Native Nosi: How a childhood love for honey inspired Mokgadi Mabela
“I wake up and knowing that I have all the odds against me, I have every reason not to do what I'm doing,” says Native Nosi founder Mokgadi Mabela. “But here I am.”
It’s a sentiment that runs true for most entrepreneurs. But it’s especially pertinent for Mabela, a black woman taking on the traditionally white, male world of honey-selling and beekeeping.
It does, of course, help that honey runs in Mabela’s blood. Her grandfather was a farmer, who used his savings from World War II to buy land and establish a small beekeeping operation. The bees had the added benefit of helping with crop pollination. That love was passed down to her father, who took on beekeeping as a career and in turn passed it down to her. Mabela does admit that she was far more interested in the honey that her father harvested than the beekeeping process growing up.
“While I was growing up, he used to go to farms, work with bees, and come back with good honey,” she says. “Every time he would go and harvest the hives to come back with some honey, I'd be super excited,” she says.
And her love for honey might have stopped there. After all, she’d gone to university and had set herself on a solid career track in Gauteng, South Africa’s economic hub. But she soon realised that the honey her friends and colleagues were consuming couldn’t compare to the kind she grew up eating.
“I decided to offer them some of my father's honey because they didn't understand what I meant,” she says. “And I also couldn't explain what was going on. I just knew there was a discrepancy.”
Once they got a taste, word rapidly spread and the honey supply she had soon ran out. So she ordered more from her father. That too ran out, which led to her ordering from a network of farmers her father knew. When that stock also ran out, Mabela’s father suggested she start keeping her own hives. Still working full time and unable to get back to rural Limpopo regularly enough for training with her father, she undertook a beginner beekeeping course.
With the basic training under her belt, Native Nosi really started to take off as a going concern. In 2017, its online store opened and started selling nationwide. By 2020, the operation had become too big to run from Mabela’s house and the Native Nosi Emporium opened. The Emporium functions both as a working space where the business can trade, package and distribute the honey, and as a retail space where customers can buy honey on site.
While Native Nosi has had to overcome several hurdles along the way (including supply issues and having to buy food-grade equipment), Mabela is proud of the way the company’s grown and survived over the years.
“Just the realisation that we are still surviving, we are still alive, and we are still able to serve even if it's just for an extra day is completely humbling,” she says. “And it's extremely rewarding.”
According to Mabela, Google products and services have been integral to every part of Native Nosi’s journey, from the initial research through to today. The business was originally set up using a Gmail address, which was also used for its online shop, website, and courier agreements. Since then, the business has evolved to running on GSuite.
She also credits Google My Business, which she was introduced to at a Google workshop two years ago, as being an important enabler for the business.
“Using Google My Business, we have been able to get a location, so whoever wants to navigate to us, is able to”, she says. “It’s also great that you can navigate the live comments, update your business hours, and change your pictures so that every month you can do events.”
Mabela adds that one of the biggest motivating factors for building on the Native Nosi journey is spreading the love of good, authentic honey:
“When you have people get in touch and say, ‘we didn't even realise that the honey in the main markets is not even honey until we tasted your honey and remembered the taste we used to enjoy when we were growing up, that reminds us why we are doing what we're doing.”