There’s a saying that goes: ‘One man’s trash is another man’s treasure’.
And there couldn’t be a more apt way to describe Mazibuko’s entrepreneurial journey.
In 2009, he was introduced to the world of recycling and the earning potential it could generate. He started noticing waste everywhere he looked around his township of Katlehong.
Having been unemployed for five years with a wife and child to feed, he decided to start collecting plastic waste.
“It was very tough in the beginning because competition was there and conditions were tough, and I wasn’t earning much money but I persevered,” he says.
It’s a good thing that he stuck it out because 18 months into collecting, he spotted a potential gap in the market.
“One of the challenges of collecting waste was transporting it to buy-back centres that were far because there were none located in the township and that’s when I noticed there was an opportunity to become a transporter of the waste collected,” Mazibuko says.
Since he wasn’t formally employed, he was ineligible for a loan so he had to convince his wife to take out a R40 000 loan to buy a second-hand bakkie that he could use for transporting.
He was able to secure the buy-in from fellow collectors who agreed to support him and he started being the middle-man between the collectors and buy-back centres.
His business model offered convenience for collectors because they were able to offload their material without having to travel for long distances, the tradeoff for them however was that Mazibuko would buy the material at a reduced price.
His initial earnings weren’t great, but on a good day when he managed to make R500 from the collections, it was a victory – no matter how small.
“What kept me going was the excitement of doing something and knowing that I was making life a little easier for my colleagues,” he says.
Pretty soon he stumbled onto his next challenge – storing the waste material.
He started storing bags in a relative’s yard, but the volumes were quickly becoming too much for his relative to handle.
At the same time he heard about the SAB Kickstart entrepreneurship programme, applied and was accepted to participate in a two week bootcamp training course that taught him how to draw up a business plan.
“I had no business experience and I had to present to a panel of seven people. My presentation was a mess because I didn’t know what I was doing and how to put together a proper business pitch. But I was lucky because they gave me a chance.
This was the turning point in his journey as an entrepreneur because he gained valuable insights into operating a business and he says that it opened his eyes to bigger possibilities.
After being rejected by several governmental funding bodies, he approached Anglo Zimele, Anglo American SA’s enterprise development and investment fund, who gave him a chance.
“They told me your business plan is a mess, it’s not fundable or bankable, but we believe in you, so we will fund you and not the business. In the plan, I showed them the bigger idea saying how this doesn’t end here. We can take it to processing and maybe in five years time, we can start to manufacture our own plastic products in the township and they liked that idea,” says Mazibuko.
He was able to secure funding to start a buy-back centre in the township and purchase two trucks – an 8 ton and 4 ton truck as well as big bakkie.
His buy-back centre currently collects over 80 tons of waste per month, with an annual turnover of R2 million and he has more than 1000 collectors who supply him with material, the majority of which of are women and their children. He says that 90% of the people who collect for him are women while the rest are the children of people he used to collect waste with in the early days.
“For me it was important to empower the people who played a part in me and my business being where it is today,” he says.
His focus has not shifted to the processing element of his business. He has undergone training on processing and he’s currently knocking on investors’ doors looking to raise funds to purchase the costly equipment required for processing.
His most important piece of advice for entrepreneurs is to never stop believing in yourself and your idea.
“Belief in yourself is key because otherwise you won’t have that drive that you need to push you on days that you feel defeated and when things are not going your way,” he says.
“Also, if you have an idea just do it no matter what other people might think or say. I took that first step and one thing led to another.”