The Thabethe brothers on mixing family and business

Updated on 9 May 2014

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The Thabethe brothers on mixing family and business


A lot has been said about the importance of funding and education in an entrepreneur establishing a successful enterprise, but an aspect that is often overlooked is the power of family in achieving business success.

One of the more high-profile local business partnerships is that between brothers Mzwandile Thabethe (34) and Ziggy (31) who have been working together from a tender age, helping their father, Sipho Thabethe sell vegetables in Gauteng. Since then the two brothers have moved on from their vegetable-selling days to establish several successful Johannesburg eateries.

The brothers have subsequently split their ventures. Mzwandile manages Sophiatown Bar Lounge and a youth-orientated sports bar called Kospotong, with branches in Newtown, Ghandi Square and Melville, while Ziggy is at the helm of Pata Pata restaurant in the Maboneng Precinct of Johannesburg, and Shikisha, a social bar in Newtown and Street Food Café in Yeoville.

Pata Pata, a restaurant located in the Maboneng Precint.

SME South Africa got in touch with the brothers who talked about the complexity and benefits of partnering with family in business.

Why did you choose to enter into a partnership with your brother?

Mzwandile: I have always had an understanding with my brother and partnerships are extremely difficult things. It’s almost trial and error on what you will get. It’s when things go wrong, that you understand the complexity of partnerships. Most people choose partnerships because of [the need for] financial contributions.  It’s all smiles when things are good but it becomes a nightmare when they’re not. We all know there will be bad patches when things go wrong.

Ziggy: Muzi and I had an early start in terms of business. We understand each other, we have worked together in a family business. We had already learnt and understood each other from an early age. Partnerships are a difficult thing, so working with him made it easier. Our work ethics had already been defined.

How did you and your brother handle business disagreements?

Mzwandile: We opted to split operations so that one can look after different entities. Partnerships are like marriages, there will always be points of disagreement, and it’s how you resolve them which makes a difference.

Ziggy: I wonder what kind of business is it that has no disagreements. We generally give ourselves time to rethink a situation to process what we have disagreed on. In the end, we normally find a way forward.

What was it like working with your brother?

Mzwandile: It can be very challenging, as you have to manage your business while at the same time taking into consideration the family element. That can be quite challenging, especially when there are serious points of disagreement.

Ziggy: In terms of trust and integrity you constantly know that blood is thicker than water. We have our interests at heart and if I am not there, I know Mzwandile is there.  I know someone else can’t manage my business the same way my brother does.

Did family issues ever interfere with your business partnership?

Mzwandile: Family issues have never come into our business affairs and we never allowed them to interfere with our businesses.

Ziggy: No it doesn’t. There was a time when we felt that our management styles were different, so we had to split. It slightly created some differences in our relationship but we are fine now.

Did you have any formal business training before going into business?

Mzwandile: Before starting the businesses, I’d say none. However, three years into the business, we both enrolled on the Wits Management Advanced Programme course. That helped and I’m afraid to say it’s not enough, I’m seriously considering enrolling for a Masters in Business Administration.

Ziggy: No training, I just did a Management Advanced Programme course, at the Wits Business School in 2009.  I got the idea of running a business from selling vegetables around Gauteng. It was a mobile vegetable store and I give all the credit of my management style to my father, Sipho Thabethe. I would like to enrol for a manufacturing course, to get the basics of what manufacturing is all about.

What makes your business unique from other restaurants?

Mzwandile: I’d like to think my restaurant’s link with our culture and the food we make makes my business unique.

Ziggy: We create our feel and we play live music which is loved by people, besides [that], our menu is different. We also focus a lot on finding supplies that other people can’t find. We put a lot of research into finding suppliers who can supply us with game meat.

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