Former Gangster Turns Life Around to Become an Eco-friendly Businessman

Former Gangster Turns Life Around to Become an Eco-friendly Businessman


A young man who had to repeat Grade 10 three times because of his involvement in drugs and gangs has changed his life around to become an entrepreneur, he hopes to positively impact South Africa by providing affordable eco-friendly cleaning products sold door-to-door. Khululekani Nyobole, 26, is one of the entrepreneurs to come out of the New Ventures Studio incubator, an initiative of Salesian Life Choices.

It is difficult to believe the elegant, soft-spoken entrepreneur had been an unruly teenager who wasted two years of his life on drugs and crime. He grew up in Khayelitsha where young boys look up to gangsters as role models, Khulah explains. “You grow up thinking all that matters is to become the top dog. I did all sorts of drugs and I mean all sorts – cocaine, heroin, Tik, mandrax, ecstasy. You name them, I have done them.”

He was 15 when his life started falling apart, Khulah says. “The first time I did Grade 10, I didn’t study at all. I would just go to school to rob other students. Afterwards I would jump the fence to go and smoke dagga.” Failing Grade 10 for a second time was a wake-up call, Khulah admits. “Deep down I knew this loser I’d become wasn’t the real me. I tried really hard to distance myself from criminal activities. I knew I had the brains, so I persisted.”

It wasn’t easy because some of his friends were still in gangs and they scorned and bullied him for trying to be a “good boy”.  “It was seen as shameful to wear school uniform. I would disguise myself in civvies that looked like school uniform – a black jean, a white shirt and All Star shoes – so that the guys wouldn’t suspect this ‘gangster’ is actually still going to school.”

He finally passed Grade 10 in 2006 and did quite well in Grade 11 and 12. After matric he started working as a cashier at the health food franchise Kauai. Soon he was promoted to a supervisor and this inspired him to go to university. It was a proud moment for Khulah and his family when he was awarded a BA Degree in 2014 from the University of the Western Cape and started working on an honours degree in History.

As a student Khulah came across a concept in an environmental ethics class that resulted in a light bulb moment and became the inspiration for Nurturer. “When I learned about teleology, the suggestion that everything has a purpose and a deeper meaning, it changed my thinking about the environment.”

Although Khulah has always been passionate about cleanliness – his friends used to tease him about his neatness – he wasn’t too bothered about environmental issues and the impact human behaviour has on it. “This theory confirmed something I instinctively knew as the truth: when we honour the earth we honour ourselves. I was born and raised in the township, after learning about teleology I started questioning why people in low income communities do not have the option to buy affordable natural products that are healthy and safe for both humans and nature.”

“We say we want to sustain the planet and prevent global warming, but the mechanism through which we want to achieve this are not affordable to the majority of poor people. Eco-friendly products are often more expensive than the ones damaging the environment. You can’t blame people for buying cheap and more toxic products when the eco-friendly alternatives are almost twice as expensive.”

And so the idea for Nurturer was born – to make natural premium products accessible and affordable to all South Africans and delivered right to their doorstep. With the help of business experts he met at the New Ventures Studio, Khulah started to develop a business plan, a corporate identity and product ranges from personal care, to cleaning products for households and businesses.

The Nurturer range was developed with the help of well established natural product manufacturers who found the right mix of natural raw materials that would be cost-effective to manufacture on a large scale. Khulah is now dreaming of establishing a laboratory of his own to constantly develop new products.

Nurturer’s business model of door-to-door sales will enable agents to educate people about the value of using eco-friendly products. Nurturer’s agents will be able to generate an income, which will create wonderful opportunities for unemployed people. Khulah believes the time is right for people to support small entrepreneurs rather than big brands. “Our prices will be similar to that of products in supermarkets. Besides households, we’ll also target businesses and we hope to eventually supply schools and government.”

Khulah is grateful about the support and investment he received from New Ventures Studio. “I feel privileged that they hold 20% equity in my business, because if it hadn’t been for them, I wouldn’t be where I’m today. In the beginning of 2016, I joined NVS with just an idea and they helped me bring it to fruition. They have become co-founders in my business; Salesian Life Choices is a social enterprise that works with young people in the townships around Cape Town aiming to tackle inequality. For this reason Nurturer is a company with a twist, when buying Nurturer products people will not only be nurturing themselves, their love ones and the planet; but they will be supporting the development of previously disadvantaged communities.”

There is great excitement about the launch of Nurturer in November. Khulah adds, “we just got started … we hope that every South African will join us and become a Nurturer."