From a troubled youth to an eco-friendly entrepreneur, Khululekani Nyobole has lived many lives in his 27 years. He tells us how the constant in his life is the knowing that he was destined for great things.
Growing up in Site B Khayelitsha, Khulah (as he is affectionately known) is the second born of four siblings and the eldest boy of his family. He grew up with both his mother and father present in his life until the age of five when his parents divorced.
“My family life was solid but when my parents divorced things changed. I moved out of the house with my mom and my siblings to live with my grandmother in Harare. We stayed there for two years. It became hard during that time because my mom was not working and my father was not supporting us, the family survived on money my mom made from sewing.”
“I would normally go with my mom to collect money from customers. I felt upset because of the way some people treated her - they wouldn't pay when they were supposed to and they were really rude to her - I would admire the way she handled them. She would be calm in front of them and only complain afterwards. She would strategize and work on ways to get her money back.”
“To a large extent she was my first role model as an entrepreneur. I learned business through her. I began buying sweets from the R2 my mom would give me at the beginning of the week and sell them to children at school. We needed money and I thought this was a way I could help support my family and also have money for myself.”
While Khulah began this stage of his life, the relationship with his sister deteriorated.
“Life was a bit tough at home but my mom supported us. However my relationship with my sister wasn’t great. I was 8 she was 11 and she would bully me - she would push and hit me often. Normally I would not fight back because I respected her. But one day I had had enough, we were alone at home and she started hitting me again. I took a knife, I wanted to stab her. She ran outside and a neighbour scolded me. When my mom returned home she was mad with me.”
“She told me that she couldn’t take it any longer and I needed to move to the Eastern Cape. She believed my grandfather discipline would help me. She had to save for a few months for the transport money.”
“I had just turned 9, I felt I was treated unfairly and that my mom liked my sister more. She did not recognise my efforts and I felt rejected and angry.”
Having always lived in an urban environment, the change of surroundings offered Khula many life lessons.
“I didn’t know poverty like the kind I saw there. We would use pork fat to coat our skin, because of the humidity - if we didn’t then our skin would crack. Instead of using a toothbrush we used fire ash to brush our teeth. I was a Shephard and a hunter, I would take out herds of cattle in the early morning. I remember the ground being very cold, we used nature once again to help us. One of the ways to keep my feet warm was by placing them in cow poo - it was the only way because the cold was too painful.”
As well as having to adapt to his new challenging living conditions, Khulah was also enduring the heavy handedness of his grandfather.
“I learned quickly that my grandfather took no nonsense and if he didn’t like something you did, you would deal with his Sjambok (heavy leather wipe). There was a time when I returned without one of the cows and he beat me badly. He would beat me often, so it was something I got used to.”
Khulah remained in the Eastern Cape for a year and returned home at the age of 10.
“When I returned home I was different to when I left. My resentment towards my family had grown, I felt neglected and lonely. I began drinking with my friends - I thought it was out of curiosity but I know now that it was because I wasn’t dealing with my emotions properly.”
What began as naughty behaviour soon escalated into a serious problem.
“At the end of primary school I was already drinking, smoking and using dagga. I would hang out with a group of kids that were much older than me and used drugs.”
“I think all the beatings made me believe that I needed to be tough to survive. If I was bullied I would go to my mother and tell her. She would beat me, and tell me to fight back. The drugs, the fighting were all part of my survival. I didn’t feel supported by anyone.”
“I was expelled from Mathew Goniwe Memoral High School in Grade 9. My friends and I made really bad decisions. We would disturb the class, argue with the teacher, smoke and use drugs mostly weed at school.”
“My mom wasn’t that interested. When I got expelled, I had to find my own school and get all the documents together.”
“In Grade 10 I was robbing other learners. It was the norm to intimidate learners who were new to the school. We even started charging for protection, we would protect them from being bullied and robbed. At school we had our own gang that had ties with gangsters in Hanover Parks, so we felt like no one could mess with us. At this time, I began using all types of drugs – Tik, Dagga, Mandrax - I would use it at home, on public transport, school, anywhere.”
“My behaviour affected my school work, I never went to class. I basically went to school to do drugs and rob students. I would jump the fence to smoke dagga, I didn’t care about learning.”
“I was out of control, the first time I failed I didn’t care. I thought I was smart and I didn’t need an education. My behaviour of skipping class, doing drugs and robbing people continued throughout the second year that I did Grade 10. So, I failed a second time. Failing Grade 10 for a second time was a wake-up call.”
“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 that I had the brains, so I persisted.”
“Distancing myself from my friends was not easy, they made it difficult. I would be picked on for being soft - I refused to rob the other kids and instead of hanging out with them I would go to class.”
“In the eyes of my old friends, 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 – I did it because I thought that it was a way for them to back off and to trick them.”
Through hard work and dedication, Khula passed Grade 10, he says however that he was still using drugs until Grade 12 year when he decided that enough was enough.
“I asked myself – ‘where am I going with this.’ I knew that to succeed I had to stop using drugs. I had also returned from my initiation (rite of passage to manhood). The process made me look at myself, because now I was viewed differently by my community. I felt like a man, a leader and I knew using drugs was preventing me from reaching my potential - I always knew I was meant for more.”
The journey to become drug free was a hard one, but Khulah says that even though he was completing Grade 12 and the process was painful, he knew that he needed to endure.
“It felt like fire was oozing out of my chest, I would wake up with serious cravings. It took about two full weeks for the cravings stopped.”
Passing Matric that year left Khulah with one of the best feelings ever, his teachers were pleased with his results and encouraged him to study further.
On his first attempt to study, he wasn’t accepted to university because he applied too late. Khulah began working as a cashier at a health fast food chain. While working Khulah saved money to study.
A year later, while still working as a cashier, Khulah reapplied and got accepted to study a BA Degree in Political Science, Ethics and History at the University of the Western Cape.
During a lecture, Khulah came across a concept that resulted in a light bulb moment, “I learned that everything has a purpose and a deeper meaning, it changed my thinking about nature. I thought about what I had experienced in the Eastern Cape and how we could use nature’s product to help us in our lives. I questioned 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.”
For Khulah this was the beginning of his journey to becoming an eco-friendly businessman. His journey was accelerated when he joined an incubator that assisted him to start his own business.
“My start-up is called ‘Nurturer.’ We provide premium natural products for family, home and businesses. Our products are affordable and delivered to every doorstep.”
Khulah concludes by saying, “it does not matter what has happened to you or the choices you have made in the past, we were all born for a purpose. Many times the noise of life overpowers what we already know deep inside. Choose to listen to the positive voices inside of you, silence all the others and blessing will come your way.”
Khulah is a New Ventures Studio entrepreneur