hearing impaired
Lesego Gumede (27), owner of Sneaker Clinic, has bilateral hearing loss and has build his business from a carport and now employs a team. He hopes to franchise soon.

Across the hard-of-hearing and deaf community, there are entrepreneurs and game-changers paving the way for others! Meet Lesego Gumede and Shubnum-Nabbi Maharaj who are leading the change in business and gap bridging:


South Africa (17 September 2023) — Tenacity, attention to detail, the courage to persevere and overcoming seemingly massive obstacles are just some of the characteristics of good entrepreneurs. It comes as no surprise then that many members of the deaf and hard-of-hearing community have overcome tremendous challenges to not only succeed in business but even set up their own businesses to create jobs for others!

This sentiment was powerfully evident during a recent event sponsored by eDEAF, a deaf-owned company that’s also the leading provider of deaf skills development training in South Africa.

The event set out to do just what Deaf Awareness Month does – help hearing people understand deafness while showcasing the significant achievements of many members of the deaf community like Lesego Gumede and Shubnum-Nabbi Maharaj.

Lesego Gumede—Sneaker Whisperer

27-year-old Lesego Gumede is the owner of shoe cleaning business, Sneaker Cleanic. Here’s how Lesego got to this proud moment in his life:

Having completed both his matric and tertiary education despite having bilateral hearing loss and no hearing aids, Lesego went on to work in sales at a large corporation. However, despite his fantastic people skills, he struggled to communicate with clients and eventually decided to quit his job in January 2021. This is where Sneaker Cleanic’s journey began.

With humble beginnings, his business began in a carport in a Pretoria township.

Within three months of setting up, he teamed up with John Peterson to develop sneaker cleaning products trialled on almost 6,000 pairs of shoes. Today his team of eight are cleaning between 700 and 800 pairs of sneakers every month at two shops in shopping malls in Mamelodi and Mabopane, Pretoria.

“We are nailing it because we are really good at what we do. We are a youth-owned business – so none of my team members is over 30. I am the leader and I have a disability – but our customers are happy, the reviews are good and the shoes keep coming in without many complaints. I’m really happy with what our team has achieved,” he says.

Nevertheless, Lesego believes that his biggest achievement so far was accepting that he had a disability.

“That made me get my confidence back and it made me a doer. Today, I am a business owner and this is just the beginning. I would love to develop this into a franchise and help build more entrepreneurs,” he says.

Shubnum-Nabbi Maharaj

Another role model in the hearing-impaired community is Shubnum-Nabbi Maharaj—a director of DEAFinition NPC.

DEAFinition is a bridge builder between the hearing-impaired community and the workplace (wholesale and retail). Its focus is on readying those leaving Deaf Schools for their next chapters in a world of work that can feel like another planet to any able person, let alone those who have a completely different experience of society due to their impairments.

Although profoundly deaf, Shubnum-Nabbi is the only member of her family to have matriculated. She was previously a learner through e DEAF and, when it was decided to set up a non-profit organisation to provide training, she was the obvious choice to take the lead.

Recently, Shubnum was asked to represent Africa at the World Federation for the Deaf conference that took place in Jeju, South Korea.

“It was exciting to know that we are ahead in helping Deaf learners. All our training is free to Deaf learners. They are able to participate in essential work readiness training prior to being placed in places of work. Our learnerships are equivalent to a matric on the skills development matrix, so even if they haven’t been able to complete their matric, they can still get an equivalent qualification,” she explains.

Maharaj says that, in the world of business, perceptions (an inability to see a person as capable or competent) are often the biggest challenges for the deaf.

She says that deaf people are often culturally different from their hearing counterparts.

“They are very straightforward which can be perceived as abrupt or rude.  Their facial expressions are often misinterpreted. We provide training to bridge the gap between the Deaf and the hearing world, as well as sensitisation training for companies that want to employ Deaf persons.”

Since deaf literacy is low, causing many to battle to communicate and be prepared to participate in the world of business, Maharaj says that over 80% of South Africa’s deaf population remains unemployed. Fortunately, with the right skills development, the sky is the limit.

Sources: Supplied
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About the Author

Ashleigh Nefdt is a writer for Good Things Guy.

Ashleigh's favourite stories have always seen the hidden hero (without the cape) come to the rescue. As a journalist, her labour of love is finding those everyday heroes and spotlighting their spark - especially those empowering women, social upliftment movers, sustainability shakers and creatives with hearts of gold. When she's not working on a story, she's dedicated to her canvas or appreciating Mother Nature.

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