience is paying attention to you, but you can’t expect them to find you unless you’re sharing content that captures their interest. If you send out press releases, don’t be too rigid or plain. Audiences want to be engaged, and not to have to deal with long, cumbersome information. An infographic, along with a video or pictures will make your release easier to ingest and more memorable. People don’t want boring figures, they want relatable stories.

One way to be relatable is by tapping into influencer marketing. This doesn’t mean you need celebrities with the highest followings to endorse you. Micro-influencers are proving to have just as much clout as those with larger followings. Evidence shows that micro-influencers have a more established and deeper connection with their audience, which translates to loyalty and a readiness to follow their advice. The trick is to find the micro-influencers who are speaking to the audience you want to reach.

Big data plays a key role in painting a picture of who is ‘out there’. With the right information, you can tailor your content to a specific audience. Big data can show you what topics and problems are trending in your industry, so that you can get the jump on them. Use big data to deliver your own insights on current topics, shaping and leading the conversation, converting your audience’s attention into action. — Madelain Roscher, founder and managing director, PR Worx and Status Reputation Management

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