Nqobile Tshili, Chronicle Reporter
AS people building modern homes moved to aluminium window frames from steel ones, Mr Innocent Mlalazi of Bulawayo’s Mahatshula suburb saw that as an entrepreneurial opportunity as the product was being imported from South Africa and Botswana.
Having worked at an aluminium window frame manufacturing plant in South Africa, Mr Mlalazi took a bold step in 2014 to relocate back home, bringing with him skills acquired in the neighbouring country.
He set up a manufacturing workshop at the Bulawayo City Council run city Factory Shells situated at Kelvin North Industrial Site.
Mr Mlalazi has been tapping into the high demand of the aluminium window frames that have become a hit mostly in new suburbs as they beautify homes.
“I learnt this craft in South Africa where I had gone upon completing my Ordinary Levels.
I then returned to the country in 2014 to start manufacturing aluminium made window frames which were becoming popular with those constructing homes and they were importing the material from South Africa,” said Mr Mlalazi.
He said he recorded brisk business as only a few players were able to supply the on-demand door frames.
Mr Mlalazi said he has managed to train about six youths who have gone to establish their own workshops producing similar products.
“When I started, there were only a few who were able to make these window frames.
I think there were one or two companies producing them.
So, the business was good,” said Mr Mlalazi.
He said the window frames do not come cheap as most of the material they use is imported.
Mr Mlalazi said through the business, he has been able to make a living, providing for his family.
“At the moment aluminium and glass are very expensive and most of the clients have little disposable income so it has made it difficult to make a lot of profit.
But we are able to pay bills as well as buy groceries.
However, I’m happy that the work that we are producing is finding its way into new homes being constructed,” said Mr Mlalazi.
Bulawayo Factory Shells houses carpenters and metal work technicians producing home furniture such as beds, wardrobes, kitchen units, tables among other products.
Other players operating at Bulawayo Factory Shells are involved in the manufacturing of sliding gates, window frames, door frames and most of their clients are those building new homes.
Ideally, Bulawayo Factory Shells is expected to be a small industries incubator for start-ups who receive skills training and upon graduating they are expected to establish their small industries across the city.
A carpenter operating from the same area, Mr Danisa Nxumalo said while business in Bulawayo is no longer lucrative as it was in the past, their products were finding their way to mining towns such as Gwanda.
“At the moment we are making arrangements with some shop owners who allow us to place our products in their shops in town who then sell our products for us.
They also put a mark up for the same products.
We also get businesses from furniture shops in mining towns such as Gwanda and Filabusi who come to buy our products,” said Mr Nxumalo.
He said one of their challenges is that while the Bulawayo Factory Shells are expected to serve as an incubator for upcoming artisans, some people were leasing space from council to others at a profit.
“The challenge is that there are some people who have no interest in running these facilities but just seek council leases and once they get them, they rent out the spaces.
And sometimes when you are busy working and having paid your rent, you will see council officials coming to close shops saying you have not paid your bills,” said Mr Nxumalo.
“Most of the people who run these shops are just people who managed to obtain leases, not those with interest in running this business.”
Bulawayo Factory Shells Phase II chairman Mr Benedict Ncube said through a partnership between Government and the
International Labour Organisation (ILO), they got state-of-the-art equipment which they use for their carpentry as well as metal and fabrication works.
100 youths were also trained under the ILO partnership and after the incubation period they got certificates and were able to start their businesses.
Mr Ncube said students from vocational institutions such as West Gate Training Centre also get internship places at Bulawayo Factory Shells. — @nqotshili