From humble beginnings to big business

By Timoteus Shihepo
March 2014
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Given the number of small businesses that fail before their fifth birthday, there is always something to be emulated from those who have made it. These are people running solid and reputable businesses contributing to the production of good and services while growing the economy. Silas Ndapuka is such and he has a story to tell as well lessons we can learn from.

 

“It was tough, it was long, it was bumpy,” he says in retrospect.

 

Ndapuka’s exudes confidence punctuated with enthusiasm as he narrates the chain of events which him become one of the respected businessman in the transport industry in Namibia.

 

Ndapuka, a former freedom fighter, has been in the transport business for decades and it all started way back in the 60s. Sharing his journey Ndapuka says it was difficult to do business during the colonial period.

 

“The colonial era Mmmmh,” he pauses… “That period was a difficult one because that time the colonisers were saying we were working for Swapo and my first car they were saying it was for Swapo which was not true. It was just me struggling for my living,” he states.

 

He started off with a Chevrolet which he used to transport people from to the Northern parts of Namibia.

 

“The road from Lüderitz to the North was a long one compared to this years, I am not saying the distance has decreased but the difficult that I had to go through when transporting people was a tough one. We were constantly stopped by the South African Police,” he recalls.

 

He fondly remembers one incident when they were stopped in Otjiwarongo, “The South African police stopped us and they thoroughly searched us and the car. We were treated inhumanly, they made us sleep there until the next morning. It was a bad day,” he says.

 

Despite these difficulties  he had to grow through, the father of seven went on to buy his second car, Chevrolet 5ton but had to change his usual route of transporting from Lüderitz as he was only transporting between Windhoek and the North to avoid difficult routes.

 

Things started to go smoothly with the business after acquiring  his second vehicle as he went on to buy third vehicle that he used to transport people between Walvis Bay, Windhoek and the North.

 

As fate would have it things turned sour as he was accused of transporting the PLAN fighters and for that he was jailed several times until he decided to flee the country to Angola in 1980.

 

“I had a store but they (South African Police) burnt it down, it is then that I took my wife and we went outside the country. I had no plans to flee the country but decided only to do it when I was jailed many times because they were saying I have connections with the Swapo fighters.”

 

He left his house, cars, and eventually the business came to a grinding halt. He was returned to return to the motherland on the dawn of independence in 1990. Upon returning back he got a job as a bus driver in what he only remembers as Youth office of Swapo in Windhoek.

 

Despite his long absence from his transport business, his passion of operating a business was alive and well, daringly and courageously he quit his job to revive his transport business from scratch.

 

Working together with his wife they put together their savings and they bought a mini bus.

 

“Thus my first big bus I bought…,” he sighs “He started with a mini bus and one can say they gave birth to other mini buses,” his daughter, Ester Ndapukaintervenes, “That small bus bought other seven buses and that is when the business really started to pick up,” he adds.

 

From there, there was no looking back as the business gathered momentum. Four years ago he made history as he bought his first luxury coach, to this day he has seven of these luxury coaches. In total he owns 38 vehicles thus mini buses, mid-buses, luxury coaches, as well as personal ones.

 

Ndapuka has elevated his status to a level where he rubs shoulders with high rank officials. His seniors during the liberation struggle have become his best friends. He also remembers all his commanders.

 

“Pohamba (Hifikepunye) just himself I know him personally, we used to be in the same convoy from Luanda to Kwanza-Sul because he also had his house in the same place as mine while we were abroad.  The late (Lieutenant General) Dimo Hamaambo, once asked me to go work as the boss of the transport department at one of the camps but I told him that I need to grow my business first and he said don’t say I didn’t try to help you as things might change, one day when your things go wrong I will not be around,” The Founding Father?, asks the daughter,  “Okapembe (Dr Sam Nujoma) I don’t even have to speak about him as he already knows me very well and I visit him often,” he adds.

 

His buses goes to many places around Namibia and to all SADC countries but the only challenge that he is saying he faces is that of City of Windhoek refusing to sell him the land located at Single Quarters in Katutura.

 

Ndapuka was born in Ombalantu and is not educated, “While I am encouraging people to take education seriously,  I just want to say even if you are not educated there is so much you can do to make a living for yourself and your family,” he concluded.

 

Today Ndapuka has 160 drivers on his payroll, a far cry when he started off during the dark days of apartheid. PF