From rags to riches

From rags to riches

The booming scrap metal business……

MASERU – In villages surrounding Sekamaneng and Koalabata, children have a song about a woman who is always in overalls and rattles by in a scrappy car. “Tsepe-lia-oa” (metals are falling apart) or “khere-khere” (crappy sound). That is what the children call Limakatso Mthakathi’s Toyota Hilux as she passes by their neighbourhoods almost daily.

But for the 45-year-old widow, everything is coming together just fine and she could not be happier, at least as far as business is concerned.
After all, she bought the car from scrap metal business, a trade that has catapulted her from rags to riches. Mthakathi owns a whole fleet of cars. A Pajero GTI, two trucks and another Toyota Hilux van are part of the eight vehicles in her parking lot. But when she pulls out of her business premise – a small piece of land littered with all sorts of scrap metal – she is usually in the old Toyota Hilux, which she uses to collect materials to her scrapyard in Sekamaneng.

“It is the product of my hard labour as a person, as a woman. I bought it without any assistance from anybody, including my husband, but from the sales of rosehip,” she said. She calls the car “Amarok”, never mind it is a battered Hilux. “I chose to call it Amarok because I liken it to an expensive vehicle of value,” she said. The sound of a hammer hitting metal almost drowns her words.

Her eight employees are sorting the metal and loading it into a truck that will take it to South Africa. An old pot here and a smashed stove there. Mthakathi buys everything that is metal.

It’s a chaotic place that only Mthakathi and her employees understand. In that mess there is order and a clear ‘production line’.
Mthakathi knows how much metal has been bought for the day. She will tell you how much metal she will harvest from an old car or stove.
Mthakathi has become a common sight in Sekamaneng, Koalabata, Naleli, Ha-Mabote, Khubetsoana and many other villages in Maseru and beyond.
Her story is a bitter sweet one that she swings from a smile to a sob during the interview as she narrates how she rose to become an established businesswoman.

A rural girl, Mthakathi grew up in a mountain-foothill village in Mosalemane, Berea district. She knows the tough life. Her mother was a marijuana smuggler and she makes no apologies about it. If anything, this shaped her into the tenacious businesswoman she is today.

“My mother was brave and I am brave too,” she said. “People call me ’Malitooti (Mother of rubbish).But I don’t care,” said Mthakathi.
So much for someone who started off as a fashion designer and went into dress making after completing her fashion design studies in 1994.
She left the world of fashion when she married 10 years later and ventured into collecting old furniture for resell to antic shops in neighbouring South Africa.

Her husband being a carpenter made it all easier and soon the couple was all over the rural places collecting antiques dating between 1810 and 1930.
“Those were the hard times in my life. We would sleep in different places, in strangers’ homes in the rural places because we knew no one,” she said. “I ended up knowing every district.”

The couple managed to build a house in Sekamaneng and bought three cars from the business. In 2012, they abandoned the furniture business because it was no longer lucrative.

It has been scrap metal from then on. “I heard that a certain international company was buying rosehip and I started collecting it from rural villages. It is with the money from the rosehip that I bought this van,” said Mthakathi. That was in 2013 and the car cost M6 000.

Her husband died the following year after they started the business. She did not know how to drive so she had to hire people to drive her around until circumstances forced her to learn. One of her drivers stopped the van in the middle of the road and walked away after the two quarrelled.
It was at night and she had to drive the van home. “That’s how I learnt to drive,” she said.

Because business is good, Mthakathi has to contend with jealous and often vicious competitors. “I even received death threats from my competitors in Pulane area, where there is an abundance of rosehip,” she said. “I was offering more than what they were offering and so the rosehip gatherers preferred me over them. I learnt from a child in that area that there was a plot to kill me and I reported it to the police,” said Mthakathi.
She said the police reprimanded the conspirators, who confessed and asked for forgiveness. “It is through these difficulties that I bought this van,” she said.

’Makhotso Rakotsoane

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