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PROFILE: Khudusela Pitje

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South Africa’s future is in the hands of entrepreneurs and industrialists. From a R1 250 monthly salary to creating a R1,6 billion turnover business that in many ways is still just getting started.

Khudusela Pitje didn’t wake up at the age of 29 and decide he was going to become an industrialist. This level of growth and planning doesn’t happen by accident. It takes time, practice and an extraordinary vision.

“From an early age, I planned to do something that would take my family out of the circumstances we were in after my father lost everything when politicians in those days destroyed his businesses. I didn’t know exactly what it would be – that would only come later – just that I needed to do something.”

Khudu was a trader’s son. His father, HM Pitje, was a township businessman in the 1970s and 1980s who poured everything he had into the communities of Mamelodi and Soshanguve. Mamelodi Stadium is named after him because he built it, raising the funds himself and encouraging soccer teams to play there.

“His politics didn’t align with the local council. When I was doing standard 7 (Grade 9), they went after him. They either needed to kill him or kill his businesses and so that’s what they did – they went after him for R400 000 in rates and taxes till he eventually reached bankruptcy.

“My mom got a job at Netcare in Rosebank and was able to keep us alive. My dad’s response was, ‘I think if I save enough money, I can buy a bakkie and we can sell vegetables.’ That was it. He just picked himself up and carried on.”

“I grew up listening to my dad talk about community upliftment and business around the dinner table. By the age of fourteen, I could read bookkeeping ledgers and could understand cash flow and trading. Seven years later, my dad unfortunately died but he had laid such an incredible foundation for me.”

In 2004, Khudu and a friend invested in their first business, Shangoni Management Services, a South African-based environmental risk management business whose largest contract was in the Nigerian delta region.

The business’s annual turnover was R5 million and the founders wanted to strengthen their base in South Africa. The problem was that for them to secure additional mining clients in South Africa, they needed a BEE partner. Khudu needed a business that he could invest in, and he needed something relatively small that he could afford. It was a win-win. They bought 51% of Shangoni for R500 000, paid for from the dividends of his shareholding because he didn’t have upfront capital.

That was Khudu’s first deal. By 2005, New GX Capital was a start-up born from Khudu’s vision to launch an operational BEE investment company that could execute larger deals, with the support of Absa Capital private equity.

Khudu is a dealmaker but his goal wasn’t to just be another holding company. He was 30 years old and his aim was to become an African industrialist because experience taught him that in developing countries, governments will always fail in delivering utilities services.

Today, Khudu’s New GX Capital is a R1,6 billion turnover company that he still calls a family business. His goal to reach a market cap of R10 billion by 2028. However, he began to mention an important keynote that entrepreneurs tend to forget.

“Business takes its toll on family. You put everything into it, particularly in the early years. There’s no off switch. This entrepreneurial journey has partly cost me one marriage and I’m determined it won’t cost me two. There is nothing more important than family. We need to remember why we’re doing this in the first place.”

This clarity has helped Khudu grow New GX, but it’s also given him the mental and physical room to focus on the HM Pitje Foundation, which he founded in 2009 in memory of his late father. The Foundation is managed by his wife, Kgomotso Moloantoa, who grew up five houses from Khudu’s home in Soshanguve and is as passionate about the same community. His focus is becoming clearer and clearer.

“You also need clarity to be able to share it. The first person to benefit from my first dividend was my mom – I bought her a house and a car. You need to start at home.”

Khudu has a life and business philosophy that he follows unwaveringly: Be a good person and the rest will take care of itself. He doesn’t mean be a perfect person, just be good. Have a long-term view. Draw a line in the sand and stick to it.

Khudu is currently raising R4,3 billion from local and international investors to build on the foundations he’s already laid over the past 14 years. New GX recently concluded a R1,6 billion capital raising mandate with Nedbank and is working on raising R2,7 billion in infrastructure equity in this year.

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