A young Khayelitsha man has shown that while many hands make light work, sometimes all you need is one pair of hands to make the light work.
Siphamandla Ntshewula, 21, has turned others garbage into lamps that students can use to study at night.
Necessity, they say, is the mother of invention, and Siphamandla learnt that as a matric pupil studying late into the night.
The problem was that as he burned the midnight oil, the light from the dining room flooded into all the other rooms in the four-bedroom house, and because the rooms didn’t have any doors the light kept his family awake when they needed to be up early the next day.
After Siphamandla matriculated from Sinakho High in 2017 there was no money for him to study further, so he joined a community-based programme, Activate, that sent him on a camp, where, he says, he learnt to be a leader in his community and think innovatively. He credits the camp with giving birth to his lamp idea.
“The camp taught me how to think independently and how to be creative and innovative. I didn’t believe in myself, I never thought that it was possible for me to make a difference in my community, but I started believing and I made it happen.”
He was brainstorming ideas with a friend at the camp when the lamp idea came up.
“I thought how many other people were going through the same thing I had gone through, so I decided to make lamps.”
He started experimenting with ways to make the lamps, eventually settling on using two-litre plastic bottles.
Thrilled to see his experiment becoming reality, Siphamandla, started collecting two-litre plastic bottles. But the bottles are scarce because of recycling, so Siphamandla had to dig through rubbish bins for his lamps.
He now asks his brother and his friend to help him collect the bottles and he pays them R5 for every five bottles they bring. Each lamp takes an hour to make. He works at home and sells them for R100.
His aunt, Zikhona Ntshewula, who works at a textile factory, gives him offcuts to decorate the lamps. He’s experimented with various light bulbs to find ones that aren’t too bright or too hot.
At first, he said, it had been hard to get people to support his idea.
“People always say to me I’m selling them Twizza for R100 when I try to sell them the lamps.”
But comments like that haven’t stopped him and he dreams of opening his own shop to sell his lamp.
In the meantime, he says, he’s donating lamps to school pupils who need them, and he’s doing a business course, where he’s learning about company registration, tax requirements for businesses and other things young entrepreneurs need to know. “After I finish my course, I want to open my own shop to sell the lamps.”
With the high price of electricity and load shedding, Siphamandla is also experimenting with ways to power his lamps with batteries.
“I want to change my products so they can use batteries, for those who don’t have electricity in their homes or for when there’s no electricity.”