Starting from humble beginnings, Zungu is now a successful entrepreneur

Lihle Mtshali

Lihle Mtshali

He has been branded an empowerment mogul and is the executive chairman of Zungu Investments Company (Zico) and chairman of the Africa Vanguard Group.

What many might not know is that in his university days, 40-year-old Sandile Zungu had quite a following as a campus DJ, where he entertained fellow students, frequently playing at university and township parties.

Zungu was born in Umlazi, a township south of Durban, but often visited relatives in northern KwaZulu-Natal, where he says his affinity towards the poor was honed.

"I worship at the Salvation Army," says Zungu.

"I like the church for its strong social upliftment programmes, which resonate with my own philosophy of giving."

Zungu, a top student, matriculated from Vukuzakhe High School at the tender age of 16. He then spent a bridging year at Hilton College, where he became aware of the sharp contrasts between the world from which he came and the extraordinary one in which he now found himself.

"I begrudgingly enjoyed the privileges, but it was there that my political awareness was sharpened," he says.

From 1985 to 1988, on bursary from Shell, Zungu studied mechanical engineering at the University of Cape Town (UCT) and was actively involved in student politics, but always reminded himself that education had to come first.

Zungu has worked for different companies, including Richards Bay Minerals, Engen Refinery, National Sorghum Breweries and South African Breweries.

In 1995 he took a year off from the corporate world and went back to full-time study. He obtained his masters in business administration (MBA) from the UCT Graduate School of Business. He calls this period his "me" year because it gave him time to reflect on what was important.

It was after this that he shifted his focus from engineering to corporate finance. Zico was established in 2000 after Zungu completed a four-month stint at Harvard Business School in the US studying business. The company became operational in 2002 and now has interests in diamonds, uranium, cleaning operations and outdoor and print media.