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Buhle Sithela cleans bins in Khayelitsha and uses the money to screen films

by: Rofhiwa Maneta - 16 March 2016

Bin cleaners_Jan 2016_©Storm-9.jpg_flipped

Buhle Sithela (far left) has found a way to use trash to sponsor his love of film

It all started as a university assignment. In June 2015, Buhle Sithela — then studying event management at CPUT — started cleaning the bins in his community. “We had to market an event we came up with as part of the assignment,” recalls 21-year-old Sithela. “I wanted to do something that would benefit the community, so I set up this event where people in my hood could bring their bins and me and my friends would wash them for a small fee.”

Little did he know that this would be the birth of his social enterprise, Khayelitsha Bin Clean Project.

Sithela (middle), flanked by his two friends, Abongile Mqweto (left) and Yandisa Nyoka (right)

Sithela (middle), flanked by his two friends, Abongile Mqweto (left) and Yandisa Nyoka (right)

Based in Harare, Khayelitsha, Khayelitsha Bin Clean Project is a weekly bin cleaning service. Every Friday, Sithela and his friends clean close to 30 bins in their area. “We charge R50 per bin. Initially, we didn’t have that many bins. We started with five bins, but things picked up so quickly.”

And his clients are pretty pleased with his work. One of his clients, Linda Madlebe speaks glowingly about Sithela and his friends. “I think these guys are setting a good example in our community, especially given that it is gang-ridden. I hope their project grows.”

Sithela is currently focusing on the project full-time (he had to drop out of school last year because of a lack of funds) but this hasn’t been without its difficulties. Besides money being tight, some of Sithela’s cofounders have personal problems that make running the project hard. “Some of them are suffering from drug addiction and there are times I’ve had to single-handedly clean over 30 dustbins. It’s tough.”

"It's a tough job but someone  has to do it," says Sithela.

“It’s a tough job but someone has to do it,” says Sithela.

In spite of the challenges, there are personal triumphs: “Film has always been one of my biggest passions., but I hate the fact that there are little to no cinemas in the townships. So I decided to start my own screenings.”

Sithela hosts regular film screenings with the money he makes from the bin cleaning project. The first screening was held at a local church. “I don’t have that many resources. I had to lend speakers and a projector from a friend. The turnout wasn’t that great either but I was just happy I did it.”

Since his first in July last year, Sithela has hosted two more. He’s screened blockbusters Rush Hour, James Bond Spectre and Friday. Resources are still a problem (he still uses the money from the bin project to fund the screenings), but he’s currently doing an internship with mobile, solar-powered cinema Sunshine Cinema to research ways of expanding his screenings.

“I just hope it grows big enough to sustain my passion for cinema. I have this dream of hosting a huge open air screening at Lookout Hill in Khayelitsha. Slowly but surely, I’m getting there.”

This article was originally published on Red Bull Amaphiko. All photography by Storm Wright