Some time ago, i did a piece on this blog titled “I am a Nigerian”. The idea of the piece was to focus and highlight all things Nigeria. If you missed it check it out here.
There are so many things that make us unique and makes us who we are – a different breed, survivors above everything else.
I have been thinking about what next to do since then, but as a Nigerian living in “self imposed exile” in South Africa the plight of Nigerians in diaspora has always been at the fore of my thoughts and i have been wondering how i could bring value to this group. I always reached one conclusion – tell the story of the Nigerians doing great things in South Africa, blow our own horn if no one will do so. There are many and in many diverse fields, just name the field and you will find one of us excelling in it out here.
Why this route? Simple. Most of what we get is negative press; so bring the good story about Nigerians in South Africa to the public domain.
This is one of the many in the series that there will be.
I will try to find them and i will try to tell their stories and possibly in their own words. If you know the Nigerian heroes out there that you would like us to feature please let me know and i will make contact and arrange to tell their stories.
Your role as a Nigerian? Please share these stories so that the world will know what w are all about and how we are positively impacting on the society out here.
Ladies and gentlemen, i present to you Kenneth Ayere, Nigerian, journalist by training but an entrepreneur by birth. Ken is fondly called Chairman by many Nigerians because of all that he has done for the advancement of the Nigerian community in South Africa.
The interview was granted to Expatriate Magazine and was published December 6th, 2011; even though it was done 4 years ago most of what Ken had to say is still relevant today.
“Illegal business does not make sense because the energy one dissipates in doing negative things is the same energy that is required to do something positive and achieve the same monetary rewards.”
If Nigerians are consummate business people, then Ken Ayere is as Nigerian as can possibly be. After numerous phone calls and various attempts to meet, we finally managed to squeeze ourselves into his busy schedule and get our questions answered.
Tell us about your background and how you ended up in South Africa.
I was posted to Johannesburg as the Southern Africa bureau chief of the state owned News Agency of Nigeria in 1996 and worked here for about four and a half years before returning to Nigeria.
During that period, I had given thought to owning a McDonald’s franchise and so I returned to South Africa in 2002 after having retired from journalism. The franchise opportunity did however not materialise and I instead purchased a Caltex garage in Krugersdorp in the West Rand which I have been running to date.
Is it difficult to operate a garage in that area?
Not at all. People frequently ask me that question particularly because it is a predominantly Afrikaans neighbourhood. I have never heard of any patron driving into a garage and enquiring as to the nationality of the owner before purchasing whatever number of litres of fuel they require. In business, as long as you are providing a good service at a fair price, people are rarely interested in finding out more. The same applies to all other business interests that my wife and I are pursuing.
What are these other business interests you are pursuing?
We own a 20 room guest lodge known as The Golden Rose in the Ferndale area of Randburg. We also run a chain of three Homebaze restaurants in Gauteng. These are eateries dedicated to serving African food in a respectable environment. Having travelled the world as a journalist, I noted that the establishments that serve authentic African food are almost always located in backstreets or other dodgy areas. Having traversed the continent and tasted food from all regions, I found this unacceptable and my wife and I embarked on setting up our first restaurant at Brightwater Commons in 2003. It took us a year to draw up the menu and for the first year she ran the kitchen herself.
What makes Homebaze different and why has it been successful?
The Homebaze menu is truly African. This is what has enabled us to expand to Village Walk Mall in Sandton and to Arcadia in Pretoria. We do not garnish any of our dishes simply because when you cook at home at your African kitchen you don’t make sadza in the shape of Africa and put flowers around it. We don’t really have competitors because other restaurants that purport to deliver the African experience only do so in terms of the music and decor. They take advantage of those consumers who do not know African food by serving Mediterranean dishes and giving them names like ‘Serengeti’ or ‘Kilimanjaro’.
It has not been easy though. Some of the spices we use in our food are not available at the local supermarkets and have to be imported from West African villages. In addition, it is difficult to cook some foods like chapati which we have outsourced to a Kenyan lady. In fact, our 67 members of staff are drawn from different parts of Africa.
What plans do you have for Homebaze going forward?
We would like to take the brand national. It would be good to find people in other parts of the country who share the same vision and put some capital in their hands to open up branches there. The big companies today did not do it alone. They engaged others with similar interests. We are careful to find people who have the same passion as we wouldn’t want someone to come and ruin what years of sacrifice and commitment have built. We took a big risk in venturing into the untried area of establishing a classy African restaurant and breaking the mind-set that our food does not belong in up market areas.
With all these ventures, do you find time for anything else?
Yes I do. I have learnt how to delegate which enables me to manage my time and do many other things. I was recently heading the committee that organised the Nigerian achievement awards at Gallagher Estates attended by the then Nigerian President and the then Deputy President of SA. I am the leader of the men’s group at my church and also a founding member of SA’s Patriots Club of Nigeria. I am on the Board of Trustees of the SA-based Nigerian Union and the acting president of the Diaspora Organisation of Nigerians in South Africa. We have many different groups because we are a varied people with varied interests. Some may find it difficult to interact with the Nigerians based in Hillbrow for example. I am involved in an initiative to counsel those who are conducting illegal activities and ruining our reputation. We organise workshops where we explain that the same energy one dissipates in doing negative things is the same energy required to do something positive and achieve the same monetary rewards.
– Interviewed by Keith Kundai.