WATCH: From beggar to self-taught carpenter

The Chronicle

Sukulwenkosi Dube-Matutu, Chronicle Reporter
Ms Mande Ndlovu’s handy work has brought huge relief to residents of Ward 6 in Gwanda District.

After obtaining self-taught skills in carpentry and upholstery, Ms Ndlovu (58) has found a living through repairing damaged furniture for families from her ward and beyond. She repairs beds, couches, doors, wardrobes, chairs, cupboards among other pieces of furniture.

Ms Ndlovu has proved to be a force to reckon with in an industry that is male dominated.

The work she does mainly involves reviving collapsed couches and beds as well as covering worn out couches and mattresses. She also repairs broken chairs, replaces doors and handles on wardrobes and cupboards among other things. To complement her carpentry skills, Ms Ndlovu is also into sewing.

Her sewing products include mattress covers, cushion covers, scatters, couch covers among other products.

A Chronicle news crew visited her workshop at Mtshazo Business Centre in Gwanda. The news crew also visited a homestead belonging to Mr Ganett Mathuthu where it caught up with Ms Ndlovu in action, repairing a damaged couch.

The news crew also got a chance to talk to some of Ms Ndlovu’s customers who expressed satisfaction with her services.

Ms Ndlovu said she picked up her carpentry skills in 2013 while in South Africa after living as a beggar for several months after losing her job.

“I was working in South Africa and I lost my job. I struggled a lot and I practically lived like a beggar as I used to move around dust bins picking empty drink bottles to sell. I also moved around people’s homes begging for food and money. I had separated with my husband. The idea of starting carpentry work came into my mind when I visited an old lady’s house and I saw a couch which had collapsed,” she said.

“I offered to look at her couch and try to fix it. I opened it from behind and inspected the springs and planks and tried to put them back into place. It wasn’t a perfect job but it was a starting point. I started moving around people’s homes in shacks in South Africa offering to fix their couches or beds and that became a training ground for me.”

She said she also started manufacturing pillows from foam rubber that she would find abandoned outside factory shops.

Ms Ndlovu returned home in 2019. She said her in-laws refused to allow her back into her matrimonial home as she had separated with her husband. She found a room to rent at Mtshazo Business Centre which she turned into her workshop and home.

Ms Ndlovu said some of her clients visit her workshop seeking her services while others call her. She said she does house calls.

“Since this is a rural set up, my customers can’t ferry their furniture to my workshop so I go to their homes to work on their furniture. Some of my clients’ homes are located 10 kilometres away. As you see here, I’m fixing a couch that has collapsed. Yesterday I fixed one and this is the second one. Here I’m mainly looking at the springs so that I can put them back in place. I’m also looking at the planks to ensure that they are still in position,” she said.

“I also cover couches that are worn out, I buy the material and prepare it then I cover the couches. I also repair beds and cover mattresses. I can repair almost anything that is wood. I also do upholstery of chairs and cupboards. I wish to make beds and couches from scratch but I don’t get the time because most of the time I will be attending to house calls. I work alone so at times the work is a lot for me.”

She charges R2 500 to repair a four piece couch set and to cover it. Ms Ndlovu said she also charges R600 to repair beds, wardrobes and cupboards and R100 to repair a collapsed single couch.

Some of her clients pay in cash while others give her livestock or maize as payment. Ms Ndlovu appealed to be assisted with tools. She said she also needs transport as she has to walk to her clients’ homes which in some cases are 10 kilometres or more away.

“I face challenges in getting payments for big jobs because some of my clients won’t be having the money. Sometimes I have to use my own money to buy raw materials to do a job because my clients would have given me a small amount up front. I buy my raw materials from Gwanda or Bulawayo,” she said.

Ms Ndlovu said it was her desire to empower young girls within her area by imparting her knowledge and skills.

Mrs Isabel Skula (72) who is the wife of the area’s councillor, Kellon Skula, said she had seen Ms Ndlovu’s work and described it as remarkable. She said her worn out couches was turned into brand new.

Mrs Skula said when her husband told her that he had found a woman to fix the couches, she laughed her lungs out.

“When my husband told me that he had found a woman to fix the couches I laughed and told him that it was impossible. He insisted on bringing her but at first, I refused and I later agreed just to prove him that I was correct.

We could hardly sit on them and we had also inserted some blankets inside to give them shape but it was of no use.

The work she did on my couches was good,” she said.

She said Ms Ndlovu also covered her couches with a new cloth and she was very impressed by what she did.

“My couches had an old scotch covering but she brought a nice modern touch. I was actually the one who was proved wrong,” said Mrs Skula.

Mr Ganett Mathuthu from Gwakwe Village said it was refreshing and pleasing to see a woman from their community doing a job which has always been associated with men so impressively. He said Ms Ndlovu had repaired one couch and he was impressed by her work and she was now working on a second one.

Mr Mathuthu said in the past when their furniture was damaged, they either used it like that or threw it away but they now have repair services close by. He said it is costly to transport furniture to Gwanda for repairs.

Article Source: The Chronicle

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