Living by the motto ‘no one should have an excuse for not being employed’, two friends, Simon Poo (39) and Killer Sibolai (37) are breaking barriers and opening up new ground as they explore a lucrative market that has allowed them to put bread on the tables of their families.
As economic woes bite around Africa and the world, the young men have vowed to not sit on their backsides and suffer no matter their circumstances.
The two make drinking glasses out of empty beer bottles.
This has led them to cross the borders from South Africa, to not only make a living, but also introduce Namibians to the business of making glassware that can be used not only to consume beverages, but also displayed as decorations.
The friends come to Namibia twice a year, in June and November, to benefit from this country’s small, but untapped re-cycle glassware market which they say has been very rewarding.
When the Windhoek Observer visited the two friends, they were in downtown Windhoek, standing at the robots on the corner of Hosea Kutako Drive and Mandume Ndemufayo Avenue in the scorching sun.
From their jovial moods, one can tell that even though they are in the sun the whole day, they enjoy what they do.
As soon as the robot turns red, the two maximize that opportunity to make a quick sale.
Sometimes they are lucky, but sometimes they are not, as is usual in the street market world.
For the past six years, the friends have been making a living off of this trade which they say has spread all over in South Africa.
“In South Africa, we are too many who are doing this business so we decided to come here after realising that not many people were doing it. It is said that many people are unemployed in Namibia, but they are not willing to think outside the box and make something of their lives,” Poo said.
When they started, the two had no formal training in making the re-cycled beer bottle glassware, but they saw an opportunity and grabbed it.
“This is one of the best businesses that anyone can do. You don’t need much capital or expertise, all you need is the drive and self-motivation to prosper. If you do not have that then you can never make it,” Poo said.
The two go around Katutura picking up empty beer and cider bottles which they then cut using a self-made machine that slices through the bottles.
The bottles are cut at the three-quarter mark, then they glue the neck of the bottle to the bottom of the ‘cup’ section of the newly cut glass.
“We would like to train interested Namibians to get involved in this craft. We want to show others how this is done. It is not necessary for people to suffer with no money and no work. This is a lifetime business – work means no hunger,” Poo said.
Thus far, the friends have trained six locals who work with them whenever they are here.
“Right now, we are working with six locals in Otjomuise, but I can see that they are not really willing to get dirty and actually do the work. There is money to be made, but most people are not willing to stand at robots and sell goods,” Poo said.
Even with the risk of getting arrested, as selling at the robots is not allowed, the two are determined to make a living through this self-driven, local craft business.
At the robots, the two sell about ten boxes of six at a price of N$120 per box on a good day.
According to Poo, they always make a sale no matter what.
“People should stop complaining that they are suffering because if you keep saying it, you will become it. Most people have ideas, but they are just too lazy to put those ideas to action.”
The pair can produce about a hundred glasses a day while they divide their work week between days for selling and days for finding the empty beer bottles and making their stock.
“This is an honest living; most people end up involved in crime because they have nothing to do. We see a lot of crime in our country South Africa and that is because people do not want to work for themselves,” Poo said.
Before selling the handmade drinking glasses, the pair sold fruits, but they were not making much of a profit in that endeavour.
“It was difficult to make a living through selling fruits because there was not that much profit. You spend a lot of money to order the fruits and you get little in return. This is much better,” Poo said.
Most people buy the glasses to use them while tourists take them back to their countries as souvenirs.
The two have plans to sell their goods in Oshakati before they go back home for Christmas.
“We initially targeted Windhoek because it is the biggest city in Namibia, but we have heard that Oshakati also has a lot of people especially during this time of the year,” Poo said.
Statistics show that Namibia's youth unemployment rate stands at 45,5 percent, the fourth highest in Africa.
Police Inspector General, Sebastian Ndeitunga, has expressed concern with the increase in the unemployment rate, especially among the youth, saying this might be the cause of high crime cases which stood at about 49,000 between March and August this year.
“High rates of youth unemployment translate into personal misfortune and lost opportunities for some individuals. This has the potential to instigate economically frustrated individuals to engage in socially unacceptable acts, some of which may result in crime or social instability,” Ndeitunga said earlier this month.