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Updated 03 Aug 2020

Basetsana Kumalo: An entrepreneur who used every avenue available to achieve success

Basetsana Kumalo started out as Miss Soweto and managed to become partner in a production company because she fought for what she believed was right. 

Nicole Crampton, 10 February 2016  Share  0 comments  Print

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Basetsana Kumalo is famously known for winning the Miss South Africa pageant in 1994 and going on to be crowned as the First Princess in the Miss World Competition. Today, she is a television personality, philanthropist and successful entrepreneur.

Her journey into entrepreneurship began as a Top Billing presenter. At 20, she helped negotiate a deal for Top Billing to become independent, securing a 50% partnership in Top Billings production company, Tswelopele Productions.

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Now, Kumalo is an executive chairperson of the Tswelopele Production, Tswelopele Publishing and Tswelopele Group. She is president of the Business Women’s Association of South Africa and sits on numerous boards of businesses that range across multiple industries and sectors.

The beginning

It may surprise you to know that a former Miss South Africa winner was once a very shy chld, preferring to sing and dance in her room and keep to herself on the playground. But one thing that stood out from a very young age is her natural entrepreneurial instinct.

Kumalo would spend weekends with her siblings making and selling sandwiches for local soccer matches. As a teacher and bus driver her parents didn’t make enough to keep them afloat. Sandwich sales would contribute towards her family’s funds and help them to scrape by.Growing up may have been tough Kumalo but it taught her the importance of persistence and staying motivated. 

At the tender age of 16 Kumalo won Miss Black South Africa and Miss Soweto. Her mother was convinced her daughter would be a success and entered her into Miss South Africa four years later. Kumalo would win Miss South Africa at the young age of 20.

Kumalo spent her reign gaining the respect of the nation and spending time and energy on key issues. She focused on uplifting the community and fund raising for several charities and organisations. She also used this time to the fullest: Using the opportunities to network and connect with as many local and international people as she could. She knew that her reign would only be for a year. But she wanted to make sure she would be able to accomplish both her long term and short term goals.

Her efforts paid off and Kumalo managed to land a position as a Top Billing presenter. But after three months of working as a presenter she thought that there had to be more to television than reading someone else's script.

Taking the initiative

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Ever the entrepreneur, Kumalo approached Zwelake Sisulu, the CEO of SABC at the time to suggest that they make Top Billing an independent production, instead of produced by SABC. It was a gutsy move, one that would pay off in a big way when she successfully negotiated a six month contract to produce Top Billing under her own production company.

She had to borrow money from her parents to get the company off the ground, investing her own beauty pageant prize money and savings into the business. 

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But being an independent production meant that Tswelopel Productions would not have access to a large budget that SABC had to produce Top Billing. It also meant that the business had to organise its own sets and staff. It was a tough beginning, one that involved a large learning curve but today Top Billing is still one of the SABC’s top performing shows.

Four years later Tswelopele merged with Union Alliance Media and the business listed on the JSE, making Kumalo one of the youngest black women directors to be part of mainstream business within the South African economy

Expanding her brand

Kumalo became a household name through Miss South Africa and Top Billing and she was able to leverage this popularity to became the face of Revlon’s Realistic Hair Care range. Using this platform she was able to expand her brand around the world and start additional business ventures. The world was Kumalo's oyster.

In 2000 Kumalo launched her own clothing range called “Stature by Bassie”. In 2001 she joined Travel with Flair as a Director. The business won many awards including: Top Travel agency of 2007. In 2009 at the World Travel Awards the agency won:

  • Africa's Leading Business Travel Agency
  • Africa’s Leading Travel Management Company
  • South Africa's Leading Travel Management Company.

In 2005 Kumalo launched Uzalile Investments together with two partners. This is an all-woman owned coal mining company. It joint listed with Sekoko Resources on both the Australian and Johannesburg Stock Exchange.

She continued to expand her clothing line. Kumalo expanded into eyewear through Torga Optical and cosmetics, which she called Bassie Red. She later released another cosmetic range called Bassie Gold. Kumalo became a Black Economic Empowerment partner and shareholder in Tawana in 2008. This is a diamond mining company. This occurred through a transaction with her investment company Pro Direct Investments.

Kumalo and her husband Romeo launched the Romeo & Basetsana Kumalo Family Foundation. This supports children, especially those orphaned by AIDS and related diseases. Her passion for children shows in her work for the United Nations Children’s Fund. She raises awareness specific to the eradicating neonatal and maternal tetanus amongst other things.

In 2008 Kumalo made the list of top personal brands in the Sunday Times Top Brands Survey. She achieved this by using every event or business transaction to the fullest. In 2009 she received a nomination for the Inyathelo Philanthropy Award. Kumalo’s production company has since produced other reputable TV shows. These include the Afrikaans programme Pasella, a youth show called Ses’kona and Afternoon Express.

Kumalo produced shows like Our Perfect Wedding, Diski Divas and Date My Family. M-net commissions her company, Connect TV to create local content. For both Mzansi Magic and Mzansi Wethu channels.

Kumalo says that she positions herself as a media thought leader. She does this by expanding her businesses into all aspects of media and learning about media. She has businesses in TV production, publishing and did a stint in Radio.

Learning from mistakes

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Union Alliance Media went under. “We paid our school fees,” admits Kumalo. “The Union Alliance Media deal gave us the opportunity to experience the stock market. It was a beneficial partnership in the beginning, increasing our profile. But I think when Union Alliance Media went under it was a blessing in disguise.”

When Union Alliance Media folded, Kumalo gained full control of her company once again. It was a blessing in disguise as they had felt before that they had lost the business's direction. 

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Kumalo learnt from this experience that it is sometimes better to run a small outfit and still maintain control. She says: “It taught me to think long and hard before selling off.”

Bettering yourself

Kumalo received numerous awards for a range of achievements. After winning Miss SA she received an honorary scholarship from Nelson Mandela. After establishing herself as a businesswoman to watch she was able to go to America to Study. She earned herself an Executive Education Diploma in Global Leadership from Harvard University. She has also completed a BA degree from UNISA and a Marketing Diploma from Damelin.

Kumalo’s motto is: “To whom much is given, much is expected.” She believes that you’re given a gift, so you can share it with others. Kumalo does this by volunteering, giving of her time and money and creating jobs. Her focus is on charities that help people in her community and uplift communities, such as the Nelson Mandela Institute.

She believes the secret to her success is courage, determination, passion and staying committed and on track with your vision. Despite her accumulating success, Kumalo remains humble while constantly trying to make the world a better place.

She says to use every opportunity to its fullest to achieve your goals. Use whatever platform you have to connect with the projects you want to join. Every opportunity can help you to connect or network your next business.

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Nicole Crampton

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