Thato Kgatlhanye, 23
One day, when you wake up to a rubbish bin that tells you when it’s full and needs to be emptied, it will probably have been designed by Thato Kgatlhanye, CEO of Rethaka. This is her wish. Her company already produces recycled schoolbags that double as solar-powered lights children can use to study in the evening.
From Mogwase, a small town 40 minutes outside Rustenburg in the North West province, she’s in the process of creating a business empire out of waste.
She founded Rethaka at the age of 18. It now employs 20 people, with nine volunteers, and supplies its products to the likes of Standard Bank, Red Bull, PricewaterhouseCoopers and Unilever. The company exports to Namibia, Turkey, the UK and Brazil. The aim is to expand to 24 African countries.
“Our company is set up to be a leader in Africa, in the transition towards a circular economy, where we look at waste as a resource and use it to remanufacture products. At Rethaka, we say we’re resourcing Africa’s future,” says Kgatlhanye.
Her mother is a nurse who managed clinics in their district. Her father is a taxi owner and driver.
“The quiet tension between their careers built something in me way before I knew who Thato would be,” she says.
“Yes, I am an entrepreneur like my father, but I also have a social conscience and that can be attributed to my mother. I’m not just in business for profit; I’m in business to do good.”
Kgatlhanye’s parents had to deal with her independent mind at a very young age when she chose all the schools she attended from grade four onwards.
After graduating from the Vega School of Brand Leadership, Kgatlhanye was offered an internship in New York with marketing guru Seth Godin.
“This changed my life. It gave me a perspective of what was possible. I think being in a city like New York, you start thinking of yourself being capable of doing anything. All you have to do is make a decision on what is it you’d like to do, and kill it,” she says.
Kgatlhanye is killing it. She has won several awards, from the Samsung Student Excellence Award in 2014, third place in the SAB Foundation Social Innovation Award, to finalist of the Cartier Women’s Initiative Award in 2015.
With this bright young mind, anything is possible. Get ready to listen to your rubbish bin.