In 2004, Luvuyo Rani was selling old computers out of the back of his Corsa Lite after quitting his job as a teacher. After the government required teachers to use computers, he saw opportunity in providing these computers to his former colleagues.

Now, twelve years later, Rani has become an internationally recognised social entrepreneur, the founder of Silulo Ulutho Technologies. The company, which provides IT services, access to computers, and computer literacy courses in rural areas and townships, now has 38 stores and franchises throughout the Eastern and Western Cape.

“Ten years back, people used to come to Cape Town to access the computers and Internet,” Rani said. “It used to cost them more and take them time. I think that what we have done is bring the service closer to people…through access to Internet, through training, and also repairs and mobile services.”

Rani grew up in the Eastern Cape, gaining entrepreneurial skills by helping his mother sell liquor.

“After school I used to assist my mother in selling,” Rani said. “So I had been exposed to entrepreneurship early. I had the opportunity to learn from my mother to deal with customers, to deal with suppliers.”

In 1996, Rani moved to Khayelitsha while he was studying education and technology at Cape Peninsula University of Technology. After he graduated with a National Diploma and Bachelor of Technology in Commercial Education, he began teaching accounting and entrepreneurship at Khayelitsha High School while studying for a Bachelor of Technology in Business Administration.

In 2004, when the government required teachers to start using computers, Rani, seeing an opportunity, quit his teaching job and started selling computers out of his car. His brother, Lonwabo, soon joined him.

With a loan of R10 000, the two bought four refurbished computers to sell to teachers in the townships. Within three months, they were helping teachers form stokvels, or savings clubs. Each teacher paid R400 a month and within 6 months they had computers.

By 2006, Rani realised that, although the teachers were buying computers, they had no idea how to use them. So, despite being broke, the brothers opened an Internet café in Khayelitsha Mall.

They soon realised that people were coming in who, like the teachers, had no idea how to do basic tasks on a computer.

“They would come in
and ask us to type things up for them or email on their behalf,” Luvuyo said. “People were travelling great distances – to Cape Town and Mitchell’s Plain – to get Internet access, but they were afraid to use a computer. Many were in the dark about any form of technology.”

The store soon expanded, offering a “one stop shop” model where people could use the Internet, take computer literacy classes, print, copy, scan, buy computers, and receive computer support and repairs.

The store was a hit, bringing people in the township a necessary service to thrive in the increasingly computer-dependent world. They now offer courses in basic computer literacy and offer students the opportunity to receive certificates in office administration, technical support, graphic design, digital video editing, and web design.

“We’re not depending on a grant, we’re not depending on a donation, we’re not depending on a sponsorship,” Rani said. “We self-sustain ourselves and we work hard to make sure that this thing is self-sustaining in years to come. But, we’re addressing the same thing that NGOs would address.”

There are now 33 stores in townships and rural areas in the Western and Eastern Cape, 136 full-time staff members, and six franchises.

Rani is now an acclaimed social entrepreneur, giving talks and attending conferences all over the country and the world. The company has a commitment to community service work, offering training at schools, giving 20 bursaries for their computer course every year, raising funds for NGOs, and sponsoring events for underprivileged youth.

Not everything has gone perfectly, however.

“Last year in September, in Khayelitsha, we were having a meeting with my finance team,” Rani said. “Ten guys with guns came into our office and they made us lie on the floor and cover our heads and they took phones, cars, laptops, everything.”

It was a traumatic experience for Rani, and it caused the company, which had gotten its started and grown in Khayelitsha, to move its headquarters.

It hasn’t stopped him from pressing on, however. Within 10 years, Rani wants to have 400 total centres and start expanding internationally.

He plans to write a book about his journey and story, wants to get back into teaching, and to continue to travel. He’s not sure if he’ll still be leading the company in 10 years, although he enjoys leading and being in the board room.

For Luvuyo Rani, the good he does in the townships is more important than the success that he’s achieved.

“Life is not about your qualifications, contacts, money,” he said. “For me it’s all about the impact I’m having.”

Rani talked to SPICE4LIFE about youth development and entrepreneurship. Listen to his podcast below.

To keep up with Rani and Silulo Ulutho Technologies, visit www.silulo.com, follow Silulo on Facebook, and follow Rani on Twitter @Luvuyo10.

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