Having spent her formative years at a girls’ boarding school, the importance of sisterhood runs deep with Tshepo Mathabata. She seeks opportunities to uplift and empower women in multiple ways, including at her baking business Tea O’Clock, by serving on the Businesswomen’s Association of South Africa and in her work as an etiquette coach. “I gravitate towards working with women,” she says.
Spending her childhood between a small village, a township and the bustling Johannesburg CBD, Mathabatha remembers the transition between spaces as a “big culture shock”.
“Coming from a village, you are used to brushing your teeth outside and using a long drop,” she says, reflecting on her move to boarding school in Bryanston at a young age. “If you don’t have anyone assisting you through the change, it can be tricky to navigate and your progress can be delayed.”
Mathabatha clearly remembers being taught basic etiquette, such as using cutlery, by the older girls at her new school. “They were like older sisters to me,” she says. “I realised that opportunities open up quicker when you’re aware of certain cultural practices.” Since then, Mathabatha has had a strong interest in communications and personal relations.
Now, through her work as an image consultant and etiquette coach, Mathabatha helps children from rural villages who have been granted scholarships adjust to their new life at private schools. She regularly holds drives for toiletries such as toothpaste and sanitary pads, and gives talks at local schools on how to use them correctly.
“It’s been so empowering, for me as well,” she says.
Mathabatha also has a strong entrepreneurial spirit, which was instilled in her by her family from a young age. When local shopkeepers would go on holiday over the December period, Mathabatha and her parents would run the shop for them. “We didn’t get to have fun during our holidays,” she laughs. “That was work time.”
As the chairperson of the Limpopo branch of the Businesswomen’s Association of South Africa, Mathabatha prides herself on creating an environment for women to feel supported in the business world. “There aren’t enough safe spaces for women to be vulnerable in economics,” she says.
In her role, Mathabatha aims to connect women in business to each other, as well as offer guidance and inspiration. In 2018, when she noticed that many women she dealt with felt held back by a lack of funding, she set out to prove a point: “You only need R300 to start a business.”
Mathabatha spent R300 on ingredients and baked a batch of biscuits. “Within 30 minutes of posting my biscuits on Facebook, I was sold out,” she says. “And by the end of the month, I had two employees.”
Now Tea O’Clock sells at multiple retailers in Polokwane, employs delivery drivers and has a network of women who sell their biscuits. “Stop obsessing over people investing money in you,” she says. “Invest what you do have and just start.”
Mathabatha encourages women in South Africa to strive for independence. “Let’s stop fighting to have a seat at the table with the boys,” she says. “Let’s build our own table.”
Let’s stop fighting to have a seat at the table with the boys. Let’s build our own table.