Dr Mandla Lamba: An entrepreneur with an eye for Africa
Posted on Thursday, December 30, 2021
Author: Rading Biko
In South Africa, small businesses employ about 60 per cent of the citizens and contribute around 34 per cent of GDP.
However, this sector has been relatively stagnant over the last decade, and only 14 per cent of the country’s small businesses are formalized, capping their job creation and economic contribution potential. This is according to the IFC 2020 report.
In 2020 most of the small enterprises were hard hit by the outbreak of the Coronavirus pandemic that shocked the global economies.
Despite the havoc created by the Covid-19, some entrepreneurs have been able to navigate the storm and emerge victoriously.
Dr Mandla Lamba founding CEO of Agilitee Africa, the first electric vehicle and green tech company that is at the forefront of the 4th industrial revolution in Africa, and more importantly, green technology being the future.Born from a poor family in Johannesburg but grew uptown, KwaZulu-Natal province, South Africa. Dr Lamba grew up during the apartheid regime that was oppressive to Black South Africans.
Growing in the apartheid era, did you dream of being an entrepreneur?
It was terrible, the impact of apartheid in the lives of our parents had a direct severe impact even on us. It was one hell of an experience but we learn from pain rather than gain. I grew up in a very poor family, like any other village boy I grew up looking after livestock.
My mother who is a great servant of God would at times give us empty plates and tell us to pray and say God bless this food in the name of Jesus amen and put the plates down and off to school on empty stomach. Life was not easy.
It was the reason why I got so curious about learning about business. I came from a very poverty-stricken community that knew nothing could be achieved beyond being a nurse, teacher, or policeman.
Where I come from I have never seen an entrepreneur or a businessman let alone an inventor when I was younger. Today, I am setting the ground for future generations who will have no krypton height.
How can you describe the SME sector in South Africa and the continent at large?
In South Africa, it is very terrible for black people and I don't mean that the government is not doing its job. The problem in South Africa is that if you are black you are only allowed to succeed if you are operating in an industry where white people have already chartered the cause, so you are only going to succeed if you are the first black.
But if you want to be the very first no matter the pigmentation of your skin, you are going to fight protocols that were developed during apartheid and are still standing until this day. The government does give everyone a fair chance, but unfortunately, it doesn't control a certain number of mediums that are used to destroy those who dare to dream bigger and want to see change. Otherwise, the continent except for South Africa is a great place to do business.
Did you have a person or entrepreneur you looked up to while growing?
There was no one to look up to in business since most successful people in my village were either teachers or nurses.
Which was the first enterprise that you created and how much capital did you invest in it?
During school hours when I was 8 to 10 I sold sweets and biscuits and later added paraffin, candles, vegetables and fruits. I even sold live chickens and I think I invested about South Africa Rand 20 as my initial capital.
What are some of the challenges you had to conquer to establish a thriving business?
As long as I operated normal businesses that were not innovative, everything was a success until I started the big business that’s when I started suffering from the remaining elements of the apartheid system that still exist in my country.
In South Africa, you are allowed to succeed big time only if the industry you are in you are not the first person in as a black person, but if you are the first to ever do it, all odds are against you because white supremacy still exists in South Africa. If you are the first black to do it, then you are safe and you will live in peace.
In 2018 you founded the continent’s first electric vehicle manufacturer, Agilitee Africa. What motivated you to venture into this sector?
The ills of our society and the rise of corruption that led us to power outages, high petrol prices and so forth. I just knew something had to be done.
Over the years we have witnessed the company scaling up its Artificial Intelligence innovation department, what seems to be the driver towards AI?
The world has changed, the new world post-COVID is going to be very AI-driven, and the idea is not to jump on the bandwagon when it happens but to be ahead of the curve and do it the African way.
Governance is key in growing any enterprise around the world, how well do you ensure that this ethic is a practice by your firm?
I believe in corporate governance to such an extent that our board is even comprised of several independent board members, for companies to thrive and compete at a global stage they need proper governance structures that allow businesses to grow as an organization not operating with a front store methodology
Where do you see the firm in the next decade and what are some of the products you plan to launch in 2022?
It is going to be a great year for us, we will be in every country in Africa by this time next year. Our goal is to be a global firm in a decade .