From having the name of her business spoken of by Phindi Gule-Burley and Pabi Moloi to being a proud, full-time mother, Pietermaritzburg-born Ntobeko Mafu is well on her way to the top. The author and public speaker is the founder of Madame Clucks A Lot, a poultry farming business. For her chicken farming exploits, YoungStar Entrepreneur named her one of the Top 10 finalists of its Class of 2022, and she’s also the youngest of all the shortlistees. She’s only twenty-one.
We managed to fish Ntobeko out of her busy schedule for a little chat. Here’s what she had to say about being in the Top 10 for the YSE Class of 2022, what motivates her, and where everything began.
For your business Madame Clucks A Lot, you were named a finalist for the YSE Class of 2022, meaning you made the final top 10 list out of over 700 aspirants countrywide. How did you feel when you got the news?
Ntobeko: I could not believe it, honestly. I kind of threw in the application last minute. I was unsure of its authenticity when I first got in, but after the first physical discussion we had with the founder Phindi Gule-Burley, I was sold! I was also happy because, for me, this solidified that I was on the right path.
Would you share with us the valuable lessons taken from the journey with the other ladies who made the Top 10 shortlist?
Ntobeko: The biggest lesson I’ve gathered from this whole experience is that if you show up to the world as authentic you, sometimes it might be the best thing to do for yourself.
I’ve also learnt that it’s okay to start over and go through it, then reincarnate as the baby you, the humble and teachable you, not tainted by society and the traumatised you. Does that make sense? Pressing the reset button got me here.
From the conversations between myself and the ladies, I’ve learnt that we all have a story to tell, and it is where you decide to place your thoughts that determine where you are headed. The ladies there are aged 20 to 50, so you can only imagine the variety of each of our stories there. I’m the youngest participant, and what keeps being solidified to me is that it is completely okay to decide to reset your life.
Tell us more about your business Madame Clucks A Lot. What inspired the name?
Ntobeko: Madame. Oh, Madame. It’s deeper than what meets the eye; hence this Madame has an “E”. Madame is not only my internal representative; she is what grounds me and keeps me connected to my ancestors because every two letters of the word have meaning to them. “MA” are the first two letters, and they stand for my surname Mafu. “D” and “A” are the second two letters, and they stand for one of my clan names, “DolokAmkhabane”. “ME” comes from the last two letters; they stand for me.
I do this because I believe my family has a higher calling on this Earth, especially because my surname, when translated, means cloud. I strongly believe I was born to follow in their footsteps and lead the pack while working hand-in-hand with nature and the environment. My purpose is to soar high and watch over the land and its inhabitants; this is why it is my duty to own my space, take my place at the top, and lead with integrity. I intend to do this in many ways. My business name is what literally drives me to push on, even when it gets hard.
On being a self-styled “hustle-preneur”, could you tell us how your dream of chicken farming started and what exactly inspired it?
Ntobeko: My parents were trained professionals but still farmers. My father was a qualified, employed lawyer, but he still owned cows, sheep, pigs, geese, chickens, and more! My mother is a qualified and employed nurse but still had a small poultry farm on the side. I had the privilege of seeing and experiencing what living in a food-secure home was. I always had meat and healthy greens to eat freshly picked from the garden. So when I saw the challenges other people in my community faced (as well as when dad died, and I saw the change in my home situation because I lived with him), I realised how important farming and the general knowledge of agriculture were.
You have faced many obstacles and made the best of them. What are the three most important things to you that make you rise early every day and fetch the life you know you deserve? And why?
Ntobeko: The three things that drive me are: my deservingness, my family, and my purpose.
I am aware that I am deserving. For a long time, I struggled with taking up space. I was shy in school yet smart. I got bullied for speaking good English in high school at both Ixopo High and Edendale Tech. I fell into peer pressure because I knew I was different but wanted to fit in so badly. Now I don’t have that pressure anymore; my difference is my strength. I don’t pressure myself to “fit in” because now I own my light. The fact that I know I have dimmed it for far too long for other people and that I am deserving, I get up and try again!
My family. If I were to unpack this at length, it would need to take up the whole article. Since I became a mother, I believe I’ve become more family-orientated. I want to create a life that sustains my whole family and my son – even after I am gone. Let that be a hundred years from now, but yes.
My purpose. I am a chakra hun. I believe in purpose and that I have multiple. My biggest one would be to shine my light. I have dreamt of and connected with the name “Sbanisezwe” in my dreams. “Sbanisezwe” means light of the people, and I believe my purpose is to shine my light so that the people realise the power in their light too. Sbani is the writer; she writes while Madame executes.
Looking at the horizon ahead, what are your ambitions for the next five years: for yourself and your business?
Ntobeko: I need ten more pages for this. Hahaha. But also, I prefer not to announce plans but results. But as an outline, I would say I see myself as the winner of YoungStar Entrepreneur Class of 2022. I see myself building another two to three chicken houses, owning my own hatchery, opening a restaurant over time, implementing the training and development programmes I would like for students and children, and creating a food-secure and sustainable future for all. Literally changing lives while I do it. Writing over three books, winning a Nobel Peace Prize, and being given a “Dr” title.
Since her fifth birthday, Ntobeko’s motto has been: “I aspire to inspire before I expire.” And with the mark she has left in the community, among her peers, and in South Africa, up is the only way to go from the summit she’s already standing on. By the looks of it, she’s set to explore – and surmount – even greater mountains in the future.