Managing director and founder of new media agency Ritevac Media, Themba Ndala, has earned a reputation as a creative of note in media circles.
City Press met up with the Nkowankowa-born creative on the sidelines of Standard Bank Joy of Jazz and he articulated how he earned a reputation that differentiated him from other content creators.
Nkowankowa is a township near Tzaneen in the Limpopo province.
Growing up as a drummer boy in church, raised by a single parent and very influential music-loving uncles, Ndala’s life direction was always influenced by music and creativity.
In fact, so connected was his life to music that he credits his success to music and connections he made in music circles.
As an only child, Ndala was shielded from the concept of poverty and it was not until his family moved from a one-room shack to a section of the township that he realised that he was financially disadvantaged.
“I wanted to get to Cape Town and all I had was an acceptance letter. The plan was to get there, get registered and study; that was the plan. No family, no money and even my uncle was against the idea.
"My mother has never forced me to do things I do not want to do. I really appreciated that I had no red tape,” he said, laughing at his then post-matric game plan.
Arriving in the Mother City, he was fortunate to be received by a distant cousin who was already studying at Cape Peninsula Technikon and showed him around.
Fortunately his National Student Financial Aid Scheme application was successful and the scheme paid for his studies and accommodation.
It was while studying for computer science that he joined the local church and started playing drums again, and that became the gateway to his survival until he relocated to Johannesburg.
IT and drums, a recipe for success
In his first year of studies, he became disenchanted with computer science because of the theoretical elements and he headed to Cape Technikon to study information technology (IT).
“All I wanted was programming. I loved that. Not the theoretical stuff computer science was full of, and that’s when I found out the ideal course was IT,” he said of the reason he moved to the Cape Technikon in his second year.
His drumming skills also earned him invitations to join a jazz band led by the late Thula Ngcukana and Peter Ndlala and that’s when he played for some of the biggest names and travelled the world.
With his newfound job, he managed to make ends meet as a student and his popularity grew in band circles.
I worked with a lot of the jazz legends in this country and even got the opportunity of travelling abroad. I also got to see the dark side
In his last year, he experienced tough times so he put his studies on hold and started focusing on music and it was during that period that he joined legendary jazz musician Frank Paco’s band, Tucan Tucan, doubling as a graphic designer.
That graphic design job became the start of his new trade as he went on to design websites for car dealerships and soon his reputation as a drummer and graphic designer grew but, with a new born child and the associated increased financial burden, it was time to make another move.
That move was heading back home and there, with nothing much to live off, he developed a social media website that connected people from Limpopo province via chatrooms.
“That website had more than 5 000 registered users but, because of a lack of sponsors and advertisers, I had to shut it down. That’s when I decided to come to Gauteng,” he said.
The revival and reinvention
In 2008, after arriving in Johannesburg, as fate would have it, he reconnected with his music contacts and some of them needed website designers. His work attracted some of the biggest names in the local music industry and he ended up designing their websites and digital marketing.
In 2012, he joined gospel group Joyous Celebration as its head of digital marketing while also freelancing as a creative director for various digital media projects, and that is when he cut his business teeth.
“During my first year at Joyous, I worked for free because I needed a camera and I could not afford it. So they bought me a camera and it was a smart move because I could generate more money with the same camera as a freelance content creator, including shooting a music video,” he said.
Four years ago he opened Ritevac Media, an agency which has since been in charge of marketing some of the biggest productions and entertainment events in the country, including Standard Bank Joy of Jazz.
He is credited with introducing extra stages, specifically for developing artists, at the event, which is more than two decades old.
As a businessperson, he pointed out that cash flow was the biggest challenge he had to overcome because of late payments by clients.
He also explained that trust and transformation remained the biggest obstacles in the sector and the strategy needed to be different.
The best thing to do in order to transform is to build our own. We can fight to transform the big corporates all we want but we have a better shot starting our own
Ndala also said one of the lessons he has learnt is that there are some things that one needs to acquire while younger, so that they bear fruit later.
“The sooner you buy some things, the better, both in your personal life and in business,” he said.
His medium-term vision for Ritevac Media is to provide premium content to high-end clients and tap into the luxury fashion industry, as a fashion fanatic, in its expansion.