The women who are producing reusable shopping bags under Vukani Bomake Project pose with their products. Photo Credit/UNDP Eswatini

By Sakhile Nsingwane

The “Phatsa Sakho Nawe” campaign has enabled a rural women project to generate close to E120 000 ($8,000.00) within three months from the sale of reusable bags to supermarkets. Launched in December 2020 with the aim of discouraging the use of single-use plastic bags to protect the environment, the campaign also presented a golden opportunity to entrepreneurs who are making the reusable shopping bags.

Vukani Bomake Project (VBP) is one of the business initiatives that took advantage of the resounding success of the campaign that was implemented by UNDP Eswatini’s Accelerator Lab in partnership with Eswatini Environmental Authority, the Ministry of Tourism and Environmental Affairs, and the five major supermarkets in the country. VBP was established by Business Women Eswatini (BWE), under the wing of Business Eswatini, with the aim of equipping unemployed rural women with sewing skills so that they could start businesses within their communities. The project is currently working with 100 women drawn from five constituencies of Eswatini. Twenty of the women are working from Far East Textile Factory at Matsapha Industrial site while the rest are based at their constituencies.

According to BWE chairperson, Tokky Hou, the women are trained on various skills including mass production, business management, customer care and how to run a factory. However, Hou said it was difficult to implement the plan for VBP during the COVID-19 pandemic when many businesses had to close down owing to the impact of the partial lockdown that the Government of Eswatini imposed to curb the spread of the virus.

The Phatsa Sakho Nawe campaign, which begun on the first week of December 2020, presented an opportunity to the women under the project to make an income from supporting the campaign through the production of re-usable shopping bags. The initial idea was that shoppers would, for two months and on weekends , be expected to bring their own bags or buy the reusable bags available at the retail outlets. However, owing to the positive response from the public and retailers, the Minister of Tourism and Environmental Affairs, Hon. Moses Vilakati, has extended the campaign indefinitely with an addition of two weekdays. This brought confidence in the sustainability of the campaign, thus allowing more Micro Small and Medium Enterprises to feel confident in entering the space.

“Vukani Bomake saw a niche in the campaign and partnered with the retailers to make shopping bags for their customers,” said Hou. “We are currently supplying four of the five partner retailers of the campaign with affordable multiple-use shopping bags.”  VBP produces up to 1800 shopping bags a week to try to keep up with the growing demand.

These multiple-use shopping bags are made from the waste generated by textile companies at the Matsapha Industrial Site. Instead of throwing away their waste, which used to end up in the landfill, the textile industry now supplies VBP with the scrap material. This means that the Phatsa Sakho Nawe campaign has also provided the country’s textile industry with a sustainable waste management option.  Apart from the shopping bags, the women also make reusable masks and sanitary towels. 

The project is starting to bear fruit even at a household level, particularly to some of those who were affected by the scaling down of economic activity during the COVID-19 lockdowns. Sibongisile Dlamini (49) is one of the beneficiaries of VBP who suffered a major blow when her husband was retrenched in March last year. She had already lost her source of income after her sewing machine, which she used for making traditional women’s dresses (tidziya), broke down. Raising her six children while taking care of her elderly mother with no source of income proved to be a daunting task.

“I found it very frustrating not to know how we will pay for utilities and still have enough food,” said Dlamini.

Her misfortunes turned around when she was nominated to participate in VBP where she represented her constituency, Nhlambeni. “This project has positively changed my life because I’m now able to take care of my family and even invest into my indigenous chicken business,” said Dlamini. The beneficiaries get paid fortnightly like all textile workers but the aim is that they will return to their communities and create a textile hub that will supply the big factories.  

Dlamini wishes to empower more women and the youth to venture into the business of providing alternatives to single-use items because they harm the environment.

“In as much as it is gratifying to see people buying and carrying shopping bags sewn by me, it gives me even great pleasure to know that I am playing a significant role in protecting the environment”, she said. 

Dlamini also said reusable bags ensure that the environment and rivers of Eswatini remain clean and that farmers do not lose more livestock upon the consumption of single-use plastic bags.

Sakhile Nsingwane is the Communication Officer at UNDP Eswatini’s Accelerator Lab. 

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