Mzansi Entrepreneurs: Afri Ceramix


Afri Ceramix Studio at Riversands Incubation Hub making strides in upskilling and employing the youth.

There is an old saying that says: “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” One man who truly believes in this saying and lives by it is Joseph “Joe” Govo, the owner of Afri Ceramix Studio – a ceramics business in the Riversands Incubation Hub. Currently, Govo is “teaching two youngsters how to fish” (upskilling them on ceramics) so they can make a better life for themselves and provide for their families.

Sometimes, it only takes one person to change your life.

Twenty-six-year-old, Phiweka Mngqika from Diepsloot is one of the youngsters under Govo’s wing. She is currently learning all the basics with regards to making ceramics. This includes painting, sculpturing and glazing as well as packing and unpacking the kiln when making ceramics. “I want Phiweka to learn everything about making ceramics. In the end, she will be able to make her own products and generate an income for herself. I also want her to pass on what she has learnt to others,” says Govo. Once Mngqika is done learning about all the aspects of making ceramics, she will make her own line of ceramic jewellery to sell at places such as weekend markets. According to Govo, there is a demand for ceramic jewellery and he believes Mngqika will do well in this area.

Mngqika – originally from the Eastern Cape – met Govo by chance, making this a case of being in the right place at the right time. On that particular day, Mngqika came to Riversands Incubation Hub to stand in for a friend who works in one of the small businesses being incubated at the Hub. At lunchtime, Mngqika decided to walk around the Hub and was captivated when she saw Govo’s products on display.

“I was attracted to Joe’s [Govo] products when I saw them, they are simply beautiful. I had never seen anything like them. I also liked Joe’s openness. He started talking to me and when he found out I was not working, he offered to teach me about ceramics. I was so happy, it is very rare to get an opportunity like this,” says an excited Mngqika.

Examples of pieces on shelf - CopyAsked why she gave Mngqika a chance on the spot, Govo says he liked how Mngqika showed an interest in his products. Mngqika says she had always had a passion for art and design, but did not know how and where to do it formally. Like many South African youths, Mngqika was not able to finish school due to financial constraints. The highest grade level she completed was Grade 11. Since then, she has spent most of her time working in retail to support herself and her two children. Her older sister has also been a pillar of strength – she took her under her wing when she first came to Johannesburg and eventually found her a place to stay in Diepsloot.
Mngqika says what she loves most about making ceramics is slip casting – one of the techniques used in the process. “I love slip casting the most and then painting. It is an amazing feeling to see your product come to life. I also enjoy working with Joe, he is a good teacher, who is always willing to show me the right way, with a smile,” she says.

While Mngqika only started learning about making ceramics in early December, Govo says he is impressed with her progress so far. Mngqika says she looks forward to improving her life and wants to learn as much as she can. In addition to learning about making ceramics, Mngqika is also attending a Microsoft training programme at the Hub to further expand her skills and knowledge.

Another person under Govo’s wing is 28-year-old Thokozani Mokoena from Estcourt in KwaZulu-Natal. Mokoena – who has been doing ceramics since 2010 in Kwazulu-Natal – started working for Govo in early December as well. He says he heard from a friend who lives in Johannesburg that Govo was looking to employ someone. After talking to Govo over the phone, he got the job offer and decided to move to Johannesburg. Mokoena says while he had never been to Johannesburg before, he was determined to take the job opportunity with both hands.

“The job offer was definitely a better opportunity for me and didn’t want to miss out. I have a lot to learn from Joe, he has a lot of experience,” says Mokoena. Like Mngqika, Mokoena was not able to finish school due to financial problems. The highest grade he completed was Grade 9.

Mokoena says he was introduced to ceramics by his older brother who had been working for a ceramics company for many years. As someone who loved drawing, he was keenly interested and has not stopped working with ceramics ever since. He says while life has not been easy – having lost his parents fairly young – he is resolute in improving his life and supporting his family – especially his two younger sisters so they can have a better life.

The 28-year-old says when it comes to making ceramics, he loves sculpturing the most.
“When I am sculpturing it is like I am in my own world, all my troubles go away, I love it,” Mokoena says enthusiastically.

Like his employer (Govo), Mokoena doesn’t only want to succeed and make a name for himself in the ceramics world, he also wants to teach others to make ceramics so they can have a valuable skill for their entire life and raise their standard of living. I guess it is true what they say: “Birds of a feather flock together.”

Mokoena is living with a disability – he is blind in one eye – says he wants to encourage other people living with disabilities to pursue their dreams. “Living with a disability doesn’t mean you should not go after your dreams or that you can’t be successful. As people living with disabilities, we are more than capable of achieving great things. Go after what you want and do what you love,” says Mokoena.

The youth of South Africa need to become builders of the country

In South Africa, youth unemployment is unacceptably high. To deal with the problem, it is often said that today’s youth must “become builders of the country by aiming to be entrepreneurs who will play an active role in the economy.” Govo certainly shares the same sentiments and hopes that by upskilling and employing youths such as Mngqika and Mokoena, one day they will also pass the skills they have acquired to their peers and hopefully build their own businesses.

“The major obstacle in the country is a lack of skills, which is why the unemployment rate is so high. So even though I am not highly educated, my skill of making ceramics has helped me to live and support my family. That is why it is important for me to give young people –
especially those who are unemployed – a skill that will also help them to live and feed their families. This is what Afri Ceramix Studio is all about, we embrace human development, creativity and passion,” says Govo.

They say “even the smallest act of caring for another person is like a drop of water – it will make ripples throughout the entire pond.” So here is to hoping Govo’s efforts to upskill and employ youths will make a lasting difference in the lives of Mngqika and Mokoena as well as those they came across. After all, Riversands Incubation Hub together with the rest of the eco-system want to ensure there is job creation and economic development.

Article courtesy of Riversands Incubation Hub