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Beating life's dirty laundry

Golden touch: Bright spark makes living selling old appliances

03 November 2017 - 07:38 By Aisha Hauser
SPIN CYCLE: Mthunzi Qagana specialises in fixing broken appliances Picture: Ruvan Boshoff
SPIN CYCLE: Mthunzi Qagana specialises in fixing broken appliances Picture: Ruvan Boshoff

One man's trash is another man's treasure.

For Mthunzi Qagana, the adage has been the secret of his rise from street dweller to business owner.

"We turn rubbish into gold," said Qagana.

He refurbishes used and broken appliances and sells them at an affordable price.

Qagana found his niche thanks to The Appliance Bank, a programme run by the non-profit organisation The Clothing Bank.

The appliance programme gives unemployed men the opportunity to run their own businesses by offering them appliance repair training and business skills.

Qagana was living on the streets of Cape Town just a few years ago, finding meals in rubbish bins.

"When I was on the street you had to find ways to survive", he said.

Qagana arrived in Cape Town from Lady Frere in 1998 after dropping out of school, where he had been a standout singer.

Finding no work in Cape Town, he began living on the streets, using his talent to earn some money. Then Qagana decided he wanted more out of his life.

"It was my 18th birthday. It was cold and I decided I needed to change," he said.

Qagana moved in with his church-going uncle, who helped him enrol in school.

"I finished Grade 12 when I was 22, but I was proud of myself," said Qagana.

After a stint as a ranger at Table Mountain National Park, he began to look for ways to start his own business and came across The Appliance Bank programme on Facebook.

"I didn't know anything about appliances, especially about electricity, but I decided to take a chance. That is where my life changed," said Qagana

He is now one of 50 participants in the programme, which is run in Cape Town, Durban and Johannesburg.

Although retailers, including Clicks and Shoprite, donate broken, returned or surplus stock to the programme, Qagana said getting enough appliances to repair was a challenge.

"We need more suppliers."

The Appliance Bank also accepts donations of unused or broken appliances.

Qagana is also using his opportunity to give back to his community.

"When I get home, I teach guys business skills that I learn here so that they can go out and do something. I go there and encourage them," he said.

"I have a computer school now. I am training youth in the community so that they can have skills to go out and look for jobs.

"It's called Bright Future Youth IT Centre," he added.

"I'm happy because I am helping someone, because I have been helped get out from the life I was living."