Meet a Joburg craft-builder who wants to upscale his business
All Johannes Sithole (51) ever wanted to do was build cars.
And if he had been given the right opportunities, his trajectory might have even followed a direction similar to those of local-turned-global automotive engineering icons like Gordon Murray or Elon Musk.
Motorists driving through suburbs in our province’s West Rand are likely to have seen some of Sithole’s creations, from toy wire cars to garden ornaments and his favourite item to produce: large-sized pull-carts fashioned to look like real-life automobiles. He has been operating in the region for the past 15 years.
“I started making wire cars when I was a child,” he tells me on our Sunday morning chat.
“I was born in Hammanskraal, Tshwane. We suffered a lot, my father died when I was 11, my mother was unemployed, I had three brothers, I had to find piece jobs to make a living.”
His mother Catherine, who passed away five years ago, noticed that he had a flair for design and was talented with his hands, urging him to explore the idea of selling his creations and establishing a business.
The specimen he shows me is modelled on a Volkswagen Crafter minibus – he only ever likes to use the Volkswagen emblem. But he is happy to build customer carts sporting other monikers. He buys the badges from scrap shops in the city.
Asked why he loves this particular brand so much, Sithole chuckles and explains that it is hard to pinpoint exactly what it is that drew him to the logo.
He is no stranger to attention. “I remember I was in Kempton Park maybe four years back, there were people from [a popular daily newspaper]. They came to me. After three days came the people from television. Many people saw me.”
The frame of the cart is made from wood, with a trolley wheel at each corner.
“For the shell, I buy plastic board from a hardware store – it’s very strong and light, I can run with it down Ontdekkers [main road] no problem.”
Him and his wife, Esther, also live in the cart.
“Rain or cold, the cart is my home, but I’m happy and not stressed. Stress will disturb my business. People in the community support me and even give me clothing and food, they don’t want me to leave.”
During hard lockdown in 2020, he was shown to a public swimming pool grounds that had been converted into a temporary homeless shelter.
“Even the metro police never gave me problems, we stayed there and received help, even food and money.”
Sithole’s next plan is to produce a motorised cart, with a functioning steering system, that can be driven from inside, for spaces like parks and even golf courses.
In a good week, he says he receives more than 20 orders for various products. In the future, he hopes to upscale and formalise his business with fixed premises.
He has also reached out to a local school with the idea of teaching children how to produce crafts like his.
“It’s not an easy job, but you see, my mother taught me something, she said everything you do, do it with passion.”
“So I can’t forget, even when I come to tough stages, I remember her words. I can’t see her, but I can remember the words.
“Even if things are tough, stay passionate. It’s how I’m running, until today.”
Would you like to comment on this article or view other readers' comments? Register (it’s quick and free) or sign in now.
Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.