“I was the first black manufacturer in the country. I’m a pioneer,” says the Iconic, Habakuk Magabutlane Shikwane.
Born on the 30th of April 1928, Shikwane is the Owner of Habakuk Cane Furniture. He has also served as the Director and Manager of the Kgabong Construction.
Mr. Shikwane started Habakuk Cane Furniture in Soweto, South West of Johannesburg, in 1958 and still runs it till this day.
“Whenever you talk of cane furniture in South Africa, Habakuk Shikwane will come up, the old man notes.
At its peak he employed around 500 people and had a turnover of more than R400 000/ per month.
“I made a big mistake, he laughs, I did not train my children in my business. Now they’re too educated to want to do it.”
Coming from Sekhukhuneland in Limpopo to Johannesburg in 1944, 17-year-old Shikwane started work in the cane factory of a Jewish man he remembers only as Mr. Shule.
“In 1948 or 1949 Mr Shule appointed me as foreman of the factory, overseeing about 60-80 people.”
“I was young, but I was talented.” Running every aspect of the business gave him the idea to start his own.
“I could do everything the business needed, but at the beginning I battled with marketing. Aside from having to cope with a plethora of Apartheid laws, including the Pass Laws, there was the problem of credibility.”
“Many blacks would not work for me. They did not believe that another black man could pay their wages or salaries. Credit was also hard to obtain. When you start a business you must be prepared to enter a small hell.”
But eventually it took off and he was selling every piece of furniture he could make. White dealers were driving from Pretoria to his premises inOrlando, Soweto, even though they were prohibited by law from doing so.
Now based in the Limpompo Province, the cane furniture mogul, who beat Apartheid which forced him out of Orlando, Soweto, where he started, to the then Bophuthatswana, where he was also driven out by the Apartheid government until he landed in his hometown, Lebowakgomo in Limpompo.
Shikwane remembers with pride his business’s first truck. “I paid cash for it. It was a Chevrolet I bought from Williams Hunt in Jo’burg (Johannesburg). It overturned in Coronationville fully laden with furniture, but it wasn’t badly damaged.
“There is a lack of entrepreneurial thinking, which is sad in our developing country. It has a lot to do with education, and the legacy of Apartheid education. Our people are afraid to go into the woods. They are afraid of the wolves they believe are there. But street vendors understand the principle of buying for R10 and selling for R15. That’s all it is. Opportunities abound for black people today, but few take them.”
And in March of 1985, Shikwane and several Black South African businessmen spoke out loudly that “the American disinvestment campaign is a useful tool in pressuring their country’s white government to ease its Apartheid restrictions.”
”The fact of the matter is that this disinvestment campaign is bringing results,” Shikwane, had said of the anti-Apartheid groups trying to persuade American companies to stop investing in South Africa.
”The best method should be used to try to force South Africa to bring about change. I know changes are coming. I have seen them coming.”
Shikwane, including four other blacks and a businessman of Indian descent had traveled to the United States in March 1985 to promote the campaign.
An activist of the African National Congress (ANC), a South African National Liberation Movement, who was assaulted and detained for six weeks by members of the South African Police in 1959 in Pretoria. Mr. Shikwane was subsequently banned for five years. In the post-Apartheid order, he testified at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC).
His career record goes like this, Owner & Director of Habakuk Cane Furniture (Pty) Ltd from 1958 – present.
A Founder & Chair of the first Black food manufacturing group, with over 100 workers.
His previous positions include Director & Manager at Kgabong Construction (Pty) Ltd 1986 – 2001. And a Manager Acting of Cane Furniture Factory Johannesburg 1945 – 1951.
Also, he’s been a Director of the Lebowa Agriculture Corp Ltd and a Director of the Small Business Development Corp Ltd.
His Achievements & Awards, include numerously, Black Businessman of the Year; and Marketing Man of the Year by IMM.
With his involvement in the Community ranging from the 1001 Nature Foundation in which he is a Life Member, a Trustee of the World Wide Nature Foundation; and SA Nature Foundation, also a Trustee.