The saying ‘It takes the whole village to raise a child’ is accurate, but so is ‘Sometimes it takes one mother to raise the whole village.’ Jacob Mnisi’s mother worked as a domestic worker but she also took in underprivileged children from her community and housed them. It was a hard pill for little Jacob to swallow cos the circumstances forced him to share the little bread he had.
“I was too young to understand. Sometimes I had to sleep on the floor just so I could make space for other kids,” recalls the fifty-year-old from Mpumalanga, who’s now a prominent multi-millionaire business mogul.
“I had to drop out of school in Standard 5 (now Grade 7) and go find work so we could keep the body and soul together,” he says as he revisits his past, and asks for a second to park next to the road as he’s driving for this telephonic interview.
Bra J, as he’s known, remembers well his first business in the mid-90s.
“I started off as just a guy who manufactured windows and putting glasses and doors in RDP houses and low-income homes around Mpumalanga, where I’m from. I later felt that I was not getting enough support, as some of the people I supplied preferred to purchase from people they knew.”
Syathuthuka Construction was then conceived, and it became the sole customer of his welding business. “I decided that with my hardware business, I would be supplying my construction business. So when I didn’t get support for my hardware business, I decided to do research on the construction. I made sure that in my business, I used experienced people and I also created jobs in the process,” he remembers.
Bra J’s voice can be partially heard on the other end of the phone as the passing cars make a blistering noise.
He mentions that he’s built roads and schools in the less privileged communities.
“In 2014 we gave out classrooms in Pinetown (KZN) at Fulton School of the Deaf through J4Joy Foundation. We’ve built more than fifty houses, and hope to do even more with the help of other relevant authorities.” He adds that with the help of SABC they’ve also given a motorised wheelchair to an East London disabled person last September.
The young recipient was very grateful, as before he would pay people to drive him home after school, and now his life would change.
“The Foundation tries its best to bring hope to disabled people with the understanding most of them feel abandoned and look down on themselves,” says Bra J.
Bra J has also ventured into the mining business and helps more than 300 permanent workers construct their own futures. “Giant Coal has created about 1 500 jobs in total, when you include temporary staff and contractors,” he explains.
He’s currently working on an autobiography that will detail his life journey title 17 12 (I was broke 17 times in 12 years). Bra J proves true the saying that ‘Sometimes people don’t give because they’ve everything, they give because they know how it feels to have nothing.’