Working Lives South Africa

Mankwane Chakela

Hair salon entrepreneur Mankwane Chakela is a proud member of South Africa's growing black middle class.

She lives in an exclusive suburb with her music promoter husband and has all the trappings that money can bring.

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From the manicured lawns, bubbling fountains and swimming pool, it is clear Mankwane is proud of everything she has built up.

"When I'm lying on my bed, when I wake up in the morning I must see my shoes and my bags," she laughs, showing off the floor-to-ceiling showcase in her bedroom.

"I'm sure I've got about 250 pairs," she adds.

It wasn't always like this.

Mankwane grew up in the Sharpeville township, notorious for the 1960 massacre of dozens of unarmed protesters by apartheid era police.

Growing up she remembers that her parents did their best for her, but explains: "For me, it was not enough.

"I said, 'Mankwane, you're going to take what little they can give you and make it grow.'"

She had a passion for hair and beauty and recalls how as a child she used ash from the fire as pretend make-up.

With the end of apartheid and the opening up of the economy, Mankwane has certainly achieved her ambition.

She now owns a chain of five salons in Johannesburg aimed firmly at the growing black middle class.

Her flagship Le Looks salon is in the exclusive, and previously exclusively white, suburb of Sandton.

"Before you open any business you have to do your research and one of the things you need to know is your target market so for me Sandton was a perfect location for the market that I am looking for.

"I think most of us South Africans, that's how we were brought up, we don't sit in our corners and say, 'We can't help it.' We fight."

Read more Working Lives here.

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