Jambo Africa Online’s Publisher, SAUL MOLOBI, gets close-up and personal with the sassy Karabo Nguyuza, a tourism entrepreneur who owns two B&Bs in Tembisa, in Ekurhuleni (which is brand positioned as South Africa’s premier aerotropolis) and Sandton, Africa’s economic hub. Though disabled, she continues to break new ground as an advocate for mainstreaming issues affecting people with disabilities.
Saul Molobi (SM): How would you describe yourself?
Karabo Nguyuza (KN): I would like to think that I am first and foremost a mother to a beautiful baby boy who is now 12 years old, I am an outgoing person who works well with others, a self-made businesswoman who has not forgotten her roots. The best kind of workaholic, assertive and driven but somehow still humble and caring, BUT, MOST OF ALL, I AM A GOD-FEARING WOMAN WHO COUNT HER BLESSINGS EVERY DAY FOR THE WORK HE HAS DONE IN MY LIFE.
SM: What motivates you to share your life experiences with us?
That is honestly a hard question to answer because I literally don’t know where to start and which parts to touch on without my book editor becoming upset with me. Though I guess I could give you the highlights and you can purchase the book if and when you’re ready to hear more.
Like I said before I am a God-fearing woman who owes everything I have today to the Lord. Being a single mother and disabled in this world, there was not much more I could do but turn to the Lord in prayer. And even then I had to use my wits to help God help me, so that is when I decided to turn my childhood home into a guest house against better judgment. And I hope that by sharing my life experiences with the world, more women and more differently abled people will be encouraged to pursue their goals and achieve their dreams.
SM: Please explain the nature of your disability?
Well I was diagnosed with the polio virus at the age of ten. Which back in my time, was not as rare as it is now. All thanks to the medical research and fine work our doctors, specialist and medical staff put in to find the vaccine. Within a blink of an eye, my world changed from being like every other child in the neighborhood to being confined to a wheel chair.
As you can imagine this hit our family even harder, with the added financial strain in trying to find a school that would accommodate someone with my disabilities. Not to mention the drastic changes at home. By the grace of God, I was admitted to a government boarding school which was built specifically to cater for children with disabilities just like me and others which were faced with worse challenges.
During the course of my schooling, there were some hiccups here and there. A few more detentions and transgressions like in every other school. Even disabled, we were just children being children, who longed and needed to be viewed as equal to the majority of the humans who were lucky enough to be born without any disabilities.
The environment at the school was not the best, the food was worse, and the treatment could have been better. However, majority of us still managed to graduate and receive our matric certificates. I even went on to get married and have a son, but that’s a story for another time.
SM: Please tell us about your business, where it is and what led you to start your own business?
Atang Residential Guest House started as an initiative that would give the middle- and lower-class residents access to the luxurious lifestyle at an affordable price in their backyard, Tembisa. It quickly became a hotspot which rivaled the already established guest houses in the area and even in the likes of Sandton and all the other affluent suburbs.
Atang Residential Guest house is a place where our clients can wine or dine our finest 5-star cuisines of African traditional dishes. All prepared by renowned South Africa chef and those looking to make a name for themselves.
We also included a complimentary massage with a nail treatment at our nail bar as part of our exclusive overnight package. We even cater for our walk-in clients looking to pamper themselves on their special day or any other day. We believe that every day is a special day to a woman or man.
SM: What would you say are the top 3 challenges you encountered when you started your business?
One of the challenges I faced was getting the Ekurhuleni Municipality to approve conversion of rights from residential into a business. It was also one of the first guest houses to be founded within the area, hence nobody thought it was a viable business plan to begin with. Acquiringfunding to get the business off the ground, purchasing the needed furniture such as beds and, most importantly, embarking on the marketing of the business. Also, it became extremely challenging when I was diagnosed with cancer. To cut a long story short, we managed to get the business going and competing with bigger and known guest houses in Kempton Park and other areas.
SM: Was there ever a time you wanted to give up after the challenges you were faced with in life?
That is a definite yes. I think I speak for all entrepreneurs when I say that every business owner does hit rock bottom, not once but several times. Sometime even trusting in the wrong people who intend to manipulate and use you for their selfish interests, or down right make empty promises such as getting you extra funding, and then leave you hanging. Not to mention sometimes hyping myself for the much-needed business deal which ends up falling through.
SM: What makes your business unique from your others that provide the same service?
Not blow my own horn, right? We, at Atang, were recently recognized through an award as the best guest house in Tembisa. I may attribute that to the high-class spa, massage parlor and the nail bar which come as a package deal.
We also have theme-related settings, for instance, we have room and spaces designed to cater for birthday celebrations, anniversaries, and your typical honeymoon suites. We were also blessed with purchasing shuttle buses for our guests travelling from and to the airport or any other destination – and we provide this service for free.
And as I mentioned before, we have an amazing team of cooks which can prepare anything from your Italian, Spanish, and African cuisines.
SM: How do you deal with people’s stereotype regarding people with disabilities?
To be honest I have had random people coming to ask me about my disability, in the mall or whenever I have dinner with a friend. I know this is bad, but I often come up with a crazy story mainly derived from the fairytale story I used to watch as a child.
I honestly feel more comfortable sharing such details with close friends, my doctors, or my family. So, in essence I am assertive when setting my boundaries but still try my utmost best to be kind with the words I use. I have even gone as far as educating others about the various disabilities and how to respect us. Most importantly what others see as a disability is in fact an enabler for some of us, as such pushes us to work doubly harder, go further and reach even higher heights that “normal people” may never hope to.
SM: What are things that people need to learn/know about people with disabilities?
We are just like everyone else; we have feelings and rights too. We may be physically challenged but we are not mentally challenged. We are just as intelligent, if not more intelligent, as most “normal people”, an example would be Stephen Hawking.
We can achieve much more than what society limits us to. No one with disabilities should be afraid to reach for the stars – all their goals and dreams should be within reach. You just have to reach out and grab those opportunities.
Also make sure to ask before trying to assist them by pushing the wheelchair or helping them in any way, because such is their right.
Most importantly being disabled or having a child with a disability is not a curse or something to be ashamed of. Like any child, they will need tender love and care but just a little more than usual.
SM: Words of motivation to other people living with disabilities and everyone in general?
Nothing is impossible as long as you put your mind and effort into it. If you can imagine it, you can achieve it. Those who have made it before you did not do it over night or use magic (what we call umuthi in isiZulu). Their success comes from hard work and dedication. Lastly, there are no short cuts in life, you will have to go through all the trials and challenges the Lord has prepared for you. Those same challenges will turn you into the woman or man who you need you to become.
Furthermore, be careful of the people you surround yourself with. If you want to be successful,surround yourself with like-minded people and you will be sure to succeed. If you have a dream or a goal you’re chasing, do not look for approval from other people, just go out and do it. Even if you fail, do it again in a different way until you get it right.
Do not underestimate the power of the mind. If you can win the battle in your mind, you are sure to win it in reality. Protecting your mindset is the most important task God has given to man.
SM: How do you relax and what do you do during your spare time?
Well, this is a tough one, like I said earlier I am a workaholic and between running a business and being a single mother there is not much time left for me.
Perhaps I should also say I love writing. I’m still working on my first book, and it will hit the shelves soon. I love travelling – mainly road trips with friends. I am also part of the selfie nation. I really love taking pictures. I love hanging out with my friends and playing board games. I also love cooking and treating my friends to a spa.
SM: What has been the impact of COVID-19 on your business?
COVID-19 is the most horrific thing to happen to small enterprises, the damage it has inflicted on my business and personal finances will take a few years to recover from and the business to recuperate. Atang is situated a few kilometers from the airport and when the president announced the lockdown, I had to close shop, cancel all bookings and pay back the clients. What makes my issue worse is that I had just re-opened after renovating and I had invested a substantial sum into the renovations with the hope to recover from the business, but COVID-19 changed all of that.
I still had to pay for deep cleaning because we have clients from all over the world, even though the business was still closed. I had to pay utilities and staff from my own pocket. I did not receive any government relief funding. I just hoped for better days. It has been a very stressful year, each and every plan I had made has been cancelled, not willingly but by force. All I can do is wait and see if the business will ever be back to normal, what worries me is that this stress is activating other illnesses. COVID-19 has caused me to be on high alert.
SM: What empowering message can you give to our readers?
My most favorite saying is: “Always strive towards life without limits, doing what seems impossible to be reality.”As a way of breaking the barriers as people with disabilities, we undertake hiking trips.
Click on this link to see Karabo in action:
For more information contact Karabo on +27 71 497 2717.