A South African entrepreneur has turned a sweet dream into a reality. He used the government's COVID-19 relief grant to launch an ice cream business that's now creating jobs for others at a time when the country faces record high unemployment.
Making gourmet ice cream was never a business that photographer and fashion designer Thando Makhubu planned to pursue, but when coronavirus lockdowns hit South Africa and his regular work disappeared, he started thinking out of the box.
"I was actually on an app called Pinterest, and I was just looking at food," he said. "People who know me know that I really love food. And then I found myself looking at this ice cream, which was interestingly made. And I thought to myself, I've never seen anything like this in Soweto, so I'm like, can we just try it out?"
Like many others, he was receiving a government COVID-19 unemployment grant of 350 rand — or roughly $23 — a month.
He used it to buy ingredients, and he experimented with the help of his siblings and mother. They shared photos of their creations and received orders from friends, family and even a local celebrity.
"Luckily, we had a relationship with Mohale, Mohale Motaung, he's a local celebrity," Makhubu said. "He liked it, he came through, he took images of the product, then he posted it. And then, obviously he has a lot of people following him. And then those people also loved it."
The Soweto Creamery was born, is regularly packed on weekends and has since gained thousands of followers on social media.
Last week, the business received nationwide recognition when President Cyril Ramaphosa acknowledged Makhubu's innovative use of the grant during his state of the nation address.
Ramaphosa also announced the grant would be extended another year while unemployment remains at nearly 35%.
But economists say the government needs to do more to stimulate business.
"I am afraid that economic growth this year is probably going to be significantly below 2%," said Dawie Roodt, chief economist for the Efficient Group. "We have to remove the administrative burden on all businesses, and not only in small businesses — on medium and higher and bigger businesses, as well, because that is where eventually economic growth is going to take place. And that is eventually where jobs will be created."
While the Soweto Creamery remains a small enterprise, it is creating jobs. Makhubu was able to employ four other staffers, including his younger brother, who didn't qualify for the unemployment grant since he is a student.
With more publicity, and more success, the Makhubu family hopes to move the creamery out of their home and into a storefront.
They also want to thank the president in person for putting the spotlight on them.
"Mr. Cyril Ramaphosa, we'd like to have you at Soweto Creamery," Makhubu said. "We'd be happy if you came."
Although the grant may not be the solution to the country's economic woes, the entrepreneurs behind Soweto Creamery have proven that with a bit of creativity, you can create something sweet.