‘Some people take advantage’: entrepreneur on township ambulance service
When Nomcebo Mahasha’s father, Gabriel, responded to a gap and invested his pension fund to establish an emergency service, an ambulance, 10 years ago, he did not anticipate slow returns. His children have had to make major sacrifices to keep the business afloat, including not furthering their studies due to financial constraints. The Yethu Indaba Emergency Services in Meadowlands, Soweto, is now one of the businesses in a kasi economy competition by beverage brand Amstel Lager, which aims to grow its potential through mentorship.
“It has been very challenging. From the get-go we didn’t get the support from the community in Protea Glen and Phiri. The government emergency vehicles take time to come. Sometimes patients take advantage of the services or make prank calls instead of emergency callouts, some [feel] entitled and don’t want to pay. Even though some don’t pay, we can’t leave patients unattended. As a business we saw a need and spoke to our parent and he invested in the idea, but I wouldn’t say it has brought the return in investment yet,” said Mahasha.
The business does not have set trading hours as an emergency can befall a patient at odd hours.
“Our employees come in from 6am to 5pm, then another shift is from 5pm till 5am. For cash calls, we charge R650. And medical aid and RAF get billed based on the call. Casuals and interns normally work six hours. These are young people who are training and studying in the medical field,” said Mahasha.
Her 68-year-old father, from a small town called Mavhunda in Venda, is yet to enjoy the fruits of his pension, Mahasha added.
She said this was a very risky business and so far they operated with one ambulance that was costly to operate on a weekly basis.
“Because of COVID-19 we had to scale down to five employees and before we had about eight permanent employees. We are busy on a daily basis, and because of the socioeconomic factors in the township, our clientele is mostly made up of pregnant women and young women. We are also looking into partnering with taverns as the township has a lot of emergency cases in places that serve alcohol,” she said.
Should they win the competition they will expand to a kind of emergency service insurance for the locals and medicine deliveries, especially for senior citizens, to avoid long queues.
“Blood pressure and sugar level check. And also first-aid training for ECD, schools, local businesses,” Mahasha added.
Twelve finalists in different sectors have been selected to be empowered. Each business owner will be mentored by one of four fiercely competitive, carefully chosen business titans who will help the entrepreneurs unlock potential for their business.
Amstel Lager said it looked for businesses that were already doing well and making a difference in their communities but needed support to take things to the next level.
“We looked for differentiated and innovative businesses that have the potential to do well in the long term,” the company said.
The ambulance business was selected because they supply an essential service in a community where few similar businesses exist.
“Government ambulance services either are scarce or respond after hours of waiting and people in emergencies often revert to using public transport. They provide a medical service ideal for community events, festivals, sports events etc ... [and] offer first-aid training to schools and community groups. One of their biggest needs was to market themselves better within their township [Soweto] to increase their customer-awareness levels regarding their offering,” said Amstel.
FRI Media (Pty) Ltd is an independent publisher of technical magazines including the well-read and respected Fire and Rescue International, its weekly FRI Newsletter and the Disaster Management Journal. We also offer a complete marketing and publishing package, which include design, printing and corporate wear and gifts.