On the Spot – Xwama Shares Its Recipe for Success [interview]

A senior journalist from New Era, Albertina Nakale caught up with Namibian young woman entrepreneur award winner, Twapewa Kathikua who is the sole owner of a thriving African Traditional Restaurant, Xwama, in the heart of Katutura. She tells us of her journey to success from selling matangaras (offal) to the fame of even catering for all functions including conferences and workshops.

Briefly tell us about yourself and how the concept of Xwama came about?

“I am a Namibian woman, born and bred in Katutura. I am the mother of three and a wife (laughs). Xwama is the baby of Pewa cosmetics that I own. Pewa was produced primarily with marula oil as a base oil. Marula oil has two components: it has a cosmetic grade and edible part to it. I explored both avenues and I had to develop a concept around the marula oil. I can’t just be selling marula oil, so we had to create a lifestyle around it. That is how Xwama was born. I had to look for traditional food and commercialise it and add more value. If you look in the past, about eight years ago, if anybody wanted to go out and eat traditional food, where would you go? At the open market and there are flies and dirty water all over and you get the food wrapped in a newspaper. So eventually I formalised it, cleaned up the system and that’s really what Xwama is all about. I think the reception from the market is good.”

How easy or difficult was it to start your own business?

“I don’t think it is ever easy to start up a business. And I don’t think if it were any easier , that it should be the reason to start a business. I am a believer in my faith. I believe God has given talents to different people and in my case I received a certain talent. If it was easy then everyone would be doing it and if was vwey difficult, then nobody will be doing it. So to use the word easy to establish whether you must do something or not, is not the right way because it is not going to be easy. And if we tell the young people that it is easy, then we will be lying to them. However, once you embark on a journey, you just brace yourself and go through the journey. Otherwise if you don’t understand where you are going and what vision you have set for yourself, then the first challenge you encounter, you jump out.”

What were some of the challenges in establishing your own business and how did you overcome these challenges?

“I can write a book about the challenges and they haven’t ended because business goes through a lifecycle. It goes through growth, stability, decline and you must re-boost it again. In terms of really profound challenges for the Xwama products, it was the phobia and prejudice. First of all, people looked down on Katutura. They think Katutura is characterised by crime, alcohol, rape, rubbish. All sort of social evils are pinned on Katutura and they think everyone from Katutura is stupid. I don’t agree, I think there is some gems born in Katutura, I am one of them. And I am not ashamed to have been born in Katutura. However, I believe in what Mahatma Gandhi said, “Be the change that you want to see in your community.” When I finished Unam, I just figured that if I want to see something great happen in this community, then I must do it. Many people are overwhelmed by the challenges of Katutura. As soon as they are “fasuluka” (well-off) they ran away. But it’s your identity darling, tomorrow the Chinese are going to invest here and they haven’t stolen anything. As Namibians, we always say they are taking our opportunities, but they are not. They are just utilising what you don’t want. So if you leave your community where you had the only opportunity to make an impact and you run to Avis and you want change in your community. Who is going to build private schools and hospitals here? And when the Germans and Chinese come, you feel like a victim but you don’t want because you are ashamed of who you are. One of the biggest challenge for me was also the bank that had a phobia. And the worst was the business model. first of all you are a black womancoming from Katutura. Then you are selling what? Matangaras. So there was no business model. They only knew how to finance hotels, pizzerias and franchises, but there was no business model to finance Xwama. So I had to be a pioneer and to really push against the odds. For the future generations, they will have it easy because the doors are open already. They can just go to any country and say I want to open Xwama, it has already been established.”

What aise do you have for the youth specifically women who wish to start their own businesses?

“Business is a challenge to aise someone because it is not something you just wake up and say I am going to start a business or something you take from the shelve and drink. There has to be a passion. If you don’t have passion, what will carry you? The challenges are enormous, if you don’t have self-discipline it’s even worse, who is going to wake you up in the morning and tell you to fax that invoice? You need self-discipline and tell yourself that I will only go and party next weekend because of these priorities. Luckily my father never gave me a chance to think of myself as a woman but as a human being. I never relied on things as a woman but as a human being. It is only these days that I hear “women should bring their business models.”

How did you secure start up capital for your business?

“I didn’t secure start up capital. I only secured growth capital because I told you earlier no one believed in the Xwama concept at the beginning. I made personal sacrifices. Instead of buying something fancy, I invested that money in my business. It is almost like a garden, you plant and plant and eventually someone says let me buy you a tractor or would you like some seeds? That is what Development Bank of Namibia (DBN) has done for me. It did not start the business because there was no model. However, now there is a model and they are my biggest partner and I appreciate them very much. Everybody can just run to DBN because they are offering a unique opportunity. Their interest rate is 9.25 and commercial banks are 10.25. The commercial banks will not give you a grace period of 10 months, the moment they dispatch that capital, tomorrow you start paying back that loan. That is not how DBN does business. They look at your developmental impact and say, we need to give this person time to get back into the market to grow and so that they can start paying back during this time. And I think that is a great thing that government has done, so big-ups to our government. Secondly, my personal commercial bank, Bank Windhoek-Kudu branch is just the one! When you have these partners in place you are always encouraged to leap to greater heights. The bank extends credit to you with the promise that you will implement X,Y,Z and then you go and change the plan. What do you expect next time you come back, they will change their mind, so you have to honour what you promised and the fruits will come.”

What made you decide to approach the DBN and how do you describe the application process?

“I think DBN approached me. My father used to be a businessman. Many people have this perception that Twapewa inherited things and I am like “don’t lie to yourselves.” My biggest inheritance is my culture of work that my father and mother gave me. If you think money and buildings is what you need to succeed in business then tyou are wrong. It needs other personal resources that you must sacrifice. When you are in the community, you hear people making comments that “DBN gave us money”, but no, DBN did not give us money, they extended a credit facility based on the promise we communicated. DBN does not discriminate, you can get the application forms at the security guards. If you don’t approach DBN , how will they know what you want and where you are? People have to stop these negative talks and stand up and ask for the application form if you meet the requirements and then you will be assisted. They have stop that rubbish of giving a wrong impression that, “Its only some people who are connected get things. It’s a lie.”

What kind of support does DBN currently provide to your business?

“They are in a position to aise but only when you open up. They also support mentorship institutions like SME Compete. DBN hold events at Xwama. The president and the prime minister come to Xwama. In the past, people don’t go past Katutura hospital because apparentlythey are afraid of bullets and whatever nonsense. I blame people from Katutura for that, because they are not proud of who they are. I am from Katutura, it’s my heritage and once we start being proud of it, I tell you, we will see transformation.”

What made you decide to put your business in the heart of Katutura?

“It will not only stay in Katutura, its growing already. We will have franchises – things are lined up.”

How many people do you employ and how important is skills development for your employees?

We have 40 employees at Xwama and another 40 at our poultry farm in Brakwater called Kadhikua Poultry Farm.” NE: As a mother and a wife, how do you balance business and family life?

“I learnt a beautiful tip from our Honourable Minister of Foreign Affairs, Netumbo Nandi-Ndaitwah. She had dinner here once at Xwama. She is amazing. She is smiling all the time you see her and most of the time she is travelling. She is a mother, a leader and she is involved in all the Swapo meetings and in government. I said, “Mee Netumbo, how do you cope, tell me the truth because I am not doing what you are doing because I am overwhelmed. And she said, “You don’t cope, just do your best.” Since that day I have forgiven myself for everything that I thought I am not doing right as a wife and parent. I carry myself into a situation and I do my best at that time without killing myself. I am not superwoman, I need good assistance at home and work. I just try to do my best and God’s grace just continues to bless me every morning.”

Source : New Era