‘My mother still won’t let anyone make up her bed’ – Meet South Africa’s rags to riches hotel boss

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‘My mother still won’t let anyone make up her bed’ – Meet South Africa’s rags to riches hotel boss

Shelley Seid | 2017-02-01 10:02:18.0

Hotel boss Thabo Rafuthu “who onced turned tables”

Image by: JACKIE CLAUSEN/TimesLIVE

Aside from the Afrikaans sitcom Orkney Snork Nie and a soccer stadium that never got its chance during the FIFA World Cup‚ the sleepy mining village of Orkney in the North West province has little to boast about.

It can‚ however‚ lay claim to Thabo Rafuthu‚ who has risen up to take charge of one of South Africa’s top hotels.

Rafuthu began his career as a casual waiter and just ten years later became the general manager of a large Johannesburg hotel. Now‚ Rafuthu has just moved onto the running of a third hotel in the Protea group‚ this time the Protea Hotel Edward in Durban‚ one of the group’s flagship KwaZulu-Natal properties.

He attributes his rapid rise through the ranks to excellent training‚ support and mentorship‚ his own determination and his humble beginnings.

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Picture: JACKIE CLAUSEN/TimesLIVE

In a true rag to riches story‚ Rafuthu describes how his family struggled to make ends meet.

“I was one of six sons. My father’s income as a maintenance worker on a mine was our only source of income. Both my parents were illiterate – both had been born on farms.”

He got his matric but‚ not unusually‚ no opportunities presented themselves.

Rafuthu spent the whole of 1997 looking for work. “There was nothing in Orkney‚ nothing in the next biggest town of Klerksdorp. The next big ticket was Johannesburg.”

He bid his apprehensive parents goodbye and at the age of 19 got a lift with a friend to the city of gold‚ desperate for a job – and any job would do. “A friend of my friend said that there was a position for a casual waiter at Protea Hotel Midrand. I jumped at the opportunity.”

It was a culture shock. He had never been in a hotel and had no idea what purpose a side plate served. “I couldn’t believe the different ways to prepare a steak. It was all new and it was fascinating.”

Initially he did not give the future a thought. The job allowed him to send home money‚ and look after himself. That was enough. “But there was a lot of training‚ a lot of support and I learned quickly.” A year down the line‚ Rafuthu was made a permanent waiter.

He moved into reception‚ moved to different hotels within the group and ended up as front office manager at Protea Fire and Ice in Cape Town. And then in 2008 “the call” came. He was offered the job of GM of the Protea transit hotel at OR Tambo. Four years later he took over as GM at Protea Hotel Roodepoort.

As a general manager he has been in a position to host his parents.

“My mother‚” he sighs‚ “refuses to allow housekeeping to make up the bed. She thinks it’s unacceptable. No matter what I say insists on doing it herself.”

In February this year he and his family moved to Durban‚ where he took up the position as head of the 108-year-old Protea Hotel Edward on the Durban beachfront.

His greatest strength‚ he says‚ is his ability to read people and situations.

“I believe I am good with people – with guests and with staff. I think my humble beginnings have kept me humble. I’m always prepared to listen and to understand.”

– TMG Digital/TimesLIVE



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