• Win-win situation

    Charmaine Mabuza, CEO of Ithuba, on creating value not only through the National Lottery, but also by empowering women and youth to become successful entrepreneurs

    Win-win situation

    There is somewhat of a magical aura around lotteries. There’s evidence of their existence dating back to ancient Rome, with some historians suggesting even earlier – during the Han dynasty of China, 2nd century BC. The allure of this time-honoured gaming practice is obvious; with the simple purchase of a ticket, the punter has the potential to win a monetary reward, and even become a multi-millionaire overnight.

    Yet there is far more behind the creation of a national lottery. It is not as much about a government providing its citizens with the opportunity to increase their individual wealth, although that is important, as it is about raising funds that can be extended for socio-economic development.

    That was certainly the motivation behind the rejuvenation of South Africa’s National Lottery when, in 2015, owners of Ithuba, Eric and Charmaine Mabuza, through their company Zamani Holdings, were appointed as official operator of the then flagging national game. They saw the potential to drive it to levels that would have far vaster benefits for individuals and the country’s upliftment programmes. Within five months after winning the licence to operate the lottery, the Mabuzas began extending its reach. Some 9 000 lottery terminals are now installed countrywide and 180 000 handheld devices have been distributed – making the National Lottery more accessible to South Africans.

    Not only did the Mabuzas keep their promise to reinvigorate the brand, optimise player experience and offer record-breaking jackpots, but Ithuba was also instrumental in moving the National Lottery into the digital realm. It has its own digital offering in the form of a mobile app and is present on the digital-banking platforms of South Africa’s four major banks – Absa, FNB, Nedbank and Standard Bank.

    ‘Today the National Lottery operates in a highly regulated manner, where good corporate governance reigns supreme,’ says Charmaine Mabuza, CEO of Ithuba. ‘We adhere to all legal, ethical and economic responsibilities, and ensure due diligence and transparency. All draws are governed by strict processes and procedures that are approved by the Regulator, and every step of the process is independently audited.’

    Mabuza is not exaggerating the extent of the corporate governance. Watch any of the live televised event draws and note the CCTV surveillance. All shows are recorded in the interests of security and transparency. And so they should be, given the jackpot sizes that have been manifested since Ithuba’s reign.

    ‘Since inception, the National Lottery has paid out ZAR15 782 865 535.95 to more than 300 million winners,’ says Mabuza, adding that it has also contributed more than ZAR6 billion towards good causes.

    ‘It is the largest lottery in Africa – and in the top five of lotteries in the world, as listed by the World Lotteries Association. It has also paid out the biggest jackpot on the continent, that being ZAR232 million, which was won in February 2019.’

    Ithuba has been able to achieve these outstanding figures by more than doubling the number of games in the portfolio, to the current 11, says Mabuza, in order ‘to provide the public with more chances to win the big jackpots’. The Daily Lotto is one of the newer games, which at just ZAR3 per board makes it very affordable. In less than 24 months since its launch, it has become the third-bestselling game in the portfolio.

    ‘Why our systems work – and work well – goes to really embracing the true value of a national lottery; changing the lives of citizens through winnings and contributions,’ she says. Contributions, in South Africa’s case, go to the National Lotteries Distribution Trust Fund, which allocates the funds raised by Ithuba. Despite not being able to direct the allocations, Mabuza is cognisant of the value that she and her 181 employees and 389 suppliers make towards an improved society.

    ‘I’m a firm believer in ubuntu. It inspires me in how I lead and my influence over my employees and colleagues. It drives our CSI initiatives, which are largely directed at sustainability, and which must have a long-lasting impact,’ she says.

    Some of those initiatives are inspired by Mabuza’s own journey of hardship as a black woman who grew up in rural KwaZulu-Natal. ‘I’ve been exposed to economic difficulties and prejudice because of the colour of my skin and gender. I made a promise at a young age that, as soon as I could, I would give back to my community,’ says Mabuza, who, along with her husband, in 1999 created the Eric and Charmaine Mabuza Scholarship Foundation, which funds the tertiary education of young people.

    Mabuza has also directed the existence of the Ithuba Female Retailer Development programme, launched in 2015, which assists women who own spaza shops and township supermarkets that sell National Lottery products to acquire business acumen and skills. Another, the Ithuba Graduate programme, aims to empower the youth through skills development and hands-on experience, and has a strong focus on young women.

    ‘We cannot ignore the importance of tackling gender inequality at grass-roots level, and this should be done at as early a stage as possible. Eighty-three percent of our graduates on the programme are female, and it is they, I believe, who will be instrumental in bridging gender gaps in the workplace.’

    It is a view shared by the board of Ithuba. Sixty percent of its executive team are female, and women empowerment is an integral part of the business. ‘We are very clear that we cannot have a sustainable economy if women remain on the fringes,’ she says. ‘I strive to pull women off the sidelines and ensure they are fully integrated into decision-making positions.’

    Localisation is also a huge part of Ithuba’s strategy and, while it is constantly seeking to align to proudly South African companies, it is also keen, through Zamani Holdings, to diversify into Africa. This makes sense because, as Mabuza points out, Ithuba has become the trendsetter for African lotteries in a number of ways. ‘We were, for example, innovative in being the only lottery that has a gaming partnership with banks. Through our Zamani Gaming brand, we have also introduced Zamani Bets, providing sports-betting opportunities, which is helping the group to grow our brand and other technology platforms.’

    Under the holding company are yet another three relative businesses, namely Zamani Capital (the group’s investment arm, through which Zamani Holdings attracts a consortium of credible BEE and high-profile investors); Zamani Marketing and Management (which is responsible for the roll-out of the Ithuba lottery infrastructure); and Paytronix Systems (the group’s technology arm). These successful vehicles are driving the group into a powerhouse of future philanthropic efforts across Africa, because they collectively enable effective fundraising. ‘We see the potential to accelerate the socio-economic development of the continent,’ says Mabuza. ‘While it may be that a national lottery achieves this most effectively, to make the greatest impact we also need to create more jobs, support more local businesses and develop communities at a far greater and faster pace.

    ‘I see many corporate citizens doing this through their CSI projects, yet many also do it because they want to tick a box. It has to be really ingrained in the DNA of a company.’

    Plans are under way to grow the Ithuba brand beyond South Africa’s borders, and Mabuza is well aware of the enormous task ahead in so doing. ‘Firstly, we will have to navigate through the foreign gambling and gaming laws. We need to deeply understand political and economic climates of the different nations. We will need to get to grips with various consumer groups, employment statistics, whether a population has disposable income enough to play our games, and whether we can compete against other international lotteries that are also viewing Africa as a market for their products.

    Mabuza adds, however, that in addition to the company having already proven itself, ‘our competitive advantage is that we are African, we understand the African psyche, and we are of the firm belief that our continent should be serviced by African companies where possible’.

    By Kerry Dimmer
    Image: Supplied