Thought Leadership

Born to Lead

October 2022

-Be the Best Version of Yourself

Born in Nkowankowa Township in the Greater Tzaneen area of Limpopo, Bonnke Shipalana’s humble yet strict upbringing as the son of two pastors (who happened to be teachers as well) certainly set him on a good path for life. From a young age, Bonnke learnt to believe in himself and not to allow emotions to stand in his way. Being the son of pastors and teachers meant that he had to share his parents with the community and often acquired several "brothers and sisters" at a time. This taught the young lad to be confident in himself and when faced with difficult situations, to draw his strength from within. Bonnke is a strong believer that in life, one must make decisions without embracing any grey areas. It is either a yes or a no. Never follow the crowd or have decisions made for you. This belief took him from the struggles of a young boy in a rural environment to the top of his game as Group Chief Executive Officer of Allure Group. One of the many achievements that have increased his seams to bursting point, tales of joy and laughter and valuable stories of his rise to success. Bonnke always has something positive to say regardless of how negative the situation is. His down-to-earth yet full of life character is welcomed by every crowd he comes across.

Bonnke started his schooling at 4 years old after walking into a classroom at Dududu Primary School. He literally walked through an open door completely ignorant of the surroundings, found a chair, sat down and joined the class never to look back. He flew through school to matriculate at age 16 and enrolled at the University of Port Elizabeth (U.P.E), now Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University, at age 17. Always being the youngster of the class forced him to mature quickly. This can negatively affect some children (particularly when reaching adolescence) but for Bonnke, just the thought of who his parents were, kept him in check and his maturity became his strength in leadership roles. Going to a rural government school with only a few subject choices and lacking a few items and luxuries that were easily accessible to city children meant that Bonnke’s wasn’t dealt with the best cards. He never held anything against his parents or blamed his past, but instead made a conscious decision that every day he would do his best, with what he had.

For many, the fear of facing a problem or the inability to fix it allows problems to linger on, eventually being blown out of proportion. Either let it go or solve it, like Bonnke does. Whenever or wherever he comes across a problem, a fire ignites within him that drives a burning desire to solve it. The UPE Boys' Residential Quarters tuck shop owner, who recognised his leadership qualities and keen eye for problem solving, offered Bonnke a deal to buy the tuckshop at just 10% of its value. Bonnke obtained a loan of R1,500 from his father and was able to pay it back in 3 months. Finally, he was able to dictate his own life at just 17 years old, while majoring in Economics and Business Management at UPE. He successfully acquired four tuckshops in the space of three years and saved a whopping R60 ,000 which he used while on an exchange program in Jӧngkopim, Sweden. From that point on, Bonnke claims that his struggles were a thing of the past. With his education, leadership skills and ability to solve problems, Bonnke (then aged 20) made a decision that would define the next 10 years of his life.

He made the definite decision that he was going back to business until he turned 30, which is precisely what he did. He joined SABMiller as a sales representative, which found him frequenting the taverns of Alexander and Soweto’s townships, hanging out with locals while promoting South African beers. After five years of promoting liquor, Bonnke joined PepsiCo as sub-Saharan Marketing manager. The extensive travelling however was derailing his plans. Eighteen months later, he joined the team at Cell C, filling the role of marketing manager, where he spearheaded the Hola 7 campaign, the greatest campaign Cell C has ever experienced. Mastermind, Bonnke named it after Kwaito star, Zola (affectionately known as Zola 7) who was hot in the music industry at the time. In this, we realise that it’s the simple things that ignite big ideas, as it is in most of Bonnke’s success stories. These range from “So You Think You Are Funny Talent Show” to The Barloworld Mbewu programme, another brilliant idea that was formed from the simplest seed. Undeniably, Bonnke was born to solve puzzles and do what no one else is doing. This too became a motto that he lives by. In conversation, Bonnke explained how he accomplishes success after success. Simply he just wakes up every day to do the best he can. W and with God as Bonnke’s pillar, he believes that his purpose is to serve, which is evident through his preaching and solving problems for people.

One critical problem though, that Bonnke may never solve is a sustainable solution to eradicate poverty. His belief, and to which most South Africans would agree, is that poverty is the consequence of past bad decisions and that spoon feeding the nation with grants will only serve to keep them dependent on this spoon, in the long run. Without pointing fingers and playing the blame game, Bonnke feels, as do many, that those in power are failing the people. The rich are getting richer, and the poor are getting poorer, and that’s where change needs to come into play. Currently, we are solving South African problems for the benefit of international trade and relations, but that is completely unsustainable. We need to solve basic bread and butter issues faced by towns and communities, for the benefit of all citizens, and only then can we address poverty with seriousness.

Bonnke stuck to his plan; he got married at 29 and quit his job at 30. He then took on the role of Chief Executive Officer at The Communications Firm for 12 years and finally, at the age of 43, Bonnke Shipalana founded and established The Allure Group SA, where he has been the Group Chief Executive Officer since its launch in March 2020. The Allure Group is a strategy-driven communications organisation. They focus on experiential platforms to deliver scalable results, with their specialties being in public relations, eventing, satellite radio, media training, and brand strategy.

Bonnke, who teaches, preaches, solves problems, and mentors is also a self-made, self-employed writer and businessman who rounds off his conversation in a way that only Bonnke would do. He asks a pertinent question that when answered in all honesty will define your life’s purpose. He asks, "What would the world have lost if you were not born?” A profound question indeed in need of serious introspection.

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