Mistreatment of orphan gives birth to million-rand company

2016-09-12 09:26
Levi Mnguni (Supplied)

Levi Mnguni (Supplied)

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Pretoria - The ill treatment of an orphan by a property owner planted a seed that grew into a million-rand company that puts the interests and needs of students at its forefront.

Levi Mnguni was renting a room in 2006 along with three others in the same yard. Among the three was a young man who was an orphan and abused as a child.

"A brother and sister could afford to pay for their studies and accommodation but the third person was an orphan. They took him from home and carried the costs of his studies. They managed to pay for him in January but in February they had financial constraints and couldn't afford to pay the rent," Mnguni said.

"Their pastor back at home promised to send money during the course of the month. The landlord requested a meeting and I had to interpret. While I was there they asked where the money was. He explained that he was an orphan and had been abused for many years and the guys were helping him with money for rent but they had problems."

Providing a solution

Mnguni said the words that came out of the mouth of the owner of the rooms sent chills down his spine.

"It was the answer that... that prompted me to start this business. The response was, 'If he doesn't have parents, what does he want us to do? We are not running a charity case here... we want money, otherwise he must vacate our premises'," he recalled.

Mnguni couldn't translate such a response and opted to leave the meeting. The next day he found himself helping the trio move out. They went and found a shack to live in together.

"The question that lingered in my mind was why is there is no one caring for the students and I wanted to step in and provide a solution to the problem."

That fateful day gave birth to Levingston Group which has three subsidiaries looking after the needs of poor students.

The company was registered in 2010 for student accommodation solutions. He said they entered into the field, not as property owners, but as agents where they would make it easy for students to find accommodation in the townships.

It was not always smooth sailing.

"In 2011, we opened our office and the placement for that year was only 26 students, which dropped to a low eight by June that year. The following year I then decided to move a step closer to the main plan which was to assist bursary holders.

"I was introduced to a few schemes and I managed to accommodate about 18 students from two schemes. That continued into 2013 with the numbers increasing slowly. In 2014 I decided to completely do away with the previous model of opening the business to the ones also paying cash," he said.

Mnguni persevered and never gave up on the plan to better the lives of a young black people. He decided to restructure the concept of the business and start to specialise in a niche market.

"I reviewed the concept and only focused on bursary holders and we managed to place 76 students and that boosted the turnover. We started with R3 000 in 2011 and by 2014 turnover was R1.4m. I also managed to employ three individuals," he said.

The following year he then introduced a new service. He said during his interactions with many students going to school with the assistance of bursaries, he realised the hardships they faced.

"In 2015 we introduced a new service called Rent Secure. It's a personalised service for bursary holders. You would find that a bursary holder will be looking for accommodation and the landlord wants money, but the scheme only pays in September. We step in and secure that rental for the months pending payment," he said.

Mnguni said they use their own funds to take care of the student's needs throughout the year until the schemes pay out. He said the service only started early this year and they were now sitting at 204 students under the service securing rentals of over R500 000 a month.

"In May, we then identified another challenge faced by our target market, the issue of study materials. It's delayed similarly to the rental aspect. I registered a new company called Compubooks. The company has to date supplied over 200 laptops and equipment to bursary holders.

Little things

"We have also donated to a few initiatives. We are also in the process of donating laptops to students from disadvantaged backgrounds that don't have sponsorships," he said.

Mnguni told News24 that he was pained by the challenges that poor students who rely on bursaries go through just to obtain their qualifications. He said companies offer the bursaries but miss the little things that happen in between starting school and when the schemes actually pay out.

"Our belief is that a bursary holder must be able to get access to this important material early. When they register they must get books now. If a bursary holder says I want a laptop, the idea behind Compubooks is to ensure we cut the red tape and make sure the student has the required resources to flourish in their studies.

"We also make sure that the funds allocated to them really benefit them in the way it was intended to. In the current system, you find that the funds are there but they don't get to resolve the real issue which is paying tuition on time. The student gets books and accommodation," he said.

Scavenge leftover food

Mnguni added that he recently came across a student who had to scavenge leftover food in the cafeteria because her scheme had not yet released the funds.

"Earlier this year I met a bursary holder who spent two months sleeping in the toilets and eating people's leftover food in the cafeteria. Her bursary had no limits but she was struggling to survive. We secured her rental and assisted her to live," he said.

Mnguni, who operates from the township of Soshanguve in Pretoria, beamed with excitement when he spoke about the plans he had for next year to start a fund to assist students who don't have bursaries but want to study.

"In 2017 we will be offering Rent Secure sponsorships for students who come from disadvantaged backgrounds to pay their monthly rentals wherever they are staying. We are still working on the exact number of students we will be assisting.

"Compubooks will also offer book vouchers and computers for the students," he said.

Read more on:    pretoria  |  education  |  good news

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