Clad in a sharp black and white two-piece, with hair styled into a precise boy cut, Katoshe-Matilda Kadhikwa strikes you as typical sophisticated and high-flying business woman. But this stunningly gorgeous and unsung entrepreneur, whose knack for networking and perfume manufacturing has seen her gain recognition in Southern Africa, is very down to earth.
She is completely self-confident in her disposition, humble in narrating her tale and astute in her approach to networking.
Born in 1963 in Ondjabaalala village in the Ohangwena Region, Matilda is the first born of 11 chridlen,coming from a house hold of 13. A leader from young age, she learnt quickly not to allow her current situations to determine her life. “I was a cattle herder; it was rare for a woman to be a cattle herder at the time,” she says.
After completing her Matric in 1982 at Ongwediva Opleiding Sentrum, Matilda was faced with a tough decision. “I wanted to be a lawyer,” she says. “But I had to look back at where I was coming from. I had siblings following me and the burden on my parents was too great. All I wanted to do was help my family. So I decided that the best thing to do was to start working. In those days, the only options available to women were nursing and teaching. All you had to do was decide what you wanted to do and you would be taken in to learn on the job while getting paid.”
So, in 1983 she began her training at Oshakati State Hospital and qualified as a nurse in 1987. “Every time I visited home, it was like a father returning to his family from the South. I would always make sure I took each family member something new each time I visited.”
In 1989 she got married to Sakaria Pendapala Kadhikwa and the couple moved to Windhoek in 1993, where she started working at the Windhoek Central Hospital.
However, her family issues distressed her greatly and her siblings were growing up fast. “One by one, they started coming to Windhoek to live with me.” Being the eldest, as it is in African culture, she had to support them all, and before she knew it, she had them living in the home she shared with her husband and children.
“There were nights I would go to bed and just cry, especially those days when we had no food in the house. Our income was not enough to cater for my husband’s extended family, our children and my extended family as well. It was a nightmare,” she says.
One day at work, having reached breaking point, she confided in a colleague, Evi Lileka. “It was too much for me. I told her I just could not afford my life anymore on my salary.” Evi then proceeded to tell her about South Africa-based networking business, Table Charm, that sells crockery and other kitchenware. “I started small. I would go to Katutura to sell products on credit. When it was time for delivery, I would put all my products in a taxi and go and deliver. We had only one car at that time, so when I had to collect the cash, my husband would accompany me so I wouldn’t have to move around with large sums of money.” Gradually, she was not only developing the Table Charm presence in Katutura, she was also recruiting several women under her.
“Initially I wasn’t making much money. I was focused on my immediate needs. If you are just focused on the money, you will get discouraged- you need to first focus on your current situation. If I got, say, N$ 100, at least I could buy a bag of rice and contribute to the electricity bill. over time, I started to save.”
As a reward for her efforts that year, Table Charm flew her to the Comoros Islands for a retreat. “It was unbelievable; it was my first time out of Namibia. I had never even imagined having a passport before.”
While in the Comoros, something greater happened: she saw locals making perfume oils. A seed was planted in her heart and she vowed she would one day make per own perfumes.
Matilda would quit nursing ten years later and go on to accumulate several awards from Table Charm for her exceptional networking, training and managerial skills. Today, having spent 18 years in the business, she has surpassed managers she found and is now the top distributor in the country.
The nature of her work sees her developing teams, managing managers and counselling new recruits. There is no job too big or small for Matilda. “I check in with my managers regularly, to see how they are doing. I also have to report directly to my supervisors in South Africa,” she says. “The thing that people don’t understand is that you can’t be selfish. In a networking business, you depend on each other. If you want to grow, you have to help someone else to grow.”
She organises road shows throughout the country in order to inspire others and give the company a human face. Hearing her story makes people realise that with hard work, they too can overcome any situation, she says. Today she has Table Charm managers in Windhoek, Rundu, Katima Mulilo, Grootfontein, Khorixas, Walvis Bay, Luderitz, Oranjemund and Rehoboth. It’s her steely resolve that has got her to where she is.
After everything she has endured and experienced in her life, Matilda isn’t afraid of competition. “You have to focus. If you are going to get into any business, you cannot afford to look behind you. I never looked behind me, because there is nothing for me there. I didn’t even look at my side; all I did was to look forward.” Given the bad publicity that networking businesses and pyramid schemes receive, she waves it all off by simply saying, “Well, this is a real business, not a get-rich-quick scheme. Here, you have to work. A product is put in your hand and you are getting paid for it.”
In 2003, she and her husband set up NPM, a perfume manufacturing company that imports perfume oils from France. Her husband, a journalist, quit his job to work and support her. The company sells its products through agents at factory prices. The oils are luxurious and long-lasting, with flavours for both men and women.
The Namibian market though, is a bit tricky in terms of support. “You see, when Namibians see something that is locally made, they immediately dismiss it as being cheap. We don’t support our own products. But look here, I am supplying you with a quality product, free from the extra pricing brought on by import tax and expensive packaging that you are probably going to throw away anyway.”
Despite her humble and laborious beginnings, the main challenge she acknowledges is getting people to work. “People don’t want to work, especially Black people. We expect to just get things on our lap, but it doesn’t work like that. Some people aim to be leaders, others just want to sell. I do my best to train each person in what they want to do.” Matilda, who is quite the Liberal, says that being a woman has never got in her way because she has never limited herself based on her colour, sex or any other thing.
Her gaze lingers a bit to her wall, glittering with a plethora of accolades that include DSA 2012 personality of the year where she emerged top distributer for the entire Southern African Development Community (SADC) region. I realise she is looking at her nurse’s uniform. “I keep it up there to remind me of everything I’ve been through. I didn’t just get here; I was in a nightmare and that’s what pushed me. People need to realise that you can only succeed when you are pushed out of your comfort zone.”
Quoting the late Steve Biko she says, “’The most potent weapon in the hands of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed.’ People will try to make you think that you cannot do something, so that you really can’t.”
An intellect as well as a religious woman, she mentions the fact that she relies on God for everything and does not start her day without prayer.
I notice two interesting, conflicting books on her table. One is Chika Onyeani’s bestseller, Capitalist Nigger. The other, a colourful book titled
‘Dream Journal’. Obviously a fan of Black Consciousness philosophy, she says “Capitalist Nigger is a book every Namibian should read - it paints the true colour of the Black race. So many times as Black people, we blame everything and everyone around us, except ourselves. For instance, we all started out in Katutura, but now you find some people don’t even want to be associated with the place. When we get out, we start doing some of the things that we vowed we would never do.”
When it comes to her dream journal, her face lights up, “Whenever a new recruit comes to me, the first thing I ask them is what their dreams are. I’m not looking for people with simple New Year’s resolutions. I am looking for people who want to change their situation. I started this book torecord all my dreams and most of them have come true.” Coming round the table, she opens the book, which starts out with two dedications: one for God’s blessings and one to her late father, who she calls her hero. The book is full of photos of things she wants to acquire or things she wants to do, accompanied by explanatory text. Once the goal is reached, she ticks it off as done.
She points excitedly to a picture of a strong farm vehicle. “See, here? I really wanted this vehicle and I got it,” she shares. She also reveals other dreams that came true, such as owning a farm, travelling in business class and winning her cherished Personality of the Year award. It becomes apparent what forces are actually driving this woman: passion, hard work and the belief in the impossible.
Still, this vivacious woman attributes her success to the closest around her. “My late father was a very positive person - he believed anything was possible and that was the way he spoke to us. My mother is a hard worker; you could never be around her and not work. Sometimes I even wondered if she was really my mother, the way she made us work!” she says with a chuckle. “But I’m also especially grateful to my husband and I am lucky to have him. He never stood in the way of my passions and he encouraged and supported me all the way. Also, I’m grateful for my cousin, who went out of her way to take me to school. I’ve been able to educate my children and my siblings are also doing very well.”
With all she’s achieved, you’d think she’d be more self-assured and comfortable. Instead, she lives her life as if it’s only just beginning, and she talks about her accomplishments as though they are the tip of the iceberg. Before handing me a Table Charm catalogue, she’s sure to scribble her name and contact details at the back. “You know, just in case you leave it somewhere and someone wants to order...” A matriarch with unwavering focus and eagle-eyed vision, Matilda Kadhikwa’s brand can only get stronger. PF