/ 19 October 2018

Luv hub for lonely Capetonians

Brain food: Love Generation Hub sessions start with a speaker talking about the journey of their career and ends with attendees exchanging something such as knowledge or craft
Brain food: Love Generation Hub sessions start with a speaker talking about the journey of their career and ends with attendees exchanging something such as knowledge or craft

Mornings in Cape Town’s central business district break with coffee served in artisanal roasteries, with Table Mountain serving as a looming compass. On cold days, white clouds threaten to ­envelope the mountain as the tablecloth spills over its edges.

If Cape Town were a coffee it would be a cappuccino. A double espresso topped with steamed milk foam. Chocolate powder sprinkles added for decoration. A city engulfed by white clouds, white foam and white management.

On May 28, investment professional Tinyiko Ngwenya’s opinion piece, Why I moved back to Johannesburg from Cape Town, which first appeared on her LinkedIn account, gained traction in the media and on social media. She chronicles her frustration with the perils of assimilation into the corporate culture in Cape Town.

The essay struck a nerve about the barriers to progress. According to the department of labour, the number of black professionals in Cape Town has risen by only 4% over the past 10 years.

Thankfully, the city is increasingly providing spaces for people looking for support, networks and community — essential for navigating a city like Cape Town.

The Love Generation Hub, the brainchild of Patricia Khumalo, is one such space. It’s a networking session held on the last Thursday of every month. The sessions, which are regularly attended by 20 to 30 people, are ­intimate and robust.

Lebohang, a University of Cape Town lecturer and regular Love Gen attendee, says: “Moving from Jo’burg was just a clear flip in terms of what my everyday life, with middle-class privilege and access and the kind of job that I have, gave me. All I really wanted to do was to be around black people. I remember my first Love Gen just seeing everybody and ­wanting to just hug people. I was, like,‘What? People who look like me? This is fantastic!’”

Love Gen’s first home was in the basement of the restaurant House of H, a makeshift parking garage by day with graffiti tags across the walls. Since May, the event found its new home at the Young Blood Art Gallery on Bree Street, with food served from the in-house restaurant, the Hot Skillet.

Despite the change in venue, the setup is always the same. Twenty chairs arranged in a circle wait expectantly. Every session starts with an introduction and features a guest speaker who talks about their career path, their insights and their challenges. This is followed by around of questions.

Speakers have included radio personalities Khanya “Kyeezi” Siyengo and Sibongile Mafu, digital marketer Zethu Gqola, Heinrich “H” Koenfrom House of H, Oginga “OG” Siwundla from the Hot Skillet restaurant, Sibaca & Maduna founder and chief executive Buchule Sibacaand Didier de Villiers, the founder of fashion label Magents.

Ending every session is a segment called “take something, leave something”. People are asked to leave their knowledge, time or craft in exchange for something. Examples of what people have left and asked for are human resources consultations, brand management advice, photo shoots, legal advice and music production for events.

The idea for the initiative came after Khumalo launched a human resources consulting company with her business partner. She found it frustrating at times because her partner could not relate to her ­experiences as a black woman in business.

“The people around me didn’t also get what it is to start a business and how lonely it is, how exhausting it is and how to help. Everyone wants to help, but they don’t know what help looks like or means. Sometimes help is just, you know, telling someone ‘Yo, I know about this. Would you be interested? Can I set up a meeting?’”

Having just turned one, Love Gen has already had a significant effect on its Cape Town ­community. To illustrate this, Khumalo recounts a memorable encounter. “One woman hadn’t had a job in about six to eight months. She was getting kicked out of her apartment. She was five-to moving back to Jo’burg because that was it. She came to Love Gen and met another woman in a similar field. She was, like, ‘I know someone who is looking [to employ someone]’. By the very next Thursday, she had done the two interviews and she got hired.”

Khumalo says the two had seen each other previously, and had even been out partying together but Love Gen was “that one ­connection that made all the difference”.

The triumph of Love Gen is the way it is able to tap into the core experiences of Cape Town professionals while creating a network with depth and breadth. Instead of succumbing to Cape Town’s smothering cloud, Love Gen is like an espresso shot: strong and black, with just the right kick to keep you going.