Chit Chat: Mzwandile Thabethe

2011-04-30 08:48

Mzwandile Thabethe is one half of a business duo who are taking over the Joburg inner - city nightlife scene. Along with his younger brother, Ziggy, ­Thabethe brought us the chic Sophiatown bar lounge in ­Newtown, student hotspot Ko’Spotong in Gandhi Square, Pata Pata on Main Street in the city centre and Shikisha, their latest, in Newtown.

Why did you decide to go into business with your brother?
Good partnerships work well in business, it just so happens that in our instance we are family.

Business partnerships can be made up of friends, complete strangers, communities or family. It’s all about common vision and commitment. We get along well, are very good friends and we are committed to the same vision and work ethic.

What was your relationship like as kids?
Well I’m older so I really can’t say I could complain about him, except when he wore my clothes without permission. But we’ve always got along very well. I have been my brother’s keeper and he mine.

How difficult was it for two young black guys to start a string of businesses at the time that you did?
Ha! There’s a Bible verse that says: “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” Well in South Africa it’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a black man to get funding. That verse is Mzansi 20:11. They are more than happy to give you R5 000 to R50 000. That is what black people are worth for now. Believe it.

What is it about Joburg’s city centre that attracted you?
I think the majority of the clientele we want to attract and that make sense for us are based in and around here. We really believe in the city; this is the City of Gold so it’s where we are going to start digging. We would definitely like to go to the ‘hood in the near future.

If Sophiatown, Ko’Spotong and Pata Pata were siblings, what kind of rivalry would they have?
They all have completely different clientele: Ko’Spotong is much more youthful, the pantsula or m’rapper of the family; Pata Pata is in the middle and is the hippie; and Sophiatown is the big brother.

Your new restaurant, Shikisha, has taken over the old Horror Cafe. Do you feel the pressure to live up to the legacy of that place?
We are constantly hearing of Newtown being a symbol of its former self, so we would definitely like to live up to the fond memories of the past. However, it’s important to understand and acknowledge that change is salvation, change is the future.

Is it true you bought Capello in Newtown to turn that space into toilets?
This is not true, we did not buy Capello. But new toilets have been installed in some part of what used to be Capello. When they left we enquired if we could take the space and the landlord agreed.

What is the inspiration behind the names of your restaurants?
Our holding company is Ubuntu Brands, we believe in self-recognition, self-acknowledgment and self-belief. We try and keep the décor modest so as to create a homely feel.

If you could open a restaurant or cocktail lounge anywhere in the world where would it be and why?
This might seem boring, but it would have to be Soweto. We were born there, and that is my home. All my family is there. To paraphrase Tupac, “to live and die in Soweto, that’s the place to be...”

What are your other interests?
I’m fairly sporty, so I rollerblade and run a lot. I play ball, read and I drink at times. I love the ragga sessions with Jah Seed and Admiral, I also love the Party People sessions by Kenzero, and I really love the outdoors. Safaris... totally love them.

If you could be a superhero, what super power would you have and what would your name be?
I would need to be able to fly and change people’s thoughts, the power of persuasion. I would go by the name Shaka, that’s my superhero, a true legend for all time.

What is your next business venture?
I would like to think, for a while, we are not going to venture into anything. We’re just going to work on making what we have work.

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