SA entrepreneur swops finance for fitness

Fitness and wellness in South Africa has traditionally been quite a financially exclusive amenity – accessible only to those who can afford the typically high gym membership fees and costs associated with a healthy lifestyle. One local entrepreneur, however, is determined to change this.

With over seven years’ experience in the financial services sector, 35-year-old Tumi Phake, founder of Zenzele Fitness Group, saw a gap in the market within the local fitness sector – noting that for many South Africans, health and fitness regimes are still very much a “nice to have”.

Zenzele Fitness Group, a gym management business which operates fully-equipped gym facilities at various corporates, universities and government institutions across the country, operates on the premise of providing convenient, all-inclusive gym and fitness facilities for employees, assisting employers to see how a healthy lifestyle can benefit and improve their own workforce. The end result is an overall gym experience similar to that of a commercial health club – with the benefit of location convenience.

In addition to providing top-end, technologically advanced equipment, the business also provides disease intervention programmes (for ailments such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, hypertension, etc.) for gym members. “For employers, assisting their employees with health management programmes is a vital component of the proposition, and makes the investment in our facilities very exciting,” says Phake.

It is this natural sense of leadership which led Phake to hold high profile positions within the corporate world during his financial services career, such as junior board member at FNB Wealth. Since then, Phake was featured on Mail & Guardian’s Top 200 Young South Africans list in 2015 and most recently in 2016, was selected as a South African ambassador for the prestigious Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) in the United States of America – a leadership programme established by former US president Barack Obama.

Phake’s tenacity and passion for his business idea is what granted him the initial R5 million start-up finance from equity partner, Awethu Project / SEFA an incubator for small to medium enterprises and later on to raise additional debt funding of R8 million. By the end of this year he would have raised a total of R22 million. Today, the fitness group is turning a sizeable profit and is constantly looking to expand its national footprint.

As a young business which launched in 2014, Zenzele Fitness Group already employs over 50 staff members with 13 gyms across South Africa.

With Phake’s ambition to partner with some of the largest corporates in the country and use these relationships to penetrate even more markets, there is no doubt that Zenzele Fitness Group has the potential to scale to almost limitless bounds. Fuelled by his unwavering passion for innovation, dedication to driving change and promoting overall health and wellbeing, Phake is set to realise his goals in the coming years.

Itumeleng Phake is a finalist in the 2017 Entrepreneur of the Year® competition sponsored by Sanlam and BUSINESS/PARTNERS. For more information on his business, please visit the Zenzele Fitness Group website: