The good, old wheelbarrow

The good, old wheelbarrow

MASERU – CONSIDER the wheelbarrow.
It may lack the grace of an airplane, the speed of an automobile, the initial capacity of a freight car, but its humble wheel marked out the path of what civilisation we still have.
At least this is according to Hal Borland, an American author, journalist and naturalist (1900 – 1978).

A welder from Thaba-Tseka, Ramosa Maanela, may not have read anything about the quotes regarding Borland’s wheelbarrow but his love for this humble machine is there for everybody to see.
People in Sekamaneng, where his workshop is situated, refer to the workspace as a wheelbarrow hospital.

The wheelbarrows are brought to his workshop in all conditions of ruin – others rusty and fit only for the scrapyard to be melted and recycled into other useful tools – but they leave there looking new again.
Maanela established the wheelbarrow maintenance business after quitting his welding job at a granite mining and crushing company eight years ago.
“I craved to do something of my own after spending years under the employ of someone else,” Maanela says.

“It is not that I was unsatisfied with my job. No, but it was not giving me enough time to do my own stuff. I am an entrepreneur,” he says.
Maanela says he did not have the chance to go to school during his childhood.
When he was of age, he had to go from town to town, company to company, seeking a job.
Lady luck smiled on him and he got a job at Morali Crushers in Morija, where he trained in welding.

In 2011, he quit the job after 10 years to establish his own wheelbarrow maintenance business in Sekamaneng, where he was living and looking after his orphaned nephews.
The business focuses mainly on repairing wheelbarrows and building new ones using old parts.
“We buy old wheelbarrow parts which are to be thrown into the scrapyards to be delivered to Gauteng,” he says.

He also collects old wheelbarrow parts that some villagers consider useless.
He explains that they collect the wheelbarrows which are of no use at an average price of M70, although the price sometimes varies depending on the quality of the parts.
“We prefer old parts if they are of good quality,” he said.
Maanela says when he started the business, he had realised that many people were still trapped in the mentality of seeking a formal job despite the scarcity of employment opportunities.

For Maanela, it was the scarcity of water that drove him to embark on the journey to open the “wheelbarrow hospital”.
“Around 2011, there was a great scarcity of water in Sekamaneng where people had to travel long distances to collect water,” he says, adding that he saw this as an opportunity due to the high demand for wheelbarrows.

He says he also realised that although there was a high demand for wheelbarrows, not every Mosotho could afford to buy a new one.
Some prefer to maintain their old wheelbarrows but they lack skills to maintain them and this is where Maanela steps in.

Maanela says he started the business at his premises when he was still learning how to improve his welding skills.
In 2014, he realised that the wheelbarrow business was viable and he decided to find an open space from where to work.
Maanela says he feared the business would fail when he started off and for someone who had quit his M3 000-a-month job, this brought a lot of anxiety.
With the benefits that he got after quitting the job, which were close to M14 000, he settled all his installments, personal debts and bought some machines to start this business.

The first days were tough, especially without a guaranteed monthly salary.
Finding customers was no easy task while some people would mock him for quitting his job. “I was a laughing stock,” he says.
“Some people were mocking me that while people were opening car workshops, I was busy opening a wheelbarrow workshop,” he says with a chuckle. “However, perseverance was my pillar.”
He says after all these years of hard work and trials, he pushed very hard to make his business work.

In 2017, the story changed as his business started booming.
“I realised that the business was thriving so I hired a permanent employee,” he says, adding that his wife is also helping out with the business.
Maanela says his aim when he started the business was to grow the operation into a big well-mechanised firm by 2020.
Much of his work is panel beating, which is labour intensive because they do it manually without any use of machines.
“With bigger machines, I would be able to hire more Basotho and assist others through training,” he says.

Maanela says he hopes to travel to other countries to learn more about the trade, but has been hindered by high costs of travel.
Economic problems affecting the country have not spared him.
Although the business boomed in 2017 and 2018, the same cannot be said now.
“Even the constructors would bring their wheelbarrows for maintenance but now the case is different,” he says, referring to the years when business was good.

Now, he would be lucky to get five customers a month, he says.
“Sometimes we spend the whole week doing nothing,” he says.
He says his customers are individuals from the village and construction companies.
“Recently, two welding machines got damaged and we were unable to buy another machine because they are too expensive to a point that I had to borrow a machine,’’ he says.

Maanela says at one point he considered closing the workshop and return to formal employment.
“I was even thinking of the job that I quit, but the fact that I like my work so much made me stay on even though the business is not good these days,’’ he says. “I consider this work as my child.”

Despite the difficulties he is still hopeful of the future, and for now, is determined to keep the business operational.
“As much as the business is performing badly, we still manage to pay the workshop rent of M1 500 a month and support two families,” he says, referring to his own family and that of his employee.

Refiloe Mpobole

 

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