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Co-op brings hope to Nkowankowa

A co-operative that makes leather products, set up in Nkowankowa, a small town on the outskirts of Tzaneen in Limpopo, is defying the odds and is establishing itself in the manufacturing sector.

Simeone Ngobeni is one of the older members of the co-opSimeone Ngobeni is one of the older members of the co-op

20 December 2012

The 17-member co-op, calling itself Monye-Le-Shako Co-operative, operates from factory 283B in the industrial zone of the town, courtesy of a three-year free lease agreement with the Limpopo Economic Development Enterprise (Limdev). Established with the help of the Greater Tzaneen Economic Development Agency (Gteda), the co-op makes leather jackets, shoes, sandals, handbags and belts, most of which it sells locally.

Monye-Le-Shako started operating at the factory on 1 July this year and is still trying to find its feet, according to Kwena Maphoto, the chief executive of Gteda. The agency is one of many around the country set up with the help of the Industrial Development Corporation to leverage local economic development.

"The members of the co-operative are receiving training in leather making and product development from an accredited service provider. Since the factory only opened a few months back and is still short of some machinery, they are not yet getting any income from the project," says Maphoto.

Its members are mostly elderly men and women, with a scattering of young people. Most of them do informal trading in Nkowankowa and are eagerly waiting for the time when production is in full swing. Maphoto expects the factory to create employment for 51 people when it is fully operational.

Thirty-year-old Jabulani Mathebula is one young member who wants to see the factory "grow", and create employment specifically for young people like him. He has learned to operate a shoe-making machine and says he can make a shoe "from scratch".

Mathebula is confident the factory will operate optimally once it has all the machines needed to make leather products. "But what we really need at the moment is at least a stipend that will boost our morale and put food on the table," he says.

Simeone Ngobeni, a co-op member in his late 60s, says even though he is getting old, he still has the energy to see it succeed. "I am doing this out of commitment," he says.

The factory has 24 machines at present – mostly sewing machines – bought at a cost of more than R260 000. Maphoto says the factory, which had been standing empty for some time, is still undergoing renovations, with offices, kitchen and ablution facilities being added. "We were very innovative when we started doing some upgrades to the factory. There was no electricity and the factory was run down but we managed to involve mostly labour from the local community which brought our costs down."

Despite production being rather slow, Monye-Le-Shako has found a market for its goods locally. "Local curio shops have shown an interest in the co-op's products. They will look for more markets when they have perfected their skills," says Maphoto.

He adds that he is busy looking for people in the private and public sectors who can help to grow the co-op with financial and non-financial support. There are also plans, for example, to establish a tannery that will supply the factory with leather. He says tannery equipment is very expensive but getting animal skin won't be a problem.

"There are so many villages around [here] and almost every weekend households slaughter cattle either when they are conducting cultural ceremonies or celebrating a certain event. We can collect hundreds of animal skins," says Maphoto.

 

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