While struggling to find a job after completing his apprenticeship in electrical engineering Ramatswi Matome Maphala whiled away his time learning to weld. Then one day, after chancing upon a discarded geyser, he decided to use it to fashion out a braai stand. The results were stylish and Matome hasn’t looked back.
He runs a growing business from Seshego near Polokwane in Limpopo turning discarded, rusty geysers into fashionable braai stands. Matome, 30, now works with his two brothers and a friend to meet the growing demand for his designs. Their clients include food vendors and ordinary people who love a good braai, and in the future they hope to supply big retailers.
“I would like to hire as many people as possible so the business can grow and compete with big companies that sell their braai stands in the big retail stores,” he said.
Matome’s designs include a semi-smoker and a reverse flow smoker braai stand. The reverse flow design allows one to cook meat using heat generated from a smoker built into the side of the stand. The semi-smoker is a traditional stand where one uses flames to braai the meat, but also offers the option of smoking the meat.
Matome’s struggle to find a job put him among scores of youths plagued by the country's rising unemployment figures. “From 2017 to 2018, I was applying for jobs, but I later lost interest because I was now busy with welding and making braai stands. In 2019 I decided I was no longer going to look for job completely. I realised that this is my passion and perhaps this is what I am destined to do,” said Matome. The braai stands sell at between R1500 and R3000 each and take between a day and three days to make.
His brother Ngoako, 31, who works with him in the business, also found himself frustrated when he couldn't find a job despite having completed electrical engineering and boiler making apprenticeships.
In the midst of this frustration, Ngoako used some of the money from his bursary to buy a welding machine and the brothers started a small business making burglar bars and other items. But it was only after Matome designed the geyser braai stand that business really started taking off.
“We never got any funding from anywhere. We funded ourselves from the work we were doing making burglar bars. It is true that there are some businesses that require funding, but mostly, you need to work hard and then seek funding support later to grow the business,” says Matome.
While demand for the braai stands was on the rise, finding old geysers was proving a major challenge. “I had to search for the geysers. Sometimes I would go for two months without finding even one,” said Matome. He then came up with a plan to hook up with plumbers, easily solving this business problem.
With South Africans never short of a reason for a braai, the Maphala brothers may soon find their well-engineered products in scores of households around the country.
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