Having grown up in humble surroundings, her dream was to become a doctor, but the opportunity did not present itself to follow through on this. Yet, early on, her indomitable spirit rose to meet the circumstances she found herself in – and she was determined to better herself at every opportunity.
At the age of 21 she found herself the breadwinner of her family and not stopping to ask questions, set her sights on being trained in various job positions. In 2008, a mere five years into her career, she started her own company. Malema ran both the company and the household, and then tragedy struck in 2010, when her mother became seriously ill and was diagnosed with breast cancer.
“This was a very difficult time for me, having to look after her and take her to various hospitals for help – it was too late for treatment – while also getting the business off the ground. But God gave me a vision and I was not prepared to give up on it.”
Funding obstacles overcome
She talks about the hardships in obtaining funding for her business, which eventually came from the National Youth Development Agency (NYDA), after months of preparation of paperwork, plans, presentations and the like.
Today, she looks at her first business, Bophelo Baka and smiles, thinking how it started as a downtown gym and has grown into a thriving wellness solutions business.
She can now confidently talk about going into mines and rendering services on-site, of giving support in managing lifestyle related health problems, all the way through to psychosocial services.
Malema, despite the challenges at home, remained focused on her company. And her focus has paid off as the company has grown and she is now in the position to add two businesses, to the already thriving two companies she has.
She was a finalist in the Technology for Women in Business (TWIB) awards programme run by the Department of Trade and Industry last year. She was the only woman from Mpumalanga, who managed to get to finalist level, and this put her in touch with her new partner in the business she launched at the end of last year, a motor-trim business, called SATEP Motor Trim. Within mere months the company has attracted business from three of the large automotive manufacturers in the country.
Success demands determination
What does it take to be a successful business woman, is an inevitable question? Malema says she knows what she wants and that she is a go-getter.
“When I find the doors are shut, I decide to get what I want somewhere else. It does not mean no to me, it simply means get it from another source.”
Malema is intimately acquainted with the concept of determination. In the same year that she lost her mother to cancer, she was admitted to hospital with fluid in her abdomen. Upon investigation she was diagnosed with stomach cancer.
Talking about her life some years on, she says that the cancer itself has motivated her to see her life differently, to respect life and other people in a different way. Determination shines out of her but so does passion. She explains that asking what she can do out of love for others, has brought her a long way in life.
Despite being desperately ill, uncertain and afraid, she managed to maintain and grow her business, as well as keep up her home and even got married during the past year.
Although her marriage did not work out, she is still upbeat and positive, fighting the cancer and making inroads in the local business community.
Malema talks about her illness as if it is something she takes in her stride, not a life threatening disease. Yes, she pops in and out of hospital and yes, it is inconvenient, but no, it does not rule her life as one might suppose it would.
She has many more plans for businesses and clearly, her first success is leading her to seeing possibilities where others have failed to do so until now.
She reiterates that she does not feel sorry for herself, but that she is a vision chaser whom God has given a vision and a purpose that she wants to share with other people.
“My cancer motivates me every day – I cannot lose hope, or give up.” That is why the wellness clinics reverberate with her, since she has a first-hand understanding of how the necessity of looking after one’s body can affect all other aspects of one’s being.
She is already quite well known among the locals and often reaches into companies, schools and radio stations with motivational talks. Not surprisingly, she is writing a book about her life lessons which she aims to publish in the near future.
Her advice to young start-out entrepreneurs?
“Don’t look for an excuse where there isn’t one – don’t let fear attack you – do what needs to be done, you can be a winner and travel the journey that many refuse to travel.”
An Unstoppable Entrepreneur
The stereotyped strong woman, or successful woman, seems to bring to mind something like an Amazon – or alternatively, someone with a razor sharp tongue. This is where Tebogo Malema, entrepreneur and businesswoman from Emalahleni in Mpumalanga, breaks the mould, being far from these descriptions.
Malema describes herself as a young entrepreneur chasing her vision, with a forward-looking passion that clearly brooks no negative, does not take no for an answer and scales the obstacles in her way with alacrity.
WIM Newsletter June 2015
by Ilse Ferreira