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12 Jan

Saki Zamxaka’s Life of Art & Business

Creative, influential and artistic…these are just a few words which can be used to define Saki Zamxaka, who is a CEO, lifelong photographer and an overall mover and shaker in the entrepreneurship space. 

Raised in the Eastern Cape village of Centane near Butterworth, Zamxaka was exposed to entrepreneurship from a young age. As such, his upbringing has shaped who he is today. 

“I had a mother who was a teacher and a dad who was an entrepreneur. I guess that combination of an entrepreneur and someone with a passion for education pretty much influenced my life,” he said. 

Zamxaka is currently the CEO of the Gauteng Enterprise Propeller (GEP), which is aimed at promoting, fostering and developing small enterprises in the Gauteng province. It also provides unique and tailored financial support and business solutions to SMMEs in order to propel them into the mainstream economy. 

Having been appointed as CEO of the GEP in 2021, Zamxaka defined his journey so far as an interesting one and highlighted that there has since been much progress.

“When I joined, there were a lot of challenges which included governance, dispersing money to entrepreneurs and also getting some partnerships off the ground. I think we’ve achieved quite a bit in that we’ve now moved to unqualified audits and collections of loans are slightly improving.

There are also a few other private parties who have come to work with us. That, by definition, then makes the pool of funds available to entrepreneurs in Gauteng a lot more. So I think those are the major achievements so far,” he shared. 

As a businessman and leader who holds more than 15 years’ worth of profound business lessons and priceless wisdom, he encourages a culture of resilience and being able to motivate others to do their best. 

“In business, it’s important to always have resilience mentally. You are bound to have ups and downs in entrepreneurship. It’s a matter of time. The cycles may be shorter or longer and you need to be able to stick it out, especially when the business is starting.”

“I think with leadership, it’s often the ability to motivate others to bring their A-game. When you’ve got to get everyone to perform, you need to be willing to listen and feel the pulse of what’s happening in the business,” he added. 

Indeed, it is often said that leaders are readers and Zamxaka is no exception. 

On most days, African literature is his genre of choice and he enjoys authors like Chinua Achebe and Ngugi wa Thiong’o. 

“Those were part of my earlier influence into African literature,” he explained. 

He also shared that one of his most impactful reads is ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’ by Viktor Frankl which he first read more than 10 years ago. 

The creative CEO is also very much into photography and all things related to the arts. 

As a seasoned photographer, his love story with the lens dates back to the early 90’s when his father bought him a camera. 

“I used the camera to take portraits and I got paid. At the time, there weren’t many digital cameras. So this was a film camera and technically somebody pays you a deposit, you take a photo, go to develop it and print it and then they pay you the balance”. 

While this was a great business idea which enabled him to turn his passion into profit, his understanding and love for visual arts grew immensely only after he stopped shooting portraits to generate money. This was when he used his camera to passionately capture the beauty and essence of everything around him. 

In 1998, he received a scholarship to go to Bard College – a private liberal arts institution in the United States. 

“That again got me into the visual arts and into fully appreciating it. I then had an interest in collecting art. It’s also an area that has huge potential as an investment. So it’s merging a bit of both passions; investments and the arts.”

The art lover further added that the economic value of the arts should not be overlooked as there is great potential for financial growth within the sectors of creativity and entertainment. 

“Culture and the arts are very key to the economy but at times, people dismiss some of these things as just “groove culture” or simply that South Africans love fun. 

If we can host a World Cup and after that our tourism goes up, that’s great for the economy. And if people want to come to South Africa because they know that there are great events, why not?”

As an art collector, he has an endless list of favourite artists – each of which he appreciates for different reasons. When asked to choose only one that truly speaks to his heart, the iconic Dumile Feni was his chosen fave. 

“I like his style. He is one of those artists who didn’t make as much money as they could’ve but I think he was one of the very influential artists of his time. He brought something different. I mean, William Kentridge acknowledges him as one of the people who had a bit of an influence on him,” he said. 

When it comes to music, Zamxaka speaks fondly of jazz as a genre he enjoys, although he is very much open to anything that is pleasant on the ear. 

“I was with friends over the weekend and we were listening to jazz. And some of what I played today included Zim Nqawana, Sipho Gumede and McCoy Mrubata”.

As he continues to thrive in entrepreneurship and empowerment, the cool and creative CEO remains a firm believer in the importance of boldness. For him, fortune does indeed favour the bold. 

“Although context is important, I believe you create a bit of your own fortune by being bold. It often has rewards. And I think overcoming our fears and being bold is a day-to-day struggle.”

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