Johannesburg – A Soweto-born entrepreneur has found an innovative way of making the business of trash collection safer and more profitable for the very collectors who spend all day scouting the streets for rubbish that may make them a few rands at the end of the day.
An initiative called Abomakgereza was born two years ago when Sifiso Ngobese thought about the deaths that had resulted from the lack of visibility for the "recycling hustlers" when night fell.
"The biggest problem that they face on a regular basis is that the trolleys that they use... break down easily. They've [also] got poor visibility when it's dark, so there have been cases where these guys have been hit by cars because the [motorists] can't recognise them when it's dark," he said.
Ngobese, who graduated from the University of Johannesburg with an honours degree in economics, saw an opportunity to create a safer, more functional trolley that they could use for collection.
"Another beautiful aspect about the trolley is that it also doubles up as a mobile billboard where companies can advertise their brand and add content on the trolley."
Under his umbrella company, Unconventional Media Solutions, Ngobese was among 17 businesses earmarked by the City of Johannesburg's Jozi My Beginning, an initiative aimed at developing and funding innovative business ideas that would benefit the public, creating jobs and enriching the lives of local residents.
A total of R50 million has been set aside for the initiative.
Ngobese said the company had already partnered with Absa which was assisting them with the project. Absa would give the waste pickers basic financial planning as well.
"Another social aspect about the project is the fact that if there is a company advertising on the trolley, there is a 10% profit share, so 10% of those profits will be distributed to those guys who are pushing those particular trolleys.
"So it is not in a form of cash, it might be food, support, whatever they need at that particular time," Ngobe said.
The Abomakgereza project currently has 40 "hustlers" registered on its database. With the help of the Jozi My Beginning initiative, Ngobese hoped to get the number closer to 100.
Tau congratulated businesses
The company had created a database that could be accessed by both potential clients as well as the municipality.
"So we register them, we take their details, we give them a particular ID [linked to] the trolley, a name tag as well, then we put them on our online system.
"You can go online and see the number of waste pickers with their ID copies attached to the system. We also record the tonnage. We record that every single day so we can see that X number of waste pickers in Germiston collect an X number of tonnage."
Earlier, Johannesburg Mayor Mpho Parks Tau congratulated the 17 businesses selected from the 2 003 that had applied.
The Jozi My Beginning initiative fell under the city's Jozi@Work programme that is aimed at tapping into the capacities and capabilities within communities, and would help in advancing the city.
He emphasised how vital it was for local businesses to succeed and to provide local solutions to local problems.
"It should not always be the responsibility of the municipality to try and think out of the box because many a times, as the municipality, we operate inside the box.
"There are a set of rules, there's legislation and budgetary constraints that limit us in terms of direct innovation that is generated from inside the community," Tau said.
Waste pickers for event clean-up
Ngobese, whose Abomakgereza project also includes providing waste management services, hired the waste pickers for major events such as the 702 Walk the Talk last year.
"So what we do is we will hire the waster pickers, take them to the site and then we'll collect waste using the trolleys as well. Then we clean up."
The company was branching into waste collection after recently securing a land site which they would use as a scrapyard, Ngobese said.
This idea had come up after the company had come into disagreements with other waste collectors who did not share the same vision. "Sometimes our trolleys would get damaged or vandalised and we would have to bear the costs in terms of fixing the trolley.
"So what we're doing now is that we are running our own buy-back centre. This is where we're going to store our own trolleys and distribute the [business] model more effectively.
"We've recently secured a site in Germiston and we'll be starting in the next week," Ngobese said.
WATCH a video of the Abomakgereza initiative below: