Dorah Boateng (left) with the two women she has employed in her restaurant. PHOTO: Brenda Masilela/ANA
Dorah Boateng (left) with the two women she has employed in her restaurant. PHOTO: Brenda Masilela/ANA
dORAH Boateng cleaning the tables before serving her customers. PHOTO: Brenda Masilela/ANA
dORAH Boateng cleaning the tables before serving her customers. PHOTO: Brenda Masilela/ANA
dORAH Boateng said she opens her restaurant at 4am to prepare food for her customers. She cooks West African and South African cuisine. PHOTO: Brenda Masilela/ANA
dORAH Boateng said she opens her restaurant at 4am to prepare food for her customers. She cooks West African and South African cuisine. PHOTO: Brenda Masilela/ANA
DorahBoateng holds her worn out permit. She said the Department of Home Affairs is giving her a hard time as they do not want to renew her papers. PHOTO: Brenda Masilela/ANA
DorahBoateng holds her worn out permit. She said the Department of Home Affairs is giving her a hard time as they do not want to renew her papers. PHOTO: Brenda Masilela/ANA

After losing both her parents in quick succession, which saw family members start fighting with her over her parents' estate, Dorah Boateng - fearing for her life - packed her bags and left her country of birth to search for a better life in South Africa.

When she left Ghana and headed south to South Africa, Boateng only had $500 in her pocket (about R7,000). She had no relatives or friends in South Africa but was armed with determination and will to succeed in her new home.

Ten years later, Boateng owns two eating outlets in Pretoria West where she sells West African and South African cuisines.

It's almost lunch time and customers have already queued at All Nations Fast Food, and as Boateng takes orders, a female employee serves the customers.

In total, Boateng has five people to assist her across the two restaurants which are about a kilometre apart.

After the restaurant has cleared, Boateng takes a break and sits comfortably while eating her lunch as she tells African News Agency (ANA) of her trials in opening two restaurants in a foreign country.

"My sister, it wasn't easy. I suffered a lot, but giving up was not an option because I had nothing to go back to," she said.

Now 35, Boateng was just 24 years old when she landed at OR Tambo International Airport. She took a taxi to Pretoria where she met some Ghanaian women who worked in salons.

"They took me in and I tried to work with them to plait hair, but I couldn't do it. They tried to teach me but I failed to master the skill. I eventually ran out of money and they started mistreating me because I wasn't bringing (in) anything."

It was around this time that she found some solace from a male housemate who is also from Ghana. She and the man, who is now her husband, moved out and rented a shack in Atteridgeville, west of South Africa's capital city.

"The shack was in a bad condition, to the point it would flood every time it rained and we couldn't even sleep, but we couldn't afford a better place because my husband was earning R2,000 (per month) as a security guard and we had to make sure we used it sparingly plus I was expecting our first child."

After year of being destitute, Boateng got a job at a restaurant and they moved from the shack to a decent place. She worked for three years at the restaurant and it was during this time that she decided that she wanted to open her own business.

"I bought a caravan and joined a group of sellers at the industrial site here in Pretoria West. They were not welcoming but I told myself I'm not doing anything wrong and they can't chase me away."

Her eyes glisten with tears as she explains the hardships she endured after she opened her first store. "I was called names, and sometimes these local ladies would tell people not to buy from me because I'm a foreigner and I'm dirty."

She said there were days when she wouldn't even sell a single item, but still had to pay a woman who assisted her with the cooking. At times she didn't make enough to pay the woman and her husband had to pay her from his pocket.

Seeing that food was sometimes going to waste, she opted to start making vetkoek (deep fried dough with a filling) with mince and didn't cook as much.

She watched different people coming to the industrial site with their own food caravans, but after a while they would leave as business just wasn't profitable.

"The place was not conducive for selling because there was a lot of dust where we had our caravans and people didn't like eating there, but I stayed and now the place has a pavement," she said with a smile.

After three years, she said people finally accepted her presence and began buying. She stopped making vetkoek and started cooking African cuisine dishes.

During those three years, Boateng suffered four miscarriages - largely caused by the stress she was under at the time.

"It was hard, sometimes I would make R100 a day, there were days when I thought of selling the caravan but then I would also think about what am I going to do afterwards, and then I realised I had no choice but to push myself."

Six years later, after her food caravan had become a popular fixture in the area, she was ready to open another store down the road.

"South Africa is a good place for business, the problem is that people give up easily and some are comfortable because they are in their country. Had I stayed in Ghana, I wouldn't have achieved what I have now," she said.

Even though her business has grown tremendously, Boateng said the growth has also attracted unwanted elements in the form of robbers and she has also been forced to dismiss a number of employees for theft.

"Unlike the caravan, the store closes very late and I have had an unfortunate encounter with robbers. But I have installed cameras to minimise the stealing from employees and I make sure I don't keep a lot of money in the store."

Boateng's husband has stopped working and assists her to run the business while he also operates another business of buying and selling cars on the side.

Boateng said she is pleased with the success she has managed to achieve in South Africa, but gets discouraged by the department of home affairs processes.

"They will give you a runaround before renewing your permit and it's extremely stressful. I can afford to buy a house but I can't until I fix my documents," she said, holding her tattered permit.

"I can't understand why they make it so difficult because I'm making an honest living and want to do things the right way, but they treat me with disdain."

Boateng hopes that she gets her paperwork sorted and has further plans to grow her business. After all, she has come this far.

- African News Agency (ANA)