Oct 2023 1st edition

Empowered youngster carving entrepreneurial path

Written by Sihle Manda

Sihle Cele from Gamalakhe, in KwaZulu-Natal, was on the cusp of abandoning any hope of becoming a productive member of society when he was given a new lease on life. The opportunity came in the form of Serenity Hills, a sprawling residential eco-estate in Margate on the south coast of the province. The development overlooks  the Indian Ocean and is set amidst lush nature, rocky outcrops and rolling hills.

When the development set its roots in the area in 2015, it established the Sweetdale Skills Centre, which upskills disadvantaged youth, women and persons with disabilities from neighbouring communities, including Gamalakhe. Here, students receive expert instruction from experienced trainers in a variety of skills including, painting, carpentry, boilermaking, landscaping, restoration, cooking, and hospitality.

This development is among the 157 commitments made in previous South Africa Investment Conference as part of President Cyril Ramaphosa's ambitious drive to attract R1.2 trillion in investments. Cele was recruited for a carpentry course in 2018 and today makes and sells coffins and caskets. Speaking to Vuk’uzenzele, he said the programme offered him a chance to pursue a childhood passion for woodwork.

“After eight months of training in carpentry, we were taught business management skills and we were advised to identify business opportunities that we could exploit. I did my research and identified a gap in the coffin and casket-making space,” he said. Impressed by Cele’s skills, the organisation enrolled him in an extensive carpentry course in Johannesburg. “When I completed the course, they gave me start-up material – the timber, tools and other machinery I needed to get the ball rolling. 

I found a workshop in the area to set up shop and have not looked back since then.” In the start-up, Cele works with another local, who also received training in the same programme in 2019. The pair has to-date built over 30 coffins and caskets. They work on an orders-received basis. “The market is not easy but we are able to build and sell our products,” he said. Beyond the coffin-making business, they also partner with other graduates of the programme to make and sell furniture. “What I like about the programme is that there are different elements – be it plumbing, electrical engineering course – everything. I just happened to choose to focus on woodwork,” he said.

For more information call Sanele Cele: Cell: 084 961 2254

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