Bringing good times home to Pretoria for 10 years

High school is over. The final exam has been written and all matriculants have collected their certificates. The focus is about to shift to their futures. With this transition comes a distance between childhood friends and schoolmates; they no longer see each other every day; they may touch base during varsity holidays.

Katlego Malatji (28) saw this coming shortly before leaving for the University of Pretoria in 2008. He gathered about 20 of his closest friends for a picnic at the Pretoria Botanical Gardens. What was supposed to be a once-off picnic became a tradition for Malatji and his friends. They all knew that the first weekend of the holidays was reserved for a picnic. All they needed was R12 for entry into the gardens and picnic baskets. They would return from their respective universities with new friends who would also come to the picnic. They called it the HomeComing Picnic.

Exclusive: Katlego Malatji’s invitation-only All White event has grown to be held annually. Photo: Austin Malema/HomeComing Events

One of the people Malatji had befriended was Neo Moela, a finance student and then Red Bull brand manager at Tuks, who wanted to buy into the get-together to monetise it.

On a warm Friday morning earlier this month, Malatji stumbles into the Home Coming Events (HCE) office in central Pretoria with beads of sweat between his eyes and on the tip of his nose. “So sorry about being late. I took the train today,” he huffs and puffs. Shortly after he settles in, Moela cruises in with a fragrant cup of coffee. They’re wearing matching bracelets with black and gold beads. They swear they didn’t get matching jewellery and that it’s a coincidence. Together, they relay their story before Moela has to leave for a meeting.

Glamorous: Neo Moela’s Suit & Tie event is held every year on or near his birthday. Photo: Austin Malema/HomeComing Events

The HomeComing Picnic soon took place four times a year in the eastern suburbs of Pretoria at places such as the Harlequins Rugby Club and the botanical gardens. Over the years the ticket price has risen to R150 and the numbers have grown from 75 people to more than 16 000.

What started out as an entity that would host picnics during the holidays has now grown into a company that specialises in organising events and festivals, brand management and ­marketing solutions, all aimed at South Africa’s youth.

In 2013, Malatji and Moela started a 12-month paid internship programme. They take on six to eight young people, preferably students, and teach them the ins and outs of the business.

“So we’ve got four strategic focus areas: events and sponsorships, government, ­corporate marketing and then brand and activations. We rotate them every three to four months around our strategic focus areas. We paid those school fees. We went and we took those learnings and now we’re ­sharing them,” says Malatji.

So although HCE is in the business of ­giving people a good time, it also passes the baton on to prospective entrepreneurs.

The founders sit in the chill area watching four interns prepare for their status ­meetings, which are held every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. The four interns are finalising the next Tshwanefontein event. It’s is a cross-cultural event that happens on the last Sunday of every month and gives unknown artists a platform to introduce the 700-strong crowd to alternative music.

HCE also hosts HomeComing Africa. It’s the HomeComing Picnic grown up. “Before us, there was no Major League Gardens, there was none of this. If anything, cooler-box events were not cool; they were seen as di bash. Then we said, ‘let’s do this picnic thing’ and everybody catches onto it and does it. [Now] we run a risk of competing with people at something that we were initially leading in. So it’s either we lead at something else or stay to get beaten at our own game,” explains Malatji, who has asked to be pardoned for being on his phone during the interview. He plays Tetris to keep himself calm and says it helps to keep him alert.

“If we were doing 16 000 people in 2015, how much longer did we think people would stay interested? We had to transition. So we said we want to have a black-owned festival. We wanted to have a pan-African festival that we can tour on the continent. So we came up with HomeComing Africa.”

HomeComing Africa is an annual festival at which those who attend are encouraged to learn something new and build their taste in entertainment instead of being entertained by a blockbuster line-up.

“We don’t sell line-ups; we sell experiences. We curate experiences and we’re not scared of starting small,” says Malatji.

For now the festival takes place in South Africa, and the most recent was held in September at the Voortrekker Monument. But the idea is to tour it on the continent once they have built the necessary relationships.

“We’re in chats with people from Tanzania and Kenya, plus Rwanda just hit us up. By 2021, we want to take this festival to another country.”

But no matter where it goes, the founders of HomeComing Events pride themselves on being a bastion of monate (good times) and a come-up channel for Pretoria.

“Pretoria people? This is their thing. You can’t tell them anything. Everybody feels a sense of ownership for the brand and the concept. People have neglected that core fundamental. You cannot operate without a base. We know we have that group of people nomakanjani [no matter what]. These are our people.”

The next HomeComing event is on December 23 at the 012 Precinct in Pretoria

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Zaza Hlalethwa
Zaza Hlalethwa
Zaza Hlalethwa studies Digital Democracy, New Media and Political Activism, and Digital Politics.

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