When Bokang Lehloenya (25) was on the verge of completing her national diploma in language practice and media studies in 2021, she feared that she would struggle to secure employment and resorted to starting a business.
Lehloenya cultivated her porridge making skills into a business, and she is the founder of Wa Rona Food Enterprise in Welkom in the Free State. The business specialises in producing the much-loved traditional Sesotho sour soft-porridge called Seqhaqhabola.
She started the business in March 2022 when she finally gave into the encouragement she received from people who had enjoyed her homemade delicacy.
“It was my final year of study towards the national diploma in language practice and media studies at the Central University of Technology when I realised that I would struggle to get a job with this qualification. I decided to use my savings from the National Student Financial Aid Scheme allowance to start the business,” she said.
Lehloenya’s father loved her soft porridge, so everyone who came to her home would be served the traditional delicacy and they liked it.
“People would tell me that it was the best they have ever tasted. They recommended that I start my own porridge brand. When I was stuck with the prospect of being unemployed, I decided to give it a try and see how other people would respond. Indeed, the response was good,” she explained.
Opting to keep her secret recipe closely guarded, she said the porridge was made “the traditional way” and in a carefully controlled environment.
Lehloenya said the taste of her porridge was hard to master because she emphasised on giving it a natural taste, unlike lesheleshele, which is another type of traditional Sesotho soft-porridge.
While she sells the porridge on her online store, she also supplies retailers such as Roots Butchery and Watloo Meat & Chicken franchise in Welkom. She also supplies two private traders in the town.
The samples of the soft-porridge were tested and accredited by the South African Bureau of Standards in October 2023.
Employing five people, Wa Rona currently operates from a small plant at Lehloenya’s home. However, plans are afoot to relocate to a bigger manufacturing plant in order to grow beyond the Free State and indeed South African borders.
“I want to create more employment opportunities for the youth,” she said.
In November 2023, Lehloenya walked away with a R100 000 cash prize when her business was recognised as the Start-up Business of The Year at the National Presidential SMME (Small, Medium and Micro Enterprises) and Cooperatives Awards. She remarked that she was pleasantly surprised by this accolade.
“I have already used the money to grow the business. I bought raw material, packaging and back-up source of power,” she said.
In 2021, the business received a further R50 000 funding from the National Youth Development Agency (NYDA). The Free State Department of Small Business Development, Tourism and Environmental Affairs (DESTEA) supported the business with a Nissan NP200 bakkie.
For more information visit: www.seqhaqhabolasoftporridge.co.za or call 073 865 9377. For more information about the NYDA visit www.nyda.gov.za or call 087 158 7991. To get in touch with the DESTEA, contact 051 404 9600. For more information about getting your product to be tested by SABS, call 012 428 7911 or email firstname.lastname@example.org