Fitness guru on a mission to bring exercise to townships

Dr Hajira Mashego, founder of Fitness Junction. Picture: Supplied Instagram

Dr Hajira Mashego, founder of Fitness Junction. Picture: Supplied Instagram

Published Sep 14, 2022


Johannesburg - People exercise for different reasons, some to achieve physical aesthetic goals and others for health reasons. The benefits of physical activity and exercise are widely acknowledged, yet physical inactivity remains an issue in South Africa.

Dr Hajira Mashego, the founder of Fitness Junction, is on a personal mission to address the lack of access to gyms for South Africans living in townships and rural areas.

Market penetration by established fitness gym groups in these areas is relatively minimal, creating a situation where individuals lack access to facilities. This is precisely why Mashego targeted peri-urban areas.

While completing her PhD in Human Movement Science, she found that in most townships, people had little access to physical activity facilities, which contributed to high rates of obesity that leads to hypertension, diabetes, cardiac failure, and many other chronic diseases of lifestyle.

“The findings of my PhD showed me that the people that were getting ill with high blood pressure, diabetes and all these illnesses were the black people who are in townships, and when you look at the attributing factors it showed that they had no access whatsoever.

“Those with access and could go to gyms could stop their illnesses, they could fight them, and could lower their predisposition to them,” said Mashego.

Fitness Junction opened its doors on February 23, 2018, in Westview, Danville, Pretoria West. Locals were sceptical at first but soon warmed to the idea of having their own fitness centre within their community when they were allowed access to the gym for free on the first day of opening.

“When we arrived people doubted us. I think they thought we were a scam because in the gym industry you do pre-sales before you even open, so there was a big wait-and-see approach,” she said.

Mashego admitted that it was challenging at first, but she has always seen the challenges she faced as normal for any start-up. Her venture was dealt a heavy blow by Covid-19 just as the business was beginning to move towards an upward trajectory.

“2018 was mainly just the struggles of a start-up. So I was making all the mistakes, trying to survive, and just trying to make it day by day. In 2019 I knew what I was doing and we got to the point of breaking even and we even started seeing a profit.

“Based on our projections it seemed that 2020 would be our best year, but when Covid hit we crashed completely to the bottom because for five and a half months we were closed down, so by the time we reopened we were at zero, actually at minus because now our rent was in arrears,” said Mashego.

This did not deter Mashego and she has persevered and pushed on through doubt, debt, and tears.

“I had my days where I thought, ‘What did I do? Why did I do it and why did I take my money and my children’s money and put it into this?’ There were days when it was just crying tears and I felt like giving up.

“But I learnt to take it day by day. I learnt to struggle day by day with the hope that we will get back up on our feet, and now we are getting back to where we are really getting back on our feet and I think it was the right decision to not give up,” she said.

Mashego is determined to grow the footprint of Fitness Junction in other townships and rural areas. And a fundamental aspect of this growth is the jobs she intends to create within the communities where these facilities will be located. She aims to hire fitness enthusiasts from the areas where her gyms are set up.

“The bigger picture is being in every township in the country. Wherever it is feasible for us to enter, I want to enter. So I want to be the township player and I want to be the rural town player because that’s where the big guys are hesitant to go.

“We are currently finalising our franchising model. So we are going to go with a network of head office owned gyms and also a network of township franchises. So we are able to give those personal trainers who are in the townships and the people who have a passion for fitness in the townships the opportunity to buy a franchise that is a 360-degree turnkey model that they can buy into and run sustainable businesses,” said Mashego.

She urges would-be entrepreneurs to start with the little they have to try to make their entrepreneurial dreams come true.

“Start where you are with what you have. It’s difficult, don't listen to people who say it’s easy or that you’ll become a millionaire overnight, it takes perseverance and hard work.

“Don’t wait for the government to give you a grant, it's not going to come. Stop waiting for the government, just start with what you have and do whatever you can and grow organically and keep growing, you’ll get to where you want to go,” said Mashego.

[email protected]

IOL Business