Entrepreneur cultivates new market where many fear to trade

Updated on 1 August 2014

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Entrepreneur cultivates new market where many fear to tradeSanitation is one of the most pressing challenges facing many South Africans. But without the private sector’s intervention, the whole system threatens to collapse.

This is the very field that Johannesburg-based and Limpopo-born, entrepreneur Malope Mojapelo chose to enter. He is the founder and CEO of Magmoon Pty Ltd, a wholly black-owned company that provides a wide spectrum of sanitation services.

Needs and innovation

According to the public-interest lobby group Section 27, up to 80% of schools in Limpopo use basic pit toilets. This poses  huge health ramifications, putting education, privacy and dignity in jeopardy. This lack of basic sanitation recently resulted in the much publicised incident of a Grade R pupil plunging to his death in a school’s pit-latrine in Limpopo.

Magmoon plays into this space by providing portable toilet hire, underground sanitation solutions, septic tank services, sanitary bins, waste disposal, as well as maintenance and servicing of enviro-loo pit latrines. The company services rural schools, construction sites, mining companies, restaurants, corporate businesses and government departments.

“Everybody needs hygiene and someone has to provide it”

“We began operating in 2011 as a toilet hire business to the events industry. But over the past 3 years we have evolved into a focused, full spectrum sanitation provider,” said Mojapelo who owns the business with a silent partner, Nathi Ndlovu.

It took Mojapelo a few false starts and capital loss. Finally he has found the right combination for his business undertaking.

“I lost a lot of money while trying other businesses ventures and I was forced to go back to work”.

Despite being a respected sales account expert for various companies, Mojapelo walked out of the corporate world after 19 impressive years with his eyes set on running his own establishment.

“I always had business ideas while I was working,” said Mojapelo whom among many qualifications holds a BCom degree in sales management from the University of Johannesburg.

Growth and giving back

Many people may see the sanitation business in a negative light. But Mojapelo sees it as a perfectly legitimate and dignified venture.

“It’s actually quite a lucrative industry,” he said. “Everybody needs hygiene and someone has to provide it.”

In just three years, his company now employs 17 full-time staff members and 19 temporary workers.

The company opened new offices in Matome, a rural village in Zebediela, Limpopo.

By this growth, Mojapelo is servicing the community he grew up in and is running the company virtually.

“As long as I have electricity and Wi-Fi I don’t need to be in the office anymore as I operate from anywhere,” he said.

Industry challenges

Like any business industry, providing sanitation services comes with its own challenges, and in sanitation problems are prevalent. Mojapelo says one of the pressing issues is clients’ perceptions of a black-owned company providing such services.

“Some clients look down upon us and think we don’t know what we’re doing,” he says, adding that there’s lack of transformation in this industry.

“We also suffer a lot from non and late payments, especially from government clients.”

Mojapelo also said one of our biggest challenges is the unavailability of waste disposal sites especially in the small rural towns.

“Our municipalities mostly refuse to give us access to their sewerage management plants to dispose waste, resulting in huge transport costs to the big sewerage plants in big towns,” he said.

Another challenge, Mojapelo said, is with availability of stock. “There are very few manufacturers of portable toilets. And those available tend to fix prices no matter how inferior their products are.”

“Look at existing businesses and innovate”

Now that his business has expanded to Limpopo, he’s finding new challenges.

“Government spends millions in enviro-loo pit latrines in the province but those are not maintained,” he said. Enviro-loos are permanently installed dry or waterless sanitation systems that use no chemicals and have zero environmental impact.

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“These are nice structures but they are a huge challenge for schools because they are not maintained.”

Solving our problems

If it was according to Mojapelo, tragedies like the one that befell the Grade R pupil will never happen again because he cares about the highest level of service.

“We believe in empowering people, building relationships and improving lives.”

Mojapelo’s business tips for startups in unique industries

  • You don’t always have to come up with a revolutionary new idea – Look at existing businesses and innovate
  • Look at all products that your community imports from outside – If you see a truck delivering ice cubes from outside, there’s an opportunity to start an ice cube business locally.
  • You don’t always have to have money to start a business – The broker you are, the sharper your brain becomes. For example, if you wish to start a toilet or equipment rental business, approach current players and negotiate a sub-hire deal with them.

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