Frustrations over red tape that international students encounter in South Africa led to a millennial entrepreneur starting a company aimed at circumventing bureaucracy. 

Bonke Nyathi (24), who lives in Johannesburg, said her experiences as an international student led her to formally registering her company, International Student Hub, in 2017. 

She said she was driven by the need to help others find themselves in similar circumstances. She had been helping international students obtain and comply with their study permits since 2014. Not once did she think she would ever fall victim to the “system”.

However, when she went to the VFS Visa and Permit Facilitation Centre to renew her study permit for the first time in 2015, she forgot to write down her second name on the official government form: “The application was rejected and I had to pay another R1 750 to make a second booking. I was frustrated with the whole process I had to go through again,” she said.

With an estimated 40 000 to 45 000 international students in the country, according to International Education Association of South Africa, Nyathi said she saw a gap in the market. South Africa was a popular destination for international students from African countries, including Zimbabwe, Swaziland, Botswana, Uganda and others, she said.

“I know it’s a cliche but I saw a gap in the market. We assist international students with the study permit renewal process,” she said. “We handle everything for them: from the legal papers that need to be filled, police clearances and letters from the institutions they will be studying at. It’s a long, costly process. But when it’s done correctly it’s not hectic at all.”

Nyati said the business had been doing very well, such that she had signed contracts with the Pearson Institute of Higher Education (formerly Midrand Graduate Institute) and the Varsity College’s eight campuses across the country.

Nyathi, who describes herself as a go-getter, said she had also managed to help individual international students from Rhodes University in Makhanda (formerly Grahamstown) in the Eastern Cape. “South African universities are a popular destination for international students coming from the African continent. I guess it’s the quality of education that draws them here,” she said.

She has been approaching other institutions of higher education, especially those located in rural provinces such as Limpopo and Eastern Cape: “I’m looking at providing mobile services for their international students. I will be travelling across the country and looking for new clients because that’s the only way I can grow the company.”

Nyathi acknowledged that being an entrepreneur was not a walk in the park. “But I have had people around me, who are already into entrepreneurship, who have been more than willing to mentor me.”

When asked about her company’s strategy for the next five years, Nyathi said: “I see myself travelling across the world and calling on international students to come and study at our institutions here in South Africa.”