Meet the Uber driver and rapper who has been on a hard road of debt and despair. He has a tale to tell and a song to sing. The article below first appeared in Forbes Africa and is republished with its permission. Subscribe today by contacting Shanna Jacobsen [email protected]
These are the words from the chorus of Uber dadi, a hip-hop song written for Uber by Fuzile Nhlapo, one of thousands of Uber drivers across Africa.
On a hot afternoon in Johannesburg, Nhlapo walks into our offices in Sandton and, like most taxi drivers, he’s talkative and has many stories to tell.
He grew up singing in a boys’ choir in high school, in Tweeling, in eastern Free State. His love for music grew. After matriculating he moved to the Vaal to seek greener pastures.
“I had to hustle. My first job when I came to Vaal was as a storeman at a supermarket, then I became a merchandiser and then got a modelling job in Bloemfontein,” says Nhlapo.
The 30-year-old rapper did a series of studies, eventually earning a certificate in media studies, marketing and sports administration, before working for the South African Football Association (Safa).
In 2008, luck was on his side, when a friend didn’t pitch for work at Safa. The company offered him the job instead.
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“I did sports administration and coaching courses. I was responsible for the Northern Cape regions until after the World Cup in 2010 and then I was without a job again,” he says.
Nhlapo desperately wanted to be an entrepreneur in music. He got his foot in the door by landing a job as a marketer at South African producer, Arthur Mafokate’s production company. Here, he got to learn the music industry.
“I was searching for a job but I was ready to go for my passion. It happened that I met Chomee, Arthur’s artist and we exchanged contacts. I then got Arthur’s number from his website and called him, I approached him as a groupie, but I knew I had a mission to work for him. But then one day Chomee called me and said Arthur was looking for a marketer.”
He applied and got the job.
“What I can tell you about Arthur is that he’s a great mentor. He hired me for a marketing job but taught me the ins and outs of entertainment. He played a big role in my entertainment career,” says Nhlapo.
He left to start his company, Black Excellence, with the aim to produce his own music. This wasn’t easy.
“I decided to open my own company, thinking that now I’m groomed enough, I can do this. I obviously made a premature decision and money was wasted because there were other aspects of business I didn’t take into consideration. I ended up getting deep into debt.”
He had to sell his car to pay off his debts.
“I was penniless and unemployed. A friend then got me a job as a merchandiser again, [but] I was not making enough money, I decided to quit.”
He ended up washing dishes at a Chinese restaurant for a small pay. Here, he met his future wife, from Zambia, who worked as a cashier.
Because life was hard in Johannesburg they returned to Tweeling.
“I was at home and someone called me and asked if I had a professional driving permit and licence, and she said there’s a job for a shuttle driver and host at Emerald Resort & Casino.”
He had to use his last penny to return to Johannesburg. While working at the casino, he heard, by word of mouth, about Uber, a technology company connecting riders with drivers, through a smartphone app. Nhlapo says being a part of the Uber network gives him the opportunity to be the CEO of his own cab.
“I started to research Uber and after a few weeks a cousin called to tell me about a guy who wants a driver. Since then, I have never been this happy and financially secure,” he says.
Nhlapo says he joined Uber because he could work according to his own schedule. It has also afforded him the chance to connect with people in a way that neither of his other jobs really had.
“There is more to Uber than transporting people from A to B. It gives us the chance to network and acknowledge other cultures because as black people we only know of our culture,” he says.
He jokingly says his communication skills have also improved, especially his English. He’s planning to release three songs; a hip-hop song for Uber and others, Kwaito and house.
“I’m mostly gonna play the songs in the car because I also want our riders to enjoy it,” he says.
This ambitious lad believes his songs will top the charts.
He says Oliver Mtukudzi is his favorite African musician. Like Mtukudzi, Nhlapo loves playing the guitar.
Unlike Mtukudzi, you can summon Nhlapo with an app.