This article was originally published in May 2017.
Thabang Mabapa is a young entrepreneur who is helping to redefine agriculture in South Africa as a biofuel producer.
Mabapa is hoping, through his company, to help solve Africa’s energy crisis and over-reliance on fossil fuel, as well as provide a solution to the shortage of skills and high unemployment in rural areas.
The 24-year-old PR graduate and chemical engineer is the founder of Selokong sa Dimelana.
The Limpopo-based project involves growing castor seed crops with the engagement of small scale local farmers for the commercial production of castor seed oil as an alternative biofuel. As Thabang Mabapa says, “I regard myself more as an energy farmer than a chemical engineer.”
Castor oil and castor cakes are a sustainable form of biodiesel effective as substitutes for crude oil as well as other uses ranging from cosmetics, soaps and paints to jet engine lubricants and polymers for electronics and telecommunications.
Soweto-born Mabapa based his project across the country in Muila Village in Limpopo, affording the impoverished community the opportunity for employment, skills and – should the business take off as Mabapa hopes – a booming local economy.
So far, the project has 12 employees and 68 volunteers and are such an integral part of Mabapa’s vision that after winning a competition early this year, he passed all the winnings on to them.
A Red Bull Amaphiko Academy participant in 2015, Mabapa is Spark International (South Africa) 2016 ‘Changemaker’ of the year and his organisation was among the top 10 Total Startupper of the year 2016.
In May 2017 Mabapa successfully pitched for enterprise development funding worth R100 000 from the Old Mutual Foundation.
Mabapa shares his thoughts on why he sees having a greater social impact as important and his dream for the people of Limpopo.
“What we want to do is solve a problem. In light of the crude oil crisis, there’s a need for alternative fuels. Castor oil could serve as an alternative to diesel fuel.”
“I’d say that I’m more of an energy farmer than a chemical engineer. But more than anything I’d like to think that I’m a social entrepreneur.”
“Selokong sa Dimelana actually means rich soil. I grew up in Soweto but I had to go to Limpopo to secure land there. When the chief of Muila gave us that land, people thought it would never produce anything. For the plant to grow, it takes about 3 months. But the good thing about the plant is that it doesn’t require lots of water. You’d need the water only to increase your yield.”
“A hectare can produce about 1.8 tonnes of caster beans. Our dream is to do the farming and the processing in Limpopo so that people in Limpopo can have that skill set.”
“My family – they’ve always encouraged me to do things that will have an impact not only on me, but the people surrounding me.”
“I would love to change lives. I want us to grow. I want us to supply Africa and produce tonnes and tonnes of biodiesel.”
WATCH: Thabang Mabapa on experimenting in his mother’s kitchen to make his first batch of fuel and how he had to silence the naysayers to launch his business