With an increasing and alarming rate of youth unemployment and poverty facing Lesotho, Mr Ts’epo Tumeli, a Chemical Technology graduate from the National University of Lesotho (NUL) took a journey of finding one of the best solutions to unemployment using local clay to make ceramic articles. With his focus on local clay, Mr Tumeli hopes to kick-start a whole new clay industry in Lesotho that will create jobs through clay mining, refining and manufacturing.
When everybody waits eagerly and impatiently for the government of Lesotho to create jobs, Mr Tumeli has decided to take matters into his own hands. In fact he explored the chances of creating jobs for himself and others and making money with the most affordable if not the freest mineral of them all, clay soil. He is now registering a company called Ceramic Hut to commercialize his research work in this area.
If most people see clay as something for kids to play with, Mr Tumeli sees it as the abundant resource that can make a very sustainable business for manufacturing ceramic dinnerware.
The ceramic business is booming of late and Mr Tumeli hopes to take advantage of this reality.
This is because of clay’s unquestionable elegance in dinnerware, its availability in different colours, its affordability and its ability to withstand very high temperatures.
Tumeli’s journey all started in the NUL science laboratory where he was comparing the typical clay which is found just about anywhere in Lesotho with that bought from South Africa. The Lesotho local clay here refers to the one that you probably step on when you go to work and come back to home everyday while the South African clay is particularly the refined stoneware. With the kind of products that Mr Tumeli made, you will realise that you are stepping on one of the most valuable resource minerals ever.
The process of making dinnerware from clay is very interesting. Tumeli starts first by refining clay to a point where remaining particles are purely clay and each particle is about 53 µm. This is because rough clay soil is hard to work with as it contains lots of sand and organic matter. If these impurities are not removed, the ceramic also becomes fragile and weak. The process is followed by mixing the clay for consistency in properties and then shaping it. Then comes firing; which is putting unfinished products in a red-hot kiln with the temperatures of around 1000 degree celsius or more!
Mr Tumeli said he was fascinated by the realisation that in the firing process, Lesotho’ grey local clay gave light coloured products while the country’s light coloured clay in turn, gave out the very beautiful dark coloured products! After heating, the products are cooled. Thereafter, transparent glaze is applied. It gives the dinnerware shiny attractive surface and reduces its porosity. After the second heating is done, then the products are ready for the markets.
The process is a fairly demanding one but as the saying goes, the juice is worth the squeeze for Mr Tumeli. His persistence has resulted in one of the most affordable products of a very high aesthetic value.
Mr Tumeli says he will need investment to start manufacturing. He has a message for investors; his might be one of the most sustainable businesses because the clay mineral is abundant in Lesotho and Lesotho is known to have the best quality of clay ever.
Moreover Mr Tumeli’s business is likely to be very lucrative because only a few people are already involved in this kind of business and the few that are, depend heavily on expensive imported clay.
He also has advice for the unemployed youth like himself who are waiting for government to provide jobs to think twice “as life is too short to be sitting and waiting for somebody to do something for you.” “If we look critically at the world around us we might find that the most wonderful treasures are just beneath our feet” he said.
This blog post was originally written by NUL Research and Innovations