What is immediately evident when you meet Matimba Mbungela is that he’s down to earth and without any airs and graces. The Chief Human Resource Officer of Vodacom Group, Africa’s largest Telco, still considers himself a deep rural boy, despite having had opportunities to live and grow in different countries and now works in the city.
“I was born and raised in one of the smallest villages in South Africa, with literally nothing much going. I grew up as a villager with very little in front of us, herding goats as a youngster and going to fetch water from the river – all those things that rural people do,” he says.
Matimba is quick to add that he has been somewhat fortunate in the sense that his mother was a primary school teacher and that was an enabler to achieving better things in life through a deliberate investment in education.
Growing up, he looked up to his two elder brothers and especially his mother, who tried to open a range of opportunities for the family under challenging circumstances and made sure her children focused on education to secure a better future.
“Both parents have passed on now, but my family was seen as a success story in the village with my dad having been a bus driver and my mother as a teacher. This meant that whilst things were difficult and that we lived in poverty, we were relatively okay compared to many other families,” he said.
But that all changed when his father died when he was only eight years old. “I suppose I became an adult at the age of eight because we had to wake up to the realities of having to dig deep to survive in many ways. So, that’s a little bit about my history, and as a result, I’m self-reliant in many things. It’s toughened me up in life,” he said.
Matimba acknowledges his mother as the source of his entrepreneurial spirit because for them to survive, she had to set up a “shebeen” which was an illegal establishment to sell alcohol in those days. “Our shebeen was the centre of some vibe at our village. Even though we used a paraffin powered fridge to store the beer, we were selling; this proved to be a very successful venture because through this set up our mom managed to generate some money to get us through high school.”
His mother, whose main focus was on education, decided to “ship” her children to what was then a “excellent boarding school”- Kheto Nxumayo High School in Giyani – about three hundred kilometres away from their village home. Although it was during apartheid South Africa, that school had some of the brightest kids in what is now known as Limpopo. “Attending boarding school shaped my life a lot because I was at a place where most of the other students were ahead of me