At home in Nkowankowa township near Tzaneen, Limpopo, economics graduate Katekile Mathye (33) was on the lookout for a business idea. But not just any business. The aspiring entrepreneur was in search of something that would make a difference in her community.
“I noticed that people didn’t enjoy drinking tap water; they preferred purified water for the taste and for higher purity levels. However, there was nowhere in Nkowankowa where they could buy purified water, so they had to drive out of town to stock up,” Katekile recalls. Fast-forward to 2020 and her keen observation has developed into a budding business – Katekile is the founder and owner of Theledi Beverages, a growing retailer of purified water in Limpopo.
She funded her start-up via loans and donations, mostly from friends and family, and used some of the money to go back to the University of Limpopo for water purification training, following which she built a water purification plant in Nkowankowa. At the plant, Theledi Beverages turns raw municipal water into highly purified H2O; bottles it and sells the product at a market-related price to residents of Nkowankowa and Lenyenye townships. “The community no longer has to drive long distances to buy affordable drinking water, as we are open every day of the week.”
Theledi doesn’t only sell water to the community. Through perseverance and research into market opportunities, Katekile gained the skills needed to expand her business to service lodges, hotels, schools, municipalities and government departments in the province. “We also bottle water for funerals, weddings, parties and other events,” she adds.
The business has shown impressive growth, although like most small enterprises it has taken strain in the wake of Covid-19. “We lost more than half our usual weekly sales due to the closure of lodges and events. We have however, managed to retain many of our core clients and I am confident that we will bounce back now that we are on Level 2 of lockdown.”
Although she was understandably concerned for the business, Katekile is still proud that she has been able to retain six employees.
“It is very satisfying to know that I have something of my own, something that feeds families and something that cannot afford to fail because so many people depend on its survival.”
Katekile is already looking past the Covid-19 crisis and making plans to continue expansion. She is working with her mentor from the SAB Foundation’s Tholoana Programme (of which she is a participant) on a strategy to significantly grow her footprint.
“In the next two years, I would like to have another two walk-in shops and grow our product range to include juice, sparkling water and water sachets,” she says. “I believe that seeing a community-based business succeed and create jobs may inspire other business-minded people to do the same. To inspire others would be my greatest achievement.”