TROUBLEMAKER, rebel, iron-lady – used to being labelled, Phindi Kema shrugs off most titles given to her. Known as the first black woman to be a horse breeder in the country, she had an ambition of bringing the biggest horse race in Africa to Plettenberg Bay before becoming embattled with corporates in the racing industry over issues of competition and fair trade.
Asked if she still harbours the dream of hosting this biggest race in Africa and establishing her racing company Africa Race Group in the Eastern Cape, Kema replies: “Ask me again in six months time. That is not my priority. I have other matters to conclude”.
She has managed to get to this point with limited resources and, surprisingly, she says, is beginning to “enjoy the game with the bullies”.
The fight with the South African racing system – which has been fought on the platforms of the Competitions Commission, Competitions Appeals Commission, as well as a complaint lodged with the Public Protector – has not killed her drive, but she admits that the fight has changed her.
“All I want is to be heard and for the industry to be properly regulated for the benefit of all stakeholders. I began to question the industry and instead of just complaining, I decided to do something about it. I did not anticipate for the industry to be this way – I was naive and excited when I first started in horse breeding and racing.
“I can say that I am not the same person I was when I first got here and know that things will never be the same in the industry. I want to leave this industry in a better condition than I found it. This goal is worth sacrificing for,” Kema said.
Kema states that in challenging the racing system that is “so primitive and colonial to the point of being mocked by the British”, she feels she has “made it” to be in a position where she is breaking the cycle so the next generation is not burdened with the responsibility.
“The fulfillment I get from this is what I call real wealth.”
Bringing up three daughters on her own for most of her life, Kema admits being a single mom hasn’t always been easy. She enjoys the support of an understanding mother, who lives in the Eastern Cape, and an even more understanding and supportive fiance, an English national who commutes with her between the UK and South Africa.
“I encourage my daughters to think independently and take responsibility for what they wish to achieve in life,” Kema said.
Her daughters, aged 22, 17 and 16, live and study in both South Africa and the UK and have diverse interests from training to becoming a pilot to studying music.
“But none of them is interested in the racing industry, which I respect because I do not want them to be in it for the wrong reasons,” Kema said.
Having grown up in Komga in the Eastern Cape, Kema says her late maternal grandfather was her greatest source of inspiration.
“With no formal education, he acquired skills in the army during World War 2.
“He established a business which he later bequeathed to my mother and owned properties when black people could not own properties in South Africa. He never saw himself as a victim, he used every situation to his advantage.
“Addo was where it all started – even though it was not a good start, I will treasure the experience for the rest of my life. My eyes only really opened when I visited Qatar in 2007 and observed the disparities – the groomsmen, for instance, are educated and take pride in what they do.
“I would therefore not say horse racing is my passion because of the love-hate relationship I have for it,” Kema said.