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Ghana’s Wastepreneur

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Makafui Awuku has slept on a bench, hunted in the bush, worked at a church and sifted through mountains of plastic waste. He is the man turning trash into cash in Ghana.

Thirtyfive-year-old Makafui Awuku has been through enough pain and penury in life to see beauty in the little things. He is the man who can turn plastic scrap to nifty objects of desire.

His is a life filled with odd, interesting assignments.

It is easy to see why Awuku is not particularly fond of his early years. The social entrepreneur and founder of Mckingtorch Creatives did not have a privileged life.

Born in Keta, Sogakope, in the Volta Region of Ghana, his father, who was a driver, passed away when he was aged 12 leaving Awuku, his sister and mother to fend for themselves. Surviving on his mother’s income as a nurse was not enough for Makafui to achieve his dream of becoming a doctor. Instead, he had to depend on his wits for survival.

He would hunt with a catapult in the bush and even started his own poultry farm to generate extra income. Then in 2005, life became grimmer.

His mother passed away from a stroke and Awuku found himself stranded with no help.

Armed with just $1,000 from his mother’s pension contribution, he moved to Ghana’s capital city, Accra, in search of greener pastures.

“There was a lot of waste generated during board meetings,”

That same year, he got admission to study marketing at the Institute of Professional Services but the money he made was not enough to pay tuition fees.

“I have struggled most of my way through life. I have slept on a bench in Accra and I have also slept at a 24-hour internet café. I didn’t have anywhere to sleep, so I decided to just spend the night behind the computer there. While in school, I had to find part-time work to pay my fees and pay my medical bills as I had asthma,” says Awuku.

He would do assignments for his colleagues and charge them for it, and also pick up odd jobs such as being a part-time soccer teacher for an international school in Accra. But he eventually had to drop out of school because he couldn’t afford it.

“I eventually met one of my mentors and supporters, Reverend Richard C. Whitcomb, a senior overseer of the Agape House New Testament Church in East Legon. He gave me a job at the church, then he helped pay my rent and then when I had to go back after I deferred my final year, he helped pay my tuition fees too.”

Awuku published his first book in 2015, The Tertiary Years, to address inefficiencies in the education system in Ghana and help young students build leadership skills.

That was followed by his social project called Student Initiative Ghana, a platform for the personal development and training of young people.

“I have visited over 15 schools and trained over 80,000 people over the last 15 years in the areas of brain-training and memory enhancement and helped young people with learning difficulties.”

He subsequently gained admission to the Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) program created by former American President Barack Obama in his early years at the White House to develop the leadership of young people in Africa creating value in their communities.

“I spent five weeks in Nigeria at the Administrative Staff College in Badagry. I returned to Ghana to do an internship program. I worked with the One Ghana Movement and one of the programs they were doing was on sanitation. The team was going to be buying 1,000 bins and installing it in various places in Accra in partnership with the Accra Metropolitan Assembly,” says Awuku.

This is when he found his Eureka moment.

READ MORE: On A Roll With Used Tyres

“While I was doing the internship, I realized there was a lot of waste generated during board meetings. I decided I wanted to do something about this. I looked through the 17 Sustainable Development Goals and I looked at the plastic waste problem. I said to myself, ‘I took a course on waste management at university and I am a fan of clean environment, so let me do something with sustainable communities and cities which the plastic waste falls under’,” avers Awuku.

A 2002 report by the African Development Bank said that Ghana generated about 3.6 million tonnes of solid waste per year made up predominantly of food, plastic and wood. Awuku decided to join the fight to clean up Accra’s streets. He started Mckingtorch Creatives in January 2018 to turn plastic waste into art.

“So I started collecting bottles from the office and decided to try designing a Christmas tree from plastic waste. I got a welder to install a frame for me that looked like a frame for a tree and I decided to buy ropes. I would drill holes under the bottles and on top of the bottles and pass the ropes through them and install them on the tree. A day before Christmas, I had finished the tree. I bought lights and put them up and there were actually 396 plastic bottles on that tree,” says Awuku.

He installed his new creation in a major street in Madina, a suburb in Accra.

“I realized that it was changing people’s attitudes, they were shocked that plastic waste and bottles could be used in this manner. So I decided that I could take things a lot further and look at modeling some solutions I could develop using plastic waste,” says Awuku.

Some of his creations include flower pots, bins, wall-hangings and even sandals.

He also teamed up with one of the biggest manufacturers of bottled water in Ghana to create a fence with over 10,000 bottles for World Environment Day.

Awuku is determined to tell the youth that there can be workable solutions for waste and that they can be a pertinent part of building a planet free of plastic.

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IN PICTURES | Truck Entrepreneur Drives Style Movement

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Collaborations are key for the development of Africa’s sports economy


On a busy road in Soweto, in the southwest of Johannesburg, taxis go about their daily drill, stopping to pick up passengers outside the apartment-tenements of Chiawelo. Here, a truck of a different kind is stationed next to an old container and a car wash.

It’s owned by Siyabulela Ndzonga, a small entrepreneur dabbling in fashion, who has turned it into a concept store, on wheels.

Ndzonga,who brands himself Siya Fonds (S/F) – after a nickname his mother gave him as a baby, has been associated with the South African Fashion Week and with reputed designers such as Ole Ledimo, the founder of House of Olé, and stylist and fashion guru Felipe Mazibuko.

I didn’t even study fashion but it’s interesting how I’m actually making an impact and contributing a lot in the fashion industry, says Ndzonga. 

It was around 2011, when he sold second-hand clothes on the trendy streets of Braamfontein in Johannesburg, where only the cool kids would hang out.

“I was big on thrifting; selling second-hand clothes. I would thrift, resell,thrift, resell.”

His hard work earned him a stall at one of the flea markets in Johannesburg. At this point, Ndzonga was still employed at a retail store. After work and on weekends, he would be hustling on Johannesburg’s streets, all for the love of fashion and because people loved his work.

Ndzonga saw a business opportunity, quit his retail job and registered his brand in 2013. Later that year, Toe Porn socks contacted him and requested he consult for them.

“Brand consulting means that I come in and take their clothes and use them to translate the current fashion trends, translate them to how I think [people]should be dressing in terms of fashion. I actually became a designer because I set trends before they would trend. I would set the tone, narrative and navigate where fashion should go in the whole world, not just in South Africa,” he says.

His fame slowly grew and he started making clothes for others, traveling by taxi to CMT (cut, make and trim) factories in Germiston, 42kms from his hometown. 

“In 2015, that’s when I really saw that I am growing as a brand and that’s when I started consulting for international brands like Palladium Shoes, Fila and Ben Sherman.”

The business grew but he had to travel to others parts of country and that exercise was taxing.

He stopped making clothes and paused his business.

“The whole of 2016, I focused on consulting and saved money to set up a truck. I needed a store so people could come in and purchase Siya Fonds from the truck. This whole thing of delivering is not me, I can’t do it,” says Ndzonga.

“I initially wanted a container, but the truck was a better, fresher alternative. I’m not the first to do it, but I’m the first in Soweto. I set it up and people love it because it’s bringing popular culture to Soweto. I had to trust myself that’s it’s going to work and it did.”

The truck had been lying unused when Ndzonga purchased it, and he overhauled it with a lick of paint and an infusion of color and character.

I got another truck to pick it up and bring it to the current location in 2016.

In March 2017, the truck was launched as a concept store and he called it Block 88, as it encompasses other brands as well.

“Business was not so great after the launch. It only picked up after a few months of selling a few international brands that I consult for. We had seven brands in the store.”

He sells t-shirts, caps, jackets and jumpsuits. A two-piece suit sells for R1,400 ($97).

The next step for Ndzonga is to have stores in all the neighborhoods in Soweto and major South African cities.

Since the inception of his truck, he has also injected some vibrancy into the community.

He organizes art development programs and conversations around social issues on Fridays outside the truck, gathering youth and children.

“Conversation Fridays is like TED-talks. It’s bringing conversations to the township instead of having them in the city or suburbs and speak about what creatives are facing in the creative space and industry,” he says.

Now, he works as a consultant with a consumer agency and collaborates on a number of brands, also doing research for them. As the hustle and bustle quietens down at sunset in Soweto, Ndzonga’s trendy truck shuts shop. Tomorrow will be another day as a beacon of hope and vibrancy on a Soweto street.


Siyabulela Ndzonga of Siya Fonds. Picture: 
Motlabana Monnakgotla

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Two’s Company; 30 Under 30 Alumni Collaborate

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