In the middle of February on a bright Tuesday morning, seating in Professor Muzhingi’s office, Tshepo told the lady on the other side of the phone that he would come in tomorrow to collect the biography of former president of the country Thabo Mbeki. He thanked the lady and hung up. It was a short conversation, one that suggested to Mbali that as much as Tshepo was polite to her, he was preoccupied.
Earlier in the morning, Muzhingi had called Tshepo and informed him that he needed to see him urgently. Tshepo told his advisor that he was in fact around town and would come in immediately after concluding business in the CBD. He was visiting with one of the nightclubs he had installed his payment system in Long Street. Although he could login remotely and monitor the performance of his creation, he still enjoyed to check in now and then on his clients to see how they and the customers were responding to Theko. ‘The people are loving your system Tee. I encourage them to register. I mean it benefits me as well as I no longer have to pay excessive monthly bank charges’, Michael reported to Tshepo. He was the owner of Neighbourhood, one of a string of nightclubs that dotted Long Street.
‘Sorry prof’, he apologised for taking the phone call. Tendai Muzhingi waved him off, as if to say, ‘Don’t worry about it’. ‘So, what is going on? You sounded serious when you called that is why I rushed here.’ Indeed, he sounded serious on the phone but the lively expression on his face, as Tshepo took a moment to pay attention, was not one that displayed concern but happiness. What could be so important and so exciting? Tshepo’s mind began to race.
‘I received a curious call this morning from Stefan from KD Bank. These chaps are very keen on your idea’, Tendai maintained a look of solemnity while he shared the news with Tshepo.
‘What do you mean they are keen on my idea professor? Do they want to buy it?’
In all honesty Tshepo had never thought about turning the idea into an enterprise, never mind one he could sell for profit.
‘Yes, they want to buy…but that is if you are willing to sell. If you wish to run it as a business, they would like to invest. They have requested a meeting for Monday.’
He could not believe what he was hearing from Professor Muzhingi. Over a year ago, almost the entire faculty would not hear of his idea, now four months after launching Theko to gather data for his thesis, KD Bank wants his idea.
‘This is unbelievable professor. This is really unbelievable.’
He stood up, emotions taking a hold of him. Wiping his teary eyes, he sat down and said, ‘Prof, this is all too much to take in. Accept the meeting and in the meantime, I will think about what to do.’
He added, ‘You have to understand. In the beginning, what I set out to do was to build something that I thought could benefit my people. I did not build Theko for financial gain. Now I am being presented with an opportunity to sell or run a business. This is really overwhelming.’
‘I understand Tshepo, and I think you can still do that if you choose wisely’, the professor added.
In his six years since he arrived from the rocky village of Dithakong, 70km north east of Kuruman in the Northern Cape, all Tshepo wanted to do was put his village on the map. When his parents, Rre Odirile and Mme Osenkeng Naledi – both teachers at Dithakong’s famous Omang primary school – yanked him out of Motshwarakgole – the middle school – in Grade 7, he had hoped that like his siblings before him, he would finish his Matric at Dibotswa High School.
For years Dibotswa was held as a fountain of excellent education in the hearts and minds of the community of Dithakong and areas around it, be it Bothithong and Ditshipeng in the west, Glen Red in the north and the sprawling, urban looking Cassel in the north east. But as years went on his parents had come to believe that Dibotswa no longer held that allure, that respect as a center of learning. He was shipped to Tiger Kloof to read for his Grade 8 where he would matriculate five years later. All his parents wanted for him was to obtain quality education and be as his beloved mother Mme Osenkeng Naledi would often say, ‘O nne motho sechabeng ngwanaka’ – an exemplary figure.
Years later, as he sat across Professor Tendai Muzhingi’s office, situated on the fourth floor of the Engineering building that overlooked the Cape Town harbour, Tshepo could hear the words of his mother ring in his head: ‘O nne motho sechabeng ngwanaka.’ His academic achievements were certainly setting him apart from those of his peers from Tiger Kloof who often taunted him as a ‘backward village boy’; but to have his idea endorsed by KD Bank from Stellenbosch, a thousand of kilometers far away from Dithakong, village boys and girls were about to earn their stripes.
The world around him was changing fast and he found it challenging to adjust. As usual he said goodbye to his professor, informed him that he would see him either tomorrow or Thursday to give him his decision before departing. He picked up his backpack and left Muzhingi’s office. On his way out he bade farewell to the receptionist of the Department of Electrical Engineering, whom he had now formed a friendly relationship. In his first year he found her to be cocky and rude, but he never shared this information with her. She said she thought him to be an arrogant little boy who thought his good looks were an excuse to do as he pleases. Tshepo found this judgement about him to be absurd. All the same, they were now getting along.
He took the stairs all the way to the ground floor, greeting the security guards at the door who checked his backpack before exiting the building. He took a glance at the spot they always occupied at the top of the piazza during his undergraduate days, and seeing no one he recognised, he quietly strolled down the steps made from red bricks between the piazza and the Faculty of Business building and past the Admin building, crossed the Keizersgracht Street and headed straight to Sir Lowry Road, popularly known as the M4, to hitch a taxi to Observatory. As much as he looked at the piazza to see if any of his friends were present, he deeply longed for solitude, the privacy of his mind to digest the unexpected good news shared with him moments ago. For if he truly desired the company of his friends he could have picked up a phone to call them. Just as he made his appearance on Sir Lowry Road the gaatjie called for him.
‘Come my broer, the taxi is leaving’, he said to Tshepo as if to assure him that he would not wait for long.
He looked to his right, left and back to his right before he crossed the road; a lesson he picked up a long time ago in the Health Education class back at Omang in Dithakong. He took the seat right behind the driver and the taxi left.