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Dr Hajira Mashego: democratising fitness for South African villages & Townships

"There will never be a perfect time to start so if you are passionate enough about your idea and have researched its viability, just start. Start small and grow slowly towards your dream. Don't stop no matter how hard it gets as a turning point will come along the way."

Q1:Tell us about your yourself:

I am a qualified sport physiotherapist who studied further to complete a Masters Degree in Public Health (with a focus on fitness) and a PHD in Human Movement Science (also focusing on fitness). I have vast experience in sport physiotherapy, exercise science and sport management and have served a combined 27 years in the health, wellness and sports sectors. I resigned from my job in Government and used my pension fund pay out to establish Fitness Junction. Along the way I then convinced friends and relatives to buy shares in the venture. Fitness Junction has been bootstrapped since then.

My Academic qualifications are as follows:

  • Social Entrepreneurship Programme: Gordon Institute of Business Science (GIBS): 2016 PHD in Human Movement Science: North West University: 2015

  • Master’s Degree in Public Health (cum laude): University of the Western Cape: 2003 Advanced Diploma Sport Management (cum laude): Rand Afrikaans University: 1999 Advanced Diploma Physiotherapy (Sports and exercise): University of the Witwatersrand: 1998

  • BSc Physiotherapy: Medical University of Southern Africa: 1995. The businesses that I'm currently driving are (for profit): Founder and CEO: Fitness Junction (PTY) Ltd and (Not for profit): Managing Director: FIT ZA NPC.

My employment history is as follows:

  • August 2014- June 2017: Acting Chief Director: Sport and Recreation and Acting COO Employer: Mpumalanga Department of Culture, Sport and Recreation

  • June 2007 – July 2014: Director: Sport Scientific Support Services Employer: Sport and Recreation South Africa (SRSA)

  • June 2004- May 2007: Siyadlala Mass Participation Sport Programme Manager Employer: Sport and Recreation South Africa

  • March 2003- May 2004: Athlete Services Co-ordinator Employer: SA Sports Commission (repealed to Sport and Recreation SA)

  • uly 2001- February 2003: Neurological Physiotherapy Lecturer Employer: Medical University of Southern Africa

  • July1999- June 2001: Sport Physiotherapy Lecturer Employer: University of Cape Town January 1997- June1999: Senior Physiotherapist Employer: Gauteng Department of Health

  • January 1995- December1996: Physiotherapist Employer: Amplats Hospital (Rustenburg)

My fields of expertise are:

Fitness entrepreneurship ,Business Advisory services , Social Entrepreneurship, Sport and Exercise Science ,Sport Physiotherapy , Lecturing/ Education management, Public Health Management, Sport and Recreation Management,Project and Events Management Research.

My areas of business interest are as follows: 1. Fitness Industry 2. Health Services Industry 3. Sports Industry 4. Business Advisory Services 5. Consultancy & Training Services.

Q2: What does your company do?:

Fitness Junction (Pty) Ltd is a 100% Black owned (77% women) fitness company. The first gym is based in Westview, Danville, Pretoria West. The company focus is on the township and rural commercial gym market but also plans to add the corporate gym market to its basket. Fitness Junction Westview has been operational from 23 February 2018.

The company offers the same quality of products and services as the gyms in cities and suburbs but is cost-effective and is within reach of the township and rural markets. Fitness Junction, therefore, helps township and rural residents, and corporate employees to attain their wellness and fitness objectives by being accessible to them and offering holistic services at affordable prices.

Fitness Junction aims to scale its offering of commercial gyms to establish a national network through a network of head office gyms and through franchising. The company offering is thus aimed as follows:

  • Commercial gyms for township and rural clients.

  • Shopping centre-based gyms nicknamed FitVibes

  • House-based gyms nicknamed FitPozi

  • Container gyms nicknamed KasiFit

  • Corporate gyms

Q3: What inspired you to start your business?:

The findings of my PhD study alerted me to the fact that the majority of Black South Africans do not have access to fitness facilities as the majority of fitness facilities are concentrated in towns, suburbs and cities. This has contributed to the growing trend of obesity and overweight in the black communities who reside in townships, peri-urban areas and rural areas.

Obesity and overweight lead to a multiple of chronic illnesses e.g. diabetes, hypertension, cardiac disease, to name just a few. I then decided that I should contribute towards the fight against the scourge of obesity through bringing good quality gym facilities to the townships and rural towns. I then went to GIBS to learn how to monetise my idea and at graduation decided to resign from work and establish Fitness Junction.

Q4: How do you define your business model; what differentiates your products or Services from others?:

Fitness Junction (PTY) Ltd has a similar quality of products and services as the big chain gyms but is cost-effective when compared to them. It is also accessible to the target market as it is based in a township shopping centre.

The FitPozi model is also going to ensure that the company scales further than it would have been able to through the shopping centre model as the commercial gyms will be based in Township houses leading to profit share between Fitness Junction and the homeowner.

The model will therefore empower homeowners with a significant income and create jobs in all the townships and rural towns that it enters e.g. each shopping centre gym creates 15 jobs while each house-based gym creates 3 jobs.

Q5: Starting a business is not easy. What struggles did you experience in the infant years of your company and how did you overcome it?:

Our biggest struggle has always been cash flow. As Fitness Junction (PTY) Ltd has been bootstrapped from inception we struggled to operate, pay suppliers and staff with the daily cash flow struggle.

We then broke even in 2019 (after 14 months) and things smoothed out, only to crash in 2020 due to the five and a half month long Covid lockdown period (the gym industry was only allowed to resume operations at Level 2. When we re-opened our clients were fearful to return and a lot of our clients had lost their jobs or had salary cuts. We therefore lost most of our clients and had to start from zero again and are still repaying the landlord arrears.

Q6: What do you know today that you wish you would have known when you first got started?:

I would have started smaller and ensured that we had some cash reserves. I went all out and gave the full offering which looked good to the observer but our cash flow problems stifled growth.

Q7: Businesses come with stress; what gives you the joy to keep you going?:

When I see people benefiting from the offering and giving me testimonies of loss of weight and control over chronic illnesses I get the strength to continue. I also gain joy from the fact that I have employed 14 locals (11 of whom are youths) who would have otherwise been unemployed. I dream about creating jobs nationally and that keeps me going.

Q8: Why do you think businesses fail in your industry?:

The capital outlay needed to establish a gym is very high and it takes long for the gym to break even as it is a numbers game. Some gyms collapse because they never get to the requisite number of members to attain break even and profitability. Gyms are also highly sensitive to socio-economic challenges e.g. when clients become cash strapped, one of the first things that they get rid of is a gym membership. A gym therefore needs a very strong and aggressive sales team and marketing campaign in order to survive (you cannot depend on organic growth)

Q9: What are your 3 priorities right now:

Our biggest priorities right now include:

  1. To reach maximum capacity in the Westview, Danville Gym

  2. To secure funding to establish the second Gym in 2022

  3. To establish the Fitness Junction Franchise

Q10: What are your future plans and aspirations for your company?:

o scale nationally to as many townships and rural towns as possible through a network of head office gyms and franchises.

Q11: Advice to other entrepreneurs or to your younger self?:

There will never be a perfect time to start so if you are passionate enough about your idea and have researched its viability, just start. Start small and grow slowly towards your dream. Don't stop no matter how hard it gets as a turning point will come along the way.

The obesity rate in South Africa is currently sitting at 31% for men and 68% for women and there's many reasons for this beyond unhealthy eating. An overall holistic approach to living healthy lifestyles, through quality decisions, sound habits, which includes a healthy diet and a sustainable approach to fitness is a must. But how do peri-urban, township and rural communities access such a variety of activities, most of which require money, in some way or another, when they can barely make ends meet. Especially, when considering the cumbersome cost of access to fitness, through the traditional gym model, then it becomes distinctly clear how Fitness Junction is an answer to prayer, in more ways than one. After all, good health should never be a luxury, but a primary activity, within reach, for everyone.

Dr Hajira and her team at Fitness junction democratising access to fitness, is not something we should take lightly, we should lean forward and remain on the edge of our seats, as across public and private sector domains, because in some way or the other obesity and the lifestyle diseases that spin out of such, impact us all, one way or another.

Looking at how in about 649 Saturdays Africa's population is gearing to exceed 2 billion: one has to ask, would these numbers (obesity & lifestyle disease burdens) double? It is such a great relief to see what Dr Hajira and her team at Fitness junction are doing to build a resilient enterprise that enables a wider demographic to experience a body re-shaping & life-altering paradigm shift. Dr Hajira’s extensive experience, unique industry grasp and intuitive business model to create a franchise model, must continue to take shape. As she continues to lift weights in the boardroom, and on the gym floor (or the streets), selflessly getting South Africa into fitness, we say to her "tsela tshweu moAfrika" (best wishes and prosperity).

Most successful businesses today are those whose founders intuitively identified a real need faced by a large number of people, willing to pay for the solution to that problem they are faced with. Such an approach, requires one to do their homework, across attaining a firm understanding of both the macro and micro industry dynamics, down to the granula understanding of the individual customer's WHY and driving force. Fitness Junction is a robust concept, which displays the business acumen and societal fitness (heart for the people) of Dr Hajira woven into and displayed through every facet of Fitness Junction. One might be mistaken to assume: a gym is a gym, is a gym. But not quite. When a founder like Dr Hajira equipped with the proverbial weight lifting of a thorough understanding of both the profession, industry and the business of health, then what emerged is a glove fit "people first" gym business model, showing stickability, resilience and adoption readiness.

I especially take my hat off for Dr Hajira 's visionary prowess and tireless efforts: successfully creating an enabling environment that supports availability and accessibility for the South African population, across untapped economic tiers of society. Bringing healthy living to a wider market, previously ignored by traditional models, ensuring that both village and township communities have access to quality gym facilities to support their fitness regimes.

I look forward to seeing her franchise business model mushroom across the country and the continent at wide as she secures the much needed funding to grow this incredible brand.

Amana Alkali: Tech Journalist, Writer, Editor & Public Speaker

Perseverance is a quality that distinguishes excellence from mediocrity, and Fitness Junction is on that path. It is inspiring to see that despite multiple challenges, the venture has held onto the vision it began with. Even amidst the Covid19 crisis, the global market for the Sports and ; Fitness industry was estimated at over US$87 Billion in 2021.

At the current pace, Fitness Junction should soon position itself into taking the chunk of this market with its well thought out plans of expansion. With franchise in mind, that is not farfetched. Health and sports are thriving sectors as individuals continue to have fitness needs. In its entrepreneurial spirit to solve its challenges, the venture can consider integrating other services relating to the industry like creating a cloth brand. Kudos to Fitness Junction, the spotlight shines on their efforts!

Anne Semadeni-George: International English Teacher

"I have a dream about creating jobs nationally..." That is not something that one would immediately associate with establishing fitness centres. But that is exactly what Dr. Hajira Mashego has done with her innovative concept for fitness centres in South Africa, the Fitness Junction. What is so striking about her Fitness Junction gyms are that her target niche group is the South African township and rural commercial gym market.

What is even more striking is that the motivation to bring Fitness Junction gyms to these underserved groups came from her studies on health, which made her realise that the people there would suffer increasingly from health problems with obesity and more, without having access to modern, yet affordable, fitness centres.

"Fitness Junction: Where Health meets Wellness" is the lead thought on her website, and the gym membership offers are attractive to families and working women with children. Family discounts, child care with a nanny and even discounts for pensioners truly create a safe, conducive environment to take one's health seriously with the personal trainers and individualised training offers.

What truly makes Dr. Mashego's entrepreneurial concept stand out from an average gym franchise is the "Gym-in-the-box" programme. As described on Fitness Junction's website,, there is a point system for enterprise and supplier development. And, getting right to the dream of creating jobs, those signing up to FitPozi model get Bonus points for creating employment.

The FitPozi model is what Dr. Mashego intends to scale her business with. The model will empower homeowners with a significant income and create jobs in all the townships and rural towns that it enters, where each shopping centre gym creates 15 jobs while each house-based gym creates 3 jobs.

What a fulfilling idea this is! No empty talk about creating employment for rural youth, but a concept which from the starting line has been designed to walk the talk!

Precious Kalu: Author, Digital Marketing Expert & avid Data Science Student

Fitness Junction definitely deserves to be featured amongst the best African brands in fitness and lifestyle. Not only because they are very good at what they do, which they are, but Dr Hajira Mashego the founder of Fitness Junction (PTY) Ltd is such a visionary, she understands the market, she understands the bigger picture as to why fitness must be accessible to a wider society and she is a business genius.

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