When Sibusiso Khathi went on holiday, he did not expect to come back with a business idea.
After being inspired by the community of Jozini in KwaZulu-Natal and their dedication to charcoal manufacturing, he decided to get involved.
Now, Khathi Holdings in Endumo in rural Jozini, not only manufactures charcoal, but also empowers locals to work together for their own economic growth.
“I met up with this poor community which was manufacturing charcoal on a small scale, and I engaged them and developed an interest,” he said.
“I went back the following year and I approached them, informing them that I would like to invest and work with them so that we can grow the business together. That’s how Khathi Charcoal was born.”
Khathi, who was a marketing graduate, formed the company in December 2015 with his brother, Ntuthuko.
The community is involved in the entire process, from manufacturing to packaging. Most of their suppliers are based in the province including Pietermaritzburg, Durban and locations along the South Coast.
“We partnered with them and supplied them with the necessary skills and machinery which they could not afford,” he said.
“My brother and I combined our assets and sold them so that we could purchase the machinery, which was worth over R200,000.”
The plant employs 12 permanent staffers and three casual employees.
Khathi said that their biggest challenge was unpredictable weather because of rainy conditions.
“We work in open plants, and most of the work gets done outdoors, so we cannot expect our employees to work when it rains,” he said.
“We know that charcoal is a seasonal product, so we make sure that we have enough stock for out-of-season periods. Our peak season is December when we produce a lot of charcoal due to demand.”
While charcoal comes from wood, not every tree can be used.
Khathi said the acacia nigrescens, locally known as umkhaya, was their tree of choice.
“In areas like Endumo the residents do not like the trees as they interfere with grazing, preventing livestock from moving freely. They also take up a lot of water, so when we cut the trees and use them for charcoal it means there is more water for the surrounding lush, allowing for greener pasturing grass,” he explained.
“Once we have the trees, we move (them) to the manufacturing plant and they are put in a kiln, which is a thermally insulated chamber that produces temperatures which are sufficient to complete some process such as hardening, drying, or chemical changes.”
He said it took eight days to produce charcoal. For four days it was burnt in the oven, and then sealed to stop oxygen from entering the oven.
“The finished product has to be separated and the big lumps of coal produced so that it is ready for packaging,” he said.
Khati believed their biggest achievement so far was when they moved from using generic packaging to branded packaging, which gave the company its own identity.
“It was costly, but necessary.”
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