helping youth to achieve business goals

Don Makatile

Don Makatile

At a youthful 37, Malose Kekana is the picture of good health, perhaps the best example to the country's youth, who seem to have elevated drugs, alcohol and a reckless lifestyle to a mantra.

His haunt, where we rendezvous, is an up-market restaurant.

The head honcho at the Umsobomvu Youth Fund (UYF), he's a true-blue banker whose language is dominated by figures and terminology like he was reading straight out of an economics textbook.

"... after the mutualisation of Sanlam and Old Mutual, the proceeds thereof were used to capitalise the fund ..."

The UYF came into existence seven years ago after the realisation that unemployment and youth made for unsavoury bedfellows, so "to overcome these obstacles, government created Umsobomvu in January 2001 and gave it the task of promoting entrepreneurship, job creation, skills development and transfer among South Africans age between 18 and 35".

Here and there one is bound to bump into enterprises run by young people who've made it as a result of help from the fund. The large bulk of these fit the profile, that Kekana counts off on his fingers, that used to jar the ears of moneylenders - black, unemployed, no security.

Called on to enumerate the successes of the fund, Kekana brags, understandably, about the National Youth Service (NYS) that, he laughs, a government minister said would remain a pipe dream.

The NYS is today the main programme to address second economy challenges, he says, with a tinge of self-satisfaction. And it would appear the fund would have found no better hands than the capable ones of this Mahwelereng-born Wits University commerce graduate.

"Youth development for us is a cause," he says, "not a job."

He's clearly passionate about this and says of their Midrand office: "I have been fortunate to be surrounded by people who share the same passion."

He reels off figures from the top of his head, the same money his shrewd business sense has ensured remains accounted for, to the last cent. "We started with a once-off allocation of R855 million in 2001," he says.

Another windfall - R400 million, came their way in 2006. The politics of budget allocations have meant decreased funding for many beneficiaries. For 2008, the UYF received a paltry R5 million, "and given this uncertainty, we've decided to limit our dependence on government".

Despite this setback, Kekana is upbeat. From their loan book alone they have R171 million, enough to cover their overheads of R54 million, while the rest will go to funding their myriad projects, he says.

As chief executive of the UYF, he's aware that their Pretoria office alone sees a minimum of 250 young people a day eager to access their services: "On busy days they process up to 850 people."

The fund has 13 advisory centres throughout the country, "but we have capacity to create 14 more".

The aim, he says, is to locate these centres in busy metropoli where the majority of the help is sought ... Soweto, Tembisa, Gugulethu, Khayelitsha, Umlazi ...

"The demand is there," he says, "but we don't have the wherewithal."

He's dressed in a formal jacket and compatible slacks, the sort of attire that suggests he wants to melt into the after-work crowds in the Rivonia eatery scene, where he's meeting with a buddy, Fikile Mbalula.

He quit a well-paying job at the Rand Merchant Bank (RMB), he says, to do what he does at Umsobomvu. And when he throws in the refrain "we don't do this to boost our CVs", one's left no choice but to believe him.

Before RMB he'd emerged out of Wits with a BCom degree in 1992. A few years earlier, he'd gained a one-year certificate in metallurgical engineering.


"Just for kicks."

A BCom honours, completed through Unisa, would follow a few years later. This is the sort of educational background that would allow him to say, proudly, "I've been in banking and lending all my working life."

After he left Standard Bank, he founded a private equity fund, Prodigy in Cape Town.

Life in the Cape corralled him into another breakthrough - owning and managing Meeg Bank, the former bank of Transkei, with Wiseman Nkuhlu.

By any standards, no one in the world of finance gets a business partner of the calibre of Nkuhlu just because they were lucky!

The landmark Job Summit in 1998 would clear the path for the establishment of Umsobomvu three years later. "I was the first employee of the fund," he says.

His youth in Mahwelereng, in what is now known as Mokopane, introduced him to civic politics, which he joined at 14: "I've been an activist ever since."

He'd sweep through the corridors of power inside the ANC Youth League, working in the shadows under former presidents Malusi Gigaba, now a cabinet minister and Mbalula, his dinner date at the swanky Primi Piatti in Rivonia.

Kekana has a fun side - his life is not all about sloganeering, calls for no-Sunday booze and circumcision for all men. Running is my life, he says.

He's running his fifth Comrades this year, he says, hastily adding the highlight of his past weekend was a 67km training run he did in readiness for the Durban to Pietermaritzburg up-run this year.

He cycles too, he says, and his fair skin and athletic stride attest to this healthy lifestyle.

"I read avidly," he says, "I trade."

He goes to gym, does movies and travels - sports trips that have allowed him to run the New York and London Marathons and watch the Grand Prix.

A dignified young man who considers humility a virtue, he says it's important for young people to set themselves goals. "You need to live a balanced life, though," he says, "what defines you can't just be money and work."

He quotes a recent survey that paints a bleak picture of alcohol and drug dependence among the youth.

"And taking into account the social dynamics in the country today - the violence, the xenophobia and service delivery protests draw a large number of young people who should be in class or in programmes."

There's no time more opportune than now to act to rescue the youth from becoming serious players in these social ills, he says.

Umsobomvu, which, by 2003, had spent nearly R470 million on 61 projects over the two preceding years, helps youth from right across the spectrum.

Back home in Limpopo, Kekana has just been appointed chairman of the Waterberg Economic Development Agency, a body tasked with investment promotion and facilitation in Mokopane, Thabazimbi, Modimolle and surrounds.

He's married to Albertinah, a chartered accountant. They have a 20-month-old little girl, Lethabo.