From rags to riches: Nungu’s success story

Only a decade ago, he was a hopeless Zimbabwean – walking street after street, scouring shops and tuck shops, trying to get employment.

Nungu near the machine that has given him fame and fortune.
Nungu near the machine that has given him fame and fortune.

Today, Lindile Nungu (33) is one of the most talked-about names in Johannesburg and his shop, GET and Projects, is well-known across South Africa for manufacturing curtains, blankets and interior home decorations. He has won tenders from top companies and the South African government.

“I knew what I wanted to do even when I crossed the border into this country. I was only looking for employment so that I could raise start-up capital,” Nungu told The Zimbabwean during an interview at one of his factories.

“Manufacturing runs in my blood – it is a family thing and I did not dream of doing something else because I was inducted into this by my parents at an early age. It sounds weird, but I did not play with other children when I grew up in Bulawayo, nor did I have any toys but my father’s sewing machines,” he said.

After completing school, Nungu took sewing seriously and acquired skills as a tailor, after which he worked at a Bulawayo factory that produced clothing for two years. He left to seek greener pastures in neighbouring South Africa.

Pap and cabbage

“When I arrived here, I worked for a Zimbabwean man who owned a small tailor’s shop in Johannesburg. For four years I saved every cent I could,” he said.

“In 2001, I had saved enough money and bought myself a few machines, which I used to start the business that you see now.”

But it was not easy.

“I did not have relevant documentation then and getting loans, which I really needed at that stage, was impossible. I had to live from hand-to-mouth in the beginning, and my personal needs had to suffer in order for the business to grow. I lived on pap and cabbage for more than two years, trying to break even, which I eventually did,” said Nungu.

Having soldiered on, walking long distances to get supplies and negotiate contracts with potential customers, he finally established himself.

“Things began to move for me when I got contracts to supply 70 major businesses with my products and from then the company just moved up, up and up.”

Give a hand

With his profile having grown in leaps and bounds, Nungu was contracted by some major suppliers of clothing, blankets and curtains from all over South Africa, where there is no corner that he does not supply.

“I have contracts with major dealers in as far as Limpopo, Mpumalanga, the whole of South Africa we are there and respected. But we have not forgotten the need to give a hand to some developing businessmen as well,” said Nungu.

“We currently supply more than 130 small businesses in South Africa and Zimbabwe, who get our products on reasonable terms. In this way, we are making sure that other poor people with a vision are also given wings to fly.”

World Cup cake

The highlight of Nungu’s career came in 2010, when some companies that had won tenders to supply clothing for participating teams at the World Cup approached him for partnership deals.

“We knew that for us to break into the deals on our own in a field where the who’s who of the industry were also struggling to get in was always going to be difficult. But our good profile and track record saw us get sub-contracts with some major companies and we got a piece of the World Cup cake.”

He is now established – but Nungu is not satisfied with making a name for himself in a foreign land. He longs to do so in his homeland too. He has started drawing up plans for a presence in Zimbabwe – Bulawayo especially.

“I want my boyhood friends to be proud of me one day and that is why I am planning to make a big impact in Zimbabwe,” he said. But first of all he wants to establish several branches in every major city here in South Africa.

Having gone through the trials and tribulations of trying to find his feet in a foreign land, Nungu has this advice for his compatriots in the Diaspora:

“Do not underestimate what runs in your family – because it is what you have done most in your life that will at the end of the day determine your destiny. Practice makes perfect and that is what has worked for me.

“Also, people might think that investing money is ‘not cool’ but that is the key to success, especially when you live far away from your parents, who will always breathe down your neck and tell you to buy cattle and goats for a better tomorrow. In fact, living a carefree life of chasing after women and night spots is now out of fashion and will not take you anywhere.”

Post published in: Opinions & Analysis

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