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GCIS Vuk'uzenzele | 5 March 2024

Thobani May, 28, from the Free State saw a business opportunity from clearing wattle trees.

He collects the shrubs and converts to quality braai charcoal. This is all thanks to the Youth Employment Service (YES) programme that empowered him with the necessary skills. It was this training that saw May, together with Reatile Mohlauli, establish Eco Char.

May, who teamed up with other young people, got inspiration from interacting with people who knew more about the impacts of excessive alien invasive plants.

“We got to experience the advantages of clearing wattle and the results are breathtaking. More grass cover, restored water sources like springs and improved grazing lands. It has been a very long and stressful journey but through determination, we managed to keep going and aim even higher,” he said.

Eco Char sells its produce to local supermarkets, street vendors and to local shisanyamas.

May and his partners ensure that there’s no regrowth of the alien plant where they have cleared and also ensure that the work they do is environmentally friendly and promotes grass cover recovery. The start-up received funding from the Social Employment Fund (SEF), World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), Avocado Vision, Rural and Environmental Solution and the YES programme.

The WWF bought them four kilns valued at R12,000 each, a chainsaw, brush cutter and other much-needed tools. Avocado Vision provided training, mentorship session, coaching sessions and bought a kiln valued at R11,000.

Since 2023, Eco Char has created job opportunities for 12 people.

“Since we started the business, we have hired more than 20 youths in our community and that makes us very happy,” May said

“The amount of support we got from the YES programme is unmatched and motivating. We joined the programme in April 2021 and ended in March 2022. We were part of the programme for a year,” he explained further.

May said in the coming years they would like to see themselves as one of the most promising charcoal producers in the country and hopefully expand services to other provinces. May encourages other young people to follow their dreams and be willing to pursue them.

“As the youth of this country, it’s our job to make sure that we pave the way for the next generation and start businesses that will address the high unemployment issue we are facing as a country. We are the future,” he said.  

‘Disclaimer - The views expressed here are not necessarily those of the BEE CHAMBER’.


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