Young coffin maker helps restore dignity

Coffin maker Theo Frieslaar (left) with Ward 34 Councillor Johnny Arends, next to some of the coffins he has completed.                                                   Photo: ZELDRÉ STRAUSS SWANEPOEL
Coffin maker Theo Frieslaar (left) with Ward 34 Councillor Johnny Arends, next to some of the coffins he has completed. Photo: ZELDRÉ STRAUSS SWANEPOEL

THE rate at which young people in his area perish due to gang violence, is the reason why a young man from Arcadia decided to make coffins and caskets with his own two hands.

Often these victims come from families who do not have the means to afford an expensive coffin to bury them in, which is why Theo Frieslaar sells his handmade coffins and caskets to them at a reasonable price.

“I know many families who don’t have funeral policies and I know how difficult it can be. I understand people’s circumstances and I want to help them so that they can bury their loved ones with dignity,” Frieslaar said.

“Struggling families who need to bury someone and don’t have a lot of money come to me and we work something out. Sometimes the victims were merely bystanders who got hurt and were not gangsters or criminals.”

He is proud of his handiwork – each coffin and casket made with love and care and to the best of his ability.

The unemployed young man has always been interested in woodwork. In 2016 he completed a certified woodwork course and with assistance from NYDA (National Youth Development Agency), he was ready to make his business take off. He registered his company, Dimitri Funeral Supplies.

Tragedy struck, however, when his workshop in his parents’ backyard burnt down in June last year, due to alleged arson.

“I lost all my equipment and three coffins that were ready to be sold. I was very sad because this is my livelihood and I am the only breadwinner in the family. I was feeling very down but I did not want to give up.”

Frieslaar managed to rent some workshop space in Bloukappie Street earlier this year and is trying to get on his feet again.

“It’s tough, because I have been disappointed by a few people who didn’t come through with payment, and the materials that I use to make coffins are expensive.

“With every cent I receive I buy new materials and it’s going slow, but I am hanging in there because people are counting on me.”

He hopes to one day be able to train and employ other young people from the community.

“I really want to create work opportunities for young people so that they can see that one does not need to get involved in criminal activities to make a living. I want to give them hope.”

He said that as an unemployed youth, he understands how difficult it is to find work and becoming despondent because of that. “But I want to show other young people that it’s possible to rise above your circumstances.”

Ward 34 Councillor, Johnny Arends, said he was very proud of the young entrepreneur.

“Before his workshop burnt down I had already heard positive things about this young man and the work he is doing.

“He is making us very proud because he is making an effort to help himself and also goes out of his way to meet people halfway.

“His quality work speaks for itself and my wish is that his business will grow and become sustainable. He is a young man with vision who sets an example to others out there.”

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