When his brother brought him from the North to Windhoek in 1976, he thought he was going to have a better paying job, earn a living for himself and send money back home. Little did the Wilhem February know that he will land in prison because of stealing.
The minute he landed in Windhoek it dawned on him that the grass is not greener on the other side nor are the streets paved with gold. The good news is his incarceration paved way for a business opportunity that that today has built a successful upholstery business which is growing from strength to strength. But how did he end up here?
“When I came from the North I thought we will be working somewhere but one morning my brother told me that here we don’t work, we only steal. We didn’t have anything, we were only stealing ‘white’ people’s things. I have been going to jail but I would always come out and continue stealing, that’s until I stole a car and I was put in jail for a long time and that’s when my life took a different direction,” he recalls.
In 1982, his life took a different route when a certain pastor came to conduct counselling during his time in jail. He taught him how to read, write, he put him in the prison’s tailor shop and he introduced him to the word of God.
“School wise I didn’t even finish grade one. I compare my school life to a car that goes in the garage and comes back out quickly. I just went in grade one and I reversed out quickly. Almost everything that I know today I have learnt it from prison including God,” he says.
February does not complete a sentence without mentioning or relating one thing to God. It is clear that his life is centered on God, he says his business works because of the presence of God in his life.
“When I came out of jail the same pastor found for me a job outside prison in 1985. Before I went to jail I didn’t know how to speak English or Afrikaans but today I have a coloured wife if I look back I didn’t think of having a coloured wife because of the language barrier but I must say God is great and God is big. Because of the pastor that was sent to us in jail I now know how to speak other languages especially Afrikaans because the pastor gave me an Afrikaans book when I was in jail,” he stresses.
After his time in prison, February started his new life by working for a tailoring company.
“I then went on to work at the airport working inside the planes fitting in chairs, mats and almost everything that I was able to do at that time. After that I went to go work in certain upholstery,” he says.
Explaining his road of becoming an entrepreneur, Wilhem says, “When I started my business I was just operating in a shack. During day time my bed was a table, it was my work station while during the night it was a bed. One day I made nice seat covers for a client’s car who was working at the airport; the seat covers were so good that he invited me to go work at the airport. While I was working at the airport he also gave me my own space in his house to make furniture to sell for my own profit.”
Just as things were looking good for February, the man who gave him a job at the airport passed away and he had to leave the house because the wife of the deceased said she was not interested in any upholstery business.
“She asked me to leave and go look for a place to live. Fortunately I had money saved and I started a small business again.”
February is now an upholsterer par excellence and owns Willem February Upholstery specialising in the provision of furniture products. The business does upholstery for aircraft interiors, seat covers, carpentry and door panels cover. On furniture they design and make things such as sofas and chairs. They also do cars interior. They also make hospital bed covers.
As a way of giving back to community, the business now builds houses as well as giving food, clothes among other things to less fortunate people around the country. In Windhoek the business gives N$1000 to selected old people and they also send money to old people in the north, it’s more like a pension because they get their money every month.
“I had a house in Ombili but God give me a house in Windhoek North which I converted into an upholstery shop but my house where I live is in Cimbebasia. God said you rich people you have many houses some are located in Kleine Kuppe while you also have houses in Katutura that you don’t use. God told me that I must give away the house in Ombili to someone in need. I decided to give it to a Kavango speaking lady who I had no idea about who she was. I just found her at Okahandja Park in a really small shack. God told me that she is the woman I must give the house to. God told me that I must not give the house with unpaid bills so I just paid whatever was left on the house,” he narrates.
He adds, “What motivates me is that I have vision, the vision that I was given by God. I don’t like people suffering and whenever I see someone suffering it unseats me.”
February or Professor as his employees call him was born in Okatope in Ohangwena region and is now married with three kids. Although he has more than 20 employees and more money now you will still find him under the dust working his hands off to make products.
“God is my father I don’t have any other father. It’s him who I believe in, ‘life of death’. You can’t give half to God you must give your all to him. I will give my all to God until I die,” he states.
On competition he says, “Competition will only be tough when your work is not of good quality. If I don’t get customers in a certain day I don’t look down on myself because I know where I depend (in God). Many of my customers are white people but black people are also coming now because they also have money now compared to the colonial era. Now I just need space in town and I can compete with Nictus.”
He says all he needs now is another building where he can separate his finished products from unfinished products and says he can have up to 50 employees if he gets that space. He is also aiming to do business outside the country. If anything it is clear the sky is the limit for Wilhem February. PF