“Give a man a fish and you will feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you have fed him for a lifetime.”
This is the principle that Mthatha philanthropist and founder of the Ubunye Foundation, Rehana Surka, has always believed in and one that has built her a legacy of empowerment that she has extended to multitudes of people in the former Transkei region.
Having arrived in Mthatha from India in 1981, Rehana began her career as an economics lecturer at Mthatha Technical College, until 1994. She then used her economics background to start Just Right Business & Communication Services in 1998, a business venture she describes as the start of her journey in rural economic development and empowerment.
Through her business, Rehana was able to empower communities through communication as the company rolled out 384 MTN public phones between 2000 and 2006 in rural areas under the former Transkei region, free of charge.
“Another economic empowerment of people in rural areas came when MTN introduced the M-charge concept, which enabled people to buy and sell airtime vouchers using their cellphones in the early 2000. Through the M-charge, concept, my company was able to empower 7 436 vendors under our umbrella, which entailed training in technology, transfer of skills and sharing the business opportunity, as and when offered by MTN,” Surka said.
Just Right Business & Communication Services bagged four consecutive MTN awards of the highest sales in the country through M-charge. “Looking back, those glorious years were very satisfying and accomplishing my goals while running the business more on a semi- social entrepreneurship model was a dream come true for me,” said Surka.
Surka has now retired from active business life and dedicated her time to social upliftment and philanthropic causes through her Ubunye Foundation, which she formally founded in 2017.
“Through the foundation, I am able to share what I got from my years as a lecturer and in business with those in need.
“The foundation does not have any donors but is sustainable through savings I have set aside over the years for this purpose,” Surka told Express.
The foundation has, since 2016 until the COVID-19 outbreak, been hosting the biannual Street Store initiative, whereby needy people from different communities in the former Transkei region would come and get clothing items from the store free of charge.
Surka continues to help those in need through distribution of groceries and clothing to the needy amid the interruption to their normal operations brought about due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“To share with those in need was instilled in me and my siblings from a very young age in my home country of India. My mother was a nurse and I used to see and sometimes accompany her as she would go to those in need and help them with free vaccinations and medical assistance,” Surka recalled.
Surka said she would soon be relocating to Cape Town, due to her husband’s poor health, but will be in and out of Mthatha regularly.
She will be handing over the day-to-day operations of the organisation to her assistant, Dora Mankayi, whom she describes as her right-hand woman.
Surka is the older sister to another well-known Mthatha philanthropist and founder of Women With Vision, Rashida Mukadam.