Something out of Nothing

8 August 2007

Sarah Mahlangu of Witbank in South Africa’s Mpumalanga province was unemployed in 1998 when she came up with the idea of creating desirable objects from junk – plastic bags, bottles, newspapers and the like – that she collected from the local rubbish dump.

Today her business, Something out of Nothing, employs six full-time workers and many more on a commission basis, drawn from the rural areas surrounding Middleburg – and has increased its turnover by 500% since 2001.

In 2001, Mahlangu registered with the Tourism Enterprise Programme, a partnership between the Business Trust and the Department of Tourism that helps small businesses in South Africa’s tourism sector.

The programme helped Mahlangu to exhibit at the Ubuntu Village during the World Summit on Sustainable Development held in Johannesburg 2002 – and she hasn’t looked back since.

Mahlangu’s “empire” has expanded to include a conferencing venue, a catering business and a bed-and-breakfast operation. She also teaches indigenous arts and crafts at a local primary school.

One of the biggest challenges she has faced on her journey, she says, has been convincing local residents that even though they do not have money, they have the brains and ability to become their own bosses – provided they have self-belief and a sense of initiative.

“People often only look at a business idea’s potential short-term gains, as opposed to thinking further down the line, as to how they can really succeed in the long term,” Mahlangu told visiting participants in the Business Trust Long Run last week.

Something out of Nothing was one of many stops on this year’s Business Trust Long Run, a 10-day, 1 100 kilometre roadshow aimed at demonstrating the power of partnerships to bring about positive change in South Africa.

SouthAfrica.info reporter

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