In an interview with Moses ‘Mkhulu’ Motsa, he details how he started his first business with a paltry E21 in 1965, and why he eventually exited the retail space.  He also tells us how business regulation and red tape is killing small businesses in the country.


By Ntokozo Nkambule

Q: You are a well-known businessman in Eswatini, where did it all start; how did you get into business?

A: It all started in 1965, with a small capital of E21 to be precise. As you note, this was not a lot of money, and most people would never dare start a business with such little money, but I had so much faith in myself.

Q: And, how did you do it?

A: Well, as you can think, I operated in a rural area, and I realized that most people were interested in the traditional brew (umcombotsi). I sold Malt Magayiwe, I was the main supplier, and mind you I operated from a thatched house, (guca sithandaze). It was a free business environment, without laws and legislation at the time.

As my business grew, I then ventured into selling sweets, fizzy drinks, and tin fish which was in demand during those days.

Q: You are considered to be one of the pioneers in the retail business space, how did you venture into it?

A: I have always grown organically, so before being the ‘eVukuzenzele’ Moses Motsa, I owned and operated butcheries on some of the lands I had acquired. By the way, property was dead cheap at the time, I bought my first property in 1971 for E3 000.

Anyways, I expanded my butchery business and opened a number of outlets, however, I realized that I could do better. Essentially, the birth of Vukuzenzele, one of Eswatini’s biggest retailers came from my hunger to grow and the gap I had realized in the market. I can safely say that as challenging as it was to run a business in retail, these were the best times for me in business because I learned a lot, from organization to cash flow, management to dealing with suppliers, and so forth.

Q: And why did you then decide to leave the retail space, if it was this interesting?

A: Well, the ‘big boys’, particularly Shoprite were now aggressively entering the local market. I had to make a decision, either I compete with them or enter commercial property full time. I chose the latter, which is a decision I do not regret. My exit entailed me selling all my retail shops to the Shoprite group.

Q: Funding is a major stumbling block for SMEs. How did you obtain funding for your very first store?

A: The challenges SMEs have today have always been there. Banks have never been friendly when it comes to financing small businesses. It gets easier of course once you own property that can be used as collateral. But I have always grown my businesses organically, actually, the only loan I took as I was growing my businesses was for E500, which I got from the well-known businessman, Goldblatt who sold me my first property. The key is to develop strong business relations with your suppliers.

For instance, I would get stock or merchandise from suppliers on credit and then pay them after a predetermined date. This ensured my shops were always financially liquid. Keeping your word in business is sacred, so I always paid after that agreed date, and if I had challenges, I would explain them to my suppliers.

Q: We understand you are now heavily invested in property. Do you perhaps invest in stocks and other instruments offshore?

A: I do not buy properties or stocks offshore. I do not have a cent offshore. I do not believe in something that can crash anytime. Property, on the other hand, has proven its resilience, particularly commercial property.

Q: What do you think about the state of entrepreneurship in Eswatini?

A: I believe a lot has gone wrong. The government could have done a lot to help create a fertile environment for entrepreneurs. Small shops for instance should be run and owned by emaSwati, but that is not the case. This is where they would sharpen their skills and grow to own and run empires. I believe we are not heading towards that trajectory.

Q: What would you say to those who aspire to be the next ‘Moses Motsa’, or do even better in business?

A: One thing is certain, it will be tough. This is because as much as business regulation is good, it tends to stifle small businesses, through red tape and a number of unnecessary processes. Government should also do more when it comes to taxation. I believe at the present moment, taxation does not favour small businesses. I am not saying they should not be taxed, they should, but what is happening now is most people do not start businesses because of taxation fears. It should be used to stimulate rather than punish entrepreneurs.

Having mentioned that I believe there is still lots of opportunity for aspiring business owners. They should understand their industry and work very hard, to stand a chance.

Please note this excerpted interview first appeared in Eswatini Property Review, our sister publication.

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