Cockroach killer’s booming business

By Drum Digital
05 January 2010

PICTURE the scene: you’ve just arrived home after a long day in the office and you’re heading into the kitchen to make yourself a drink before settling down to watch your favourite TV show.

Suddenly you notice something scurrying across the floor and disappearing under the fridge – and a quick inspection reveals the creature is not alone. There’s a whole colony of cockroaches living under the fridge, thriving on the heat emitted by the motor.

Think you’ve got a problem? Well, you do – but it’s just the sort of problem Mohlakoana Mokoena lives for. For the past four years he’s been hard at work creating and perfecting an effective, environmentally friendly cockroach-killing pesticide – and his bug-killing brainchild has become such a success that a national supermarket has agreed to stock it in at least seven of the country’s provinces.

We find the 35-year-old entrepreneur seated in a plush leather armchair in his office in Wynberg, north of Joburg. Wearing a crisp blue shirt, stylish jeans and brown patent leather shoes, Mohlakoana seems a world away from the struggling salesman he was not too long ago, trudging through township streets trying to sell his cockroach killer.

He refused to believe his pesticide would not take off – after all, everyone hates cockroaches. No one more so than him ...

“I FELT like they were following me everywhere, so I had to fix the problem,” says Mohlakoana, who worked as a manager and lived in a two-bedroom flat in Hillbrow, Jozi, before his roach obsession began.

He tried every spray he could find but nothing kept them away for long. His sister, who ran a catering business from her home in Germiston, east of Joburg, had the same problem. “She sprayed before and after cooking but they weren’t going anywhere,” he says. Seeking some good old-fashioned advice, he asked the elders in his family what they used to banish the bugs.

“They told me boric acid was good,” he recalls. “I tested it and found it worked but it didn’t last. I wanted something that was effective and long-lasting. I also wanted to create something that cockroaches wouldn’t identify as a killer.”

Roaches aren’t stupid, Mohlakoana says. They have become familiar with the smell of regular bug repellents and stay far away when they’ve been sprayed. Once the smell has gone they pop out of their hiding places.

And so Mohlakoana started to experiment. Entrepreneur’s blood runs strongly through this man’s veins: his dad, Monaheng, owned an upholstery factory in Lesotho and his mother, Elizabeth, was the first female chairperson of the National Taxi Association, which she founded in Harrismith in the Free State in the ’70s.

He knew if he had patience and persevered he could come up with something special. The father of two spent hours researching ways to outsmart the insects, and even converted his flat’s balcony into a mini laboratory where he could mix chemicals to find a long-lasting solution.

When the cockroaches he tested his solution on started drifting away, never to return, he patented the pesticide gel he had concocted under the name Drift.

The ecologically friendly, odourless and non-poisonous gel was also sent for approval to the South African Bureau of Standards and the regulatory board of the department of agriculture. Both boards conducted rigorous tests on Drift’s safety, efficiency and stability – and the product passed them all with flying colours.

Explaining the secret of his invention’s success, Mohlakoana says people need to squirt Drift in the corners of cupboards and in dark places. “The cockroaches will not die immediately but it gets them eventually and after three days you won’t see any,” he says. “It is impossible for the cockroaches to associate Drift with death so it gets them every time.”

Read the full article in DRUM of 13 January 2011

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