Turning scrap into gold
For many people, damaged metal sheets, pipes and scrap metal from wornout products are unwanted materials of no value.
But for 33-year-old Samuel Ndalema, these metals are treasures he holds dearly. The young man discovered ways of turning scrap into valuable items that are keeping him afloat in terms of living a decent urban life.
When Ndalema wakes up every morning, all he thinks of is what to make out of the materials others regard as useless.
He reveals that he makes different kinds of decorative materials such as oil drum sofa sets, chairs, metal birds and fish and bicycles. These products are used in houses, gardens and other places where important events such as weddings, meetings and conferences take place.
Ndalema calls himself a metal artist; rightly so because what he does with any piece of discarded metal is amazing. It is art at its best.
“I make many things out of used oil drums, scrap metal from cars and pipes which people can put in their gardens, houses and many other places to decorate their surroundings,” he says.
Ndalema says everything is about being innovative and bringing together things that people see as worthless.
For instance, take one of his products: a metal bird. The artistic arrangement of its ruffled feathers and stretched wings leaves one fully immersed in aesthetic appreciation of this piece of art.
“Everything that I make out of these materials attracts some people who come and buy them from me,” says Ndalema who is from Chibalala Village, Traditional Authority Makwangwala in Ntcheu.
Although Ndalema does not document his financial earnings, he says he takes care of his family’s basic and daily needs.
The lowest price for most of his products is K25,000 while the highest goes at as much as K170,000.
Such is the value the young man gets from used metal materials he buys from local markets and hardware shops in Limbe, Blantyre.
Ndalema vividly recalls one major highlight that he says was a springboard to prominence and growth for his art work.
It was in 2013 when he made a tractor-like braai stand which was sold at K70,000.
“I was making small artworks before then. But the production of the tractor-like braai stand was massive and it attracted many customers.
“It was the first amusing artwork since I started making these decorative materials,” says Ndalema, a husband and father of one.
His workshop is located in Mbayani Township, Blantyre. He says he markets his artworks using a Facebook page bearing the name of his shop.
The young man says he did not go through any formal training to attain the skills in metal artworks.
After obtaining his Malawi School Certificate of Education in 2004, Ndalema went further to pursue a mechanical engineering course but he did not make it because he was not good in science subjects.
However, Ndalema owes his success in metal works to one man, a Levison Tangale.
“I do not know where he is now but he is the one who helped me to learn different skills in metal works,” he says.
After failing at the technical school, Ndalema met Tangale who was doing welding around townships in Blantyre. He asked for an opportunity to acquire some welding skills from him.
“We agreed that I had to be paying him some money if I were to start learning from him and it worked,” says Ndalema.
The young man has never looked back since then.
The fruits of these gained skills have secured him two plots of land and he is paying for his wife at Malamulo College of Nursing.
Despite registering some successes, the metalwork business still encounters some challenges. There is lack of demand and good markets because very few people are familiar with or appreciate metal artworks.
The other issue is that it is difficult to sell the items once off and the flow of cash is erratic because most customers pay by instalments.
“I find it hard to balance up what I have spent and gained,” he explains.
Ndalema hopes for the best. He draws inspiration from some people.
One is Andrew Chiwaula, a Zimbabwean metalwork artist based in Blantyre.
“He is very good at metal art and he is the one who encouraged me to settle down in this art,” says Ndalema.
Another one is Thoko Liwimbi, owner of kwa Haraba Art Café behind Phekani House also in Blantyre.
“I like that art shop very much. It has a collection of different artworks and I have learnt many things from the owner,” he says.
It is the inspiration from these two artists that moulds his colourful dream for a successful venture.
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