Young rural entrepreneur Nathi Ndlazi has made success out of nothing

Ten years after his father died and his mother abandoned them, Nathi Ndlazi has made a remarkable success of his life.

Ten years after his father died and his mother abandoned them, Nathi Ndlazi has made a remarkable success of his life.

Zamani's Printing and Stationery Shop is a humble little place on the U-bend near Mosvold Hospital at Ingwavuma in the far north of KwaZulu-Natal.

But its 22-year-old owner, Ndlazi, has plans to turn it into an Internet café - and his immense willpower is likely to see this happen.

Everything Ndlazi has achieved for the past 10 years has been the product of his own sweat and sacrifice.

From the age of 12 as a Grade 5 pupil, Ndlazi has been the head of his household in the semi-rural and economically desolate area bordering Swaziland and Mozambique.

"After my father passed away when I was 12, my mother left us to look for a job at Empangeni. She never came back. My older brother, Dumisani, went to Swaziland and he didn't come back too," says Ndlazi.

Ndlazi suddenly found himself responsible for his younger sister, Cabangile, then 10, and brother Mbongeni, 8. Initially, their father's relatives took them in. But after six months, the relatives could no longer support them and sent them back to their one-roomed house halfway down a valley.

"I was still at school, but after school I got piece jobs from the neighbours, looking after their cattle and watering their gardens," says Ndlazi, who is at least a head shorter than an average man.

But what he lacks in size, he makes up for in courage and determination - to matriculate and be a good provider for his family.

"I earned between R200 and R300 a month from my piece jobs, and used that for food and school fees."

Every day between 2pm and 5pm, he worked for the neighbours. Then between 5pm and 8pm, he busied himself with homework and household chores.

"My sister and I took turns to cook and we each washed our own clothes. I would also help the others with their homework."

After two years of this hand-to-mouth living, Ndlazi heard about the newly formed Ingwavuma Orphan Care Project. British doctor Ann Dean, who was based at Mosvold Hospital, had become increasingly concerned about the growing problem of Aids orphans and started the project with minimal funds in 2000.

"I went to them and explained my situation and they started to give me food parcels," says Ndlazi.

Through the project, Ndlazi and his siblings were also able to meet other orphans and that helped them feel they were not alone.

In 2002, as a Grade 12 pupil, Ndlazi became the orphan representative on the project and even travelled to Cape Town as a delegate to a national meeting of orphans. The following year, after matric, Ndlazi started work as a volunteer at the orphan care project.

Initially, he cleaned the stores and did some reception work. But he was fascinated by computers, and learnt all he could about them while volunteering.

Later the project helped him to do a six-month correspondence course on webpage design.

Two years ago, he was appointed centre manager, and is responsible for building maintenance, computers and the Internet network.

The project had expanded from a two-person operation in a back room of Mosvold Hospital to an organisation that employs 75 local people. Its budget last year was R3 million.

Today the project cares for about 600 orphans and assists at least 1200 patients, 90 percent with HIV-related illnesses, through its home-based care programme.

"I love it because it is orphan care work. Sometimes I help to take out the food parcels and see families in the same situation as I was."

While Ndlazi is deeply loyal to Ingwavuma Orphan Care, he also wanted to start a business of his own. So, last December, he set up Zamani and trained a young man to run it for him while he works at the orphan care project.

"We print invitations and CVs and people can send faxes. But I want to start an Internet café. People here are desperate to learn computers and have access to the Internet."

Ndlazi still supports Cabangile, who matriculated two years ago but is unemployed, Mbongeni, currently in matric, and two-year-old Smakele, his son. They live together in a four-roomed house Ndlazi built alongside their old tiny one.

Ironically, older brother Dumisani drifted back to Ingwavuma last year and Ndlazi is also supporting him - and may well end up supporting his mother too.

"Last year, for the first time since she left us, we got a message from my mother greeting us. We have sent a lot of messages to her since then, begging her to come back to stay with us as a family. But so far she hasn't come back. I think it is because she thinks we haven't forgiven her, but we have."

Ndlazi folds his leather-clad arms and looks out into the distance, locked in his own private thoughts. An immensely serious and reserved young man, his new maroon double-cab bakkie is the only bit of flash in his life that signals his success to the world. - Health-e news