Special memories is their business

Themba Makamo, left, and his business partner, Oscar Dlamini, opened their company, Manyano Memorials, in 2016.
Themba Makamo, left, and his business partner, Oscar Dlamini, opened their company, Manyano Memorials, in 2016.

The first week of business was a bittersweet experience for one of the founders of a tombstone-manufacturing company as he had to design one for his own father.

Themba Makamo and his business partner, Oscar Dlamini, have gone on to manufacture more than 1000 tombstones through their company, Manyano Memorials, which was established in January 2016.

The company owns a factory in Elspark, in Ekurhuleni, and has showrooms in Soweto, Tembisa, Tsakane and Duduza.

Makamo said the unimaginable happened during their first week of operating when his father died.

“My dad became the first person whose tombstone we made. It was a bittersweet time for me,” he said.

Makamo said his father’s tombstone, which was intricately designed to reflect his personality as a loving father, inspired them to continue to help people preserve memories of their loved ones.

“That moment showed me that whatever we wanted to do with our company would have a big impact in people’s lives,” he said.

The tombstones, which cost between R3000 and R500000, are characterised by their special design elements and engraved art.

Makamo started out as a magazine journalist and later started his own public relations company, through which he first encountered the tombstone industry.

“One of my clients was a tombstone company. I started developing a passion for the business,” he said.

He met Dlamini, who was already an established artist working for various tombstone companies. He had worked on tombstones for famous South Africans such as Vuyo Mbuli and Jacob “Baby Jake” Matlala.

The company has also created memorabilia for prominent figures, including a judge, a DJ and the latest project is a special tombstone for legendary photographer Sam Nzima.

Makamo said Nzima’s tombstone was shaped like a camera with a picture of Nzima holding his iconic June 16 image of Hector Pieterson engraved on the lens. “This image became the focus of his life and career,” he said.

Makamo said by using a strong design element, they wanted to change people’s perceptions about tombstones.

“Many people think tombstones are about death but we wanted them to see that they are about celebrating a person’s life,” Makamo said.

He said the industry was becoming more competitive, with manufacturers looking to come up with the most striking designs, which was also creating jobs for artists. Their company hires 25 people, including three artists.

Makamo said they planned to expand by developing an insurance scheme to help people get the kinds of tombstones they want for their relatives.

He said they also wanted to open branches in other provinces.