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Two sisters make their mark in eco friendly construction

SISTERS Kedibone and Kekeletso Tsiloane. Picture: SUPPLIED

SISTERS Kedibone and Kekeletso Tsiloane. Picture: SUPPLIED

Published Jun 20, 2022


Johannesburg - Sisters Kedibone and Kekeletso Tsiloane entered the construction industry dreaming big as business owners and change-makers.

The siblings are the co-founders of Ramtsilo, a manufacturing company that operates in a green economy ⁠— producing bricks made through plastic recycling.

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Inspired by their father who works in construction, the sisters aimed to create a manufacturing business, but knew they had to innovate in the competitive, male-dominated industry.

Chief executive officer of Ramtsilo, Kedibone Tsiloane, said that it was after their father had registered a company for them, that they began to juggle the business possibilities.

“We wanted to start a construction project, but we also wanted to offer something different. When we were looking for brick manufacturers and we struggled to find women brick manufacturers in the mainstream economy. We then decided to manufacture our own bricks for commercial use.”

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Tsiloane explained that through their market research, they interacted with plastic waste collectors who educated them on their jobs in the recycling sector and on the daily average of plastic waste they collected.

“We wanted to work in recycling but didn’t want to move away from our original love and desire in construction. It was through them that we got inspired to research more about recycling plastic in the manufacturing of bricks and wanted to learn more.”

This gave them the idea for what today is Ramtsilo. Kekeletso is the company's chief operations officer.

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Through trial and error, while juggling other careers, Kedibone focused on the paper trail and the suppliers for the company, while Kekeletso handled the manual labour and tested different types of plastics for the right ingredient for their cement.

The sisters managed, by 2018, to create (and patent) a cement substance that could be moulded into durable and fire retardant bricks.

They tried to present it to potential investors at The African Construction Expo, but it turned out not to be a success, though an instructive lesson. The rejection at the event pushed the sisters to re-evaluate and re-test their product.

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When they were ready to hit the ground running, Covid-19 happened.

The level 5 lockdown imposed in early 2020 by President Cyril Ramaphosa curtailed Ramtsilo’s grand entry into the construction sector, but they still managed to find customers.

Prior to the lockdown, in the same year, Ramtsilo, through a partnership with Sasol, had secured a foundry in Sasolburg to begin manufacturing bricks. Added to that, Sasol donated 50 tons of plastic to Ramtsilo, and they were in production for clients such as Ntando Thando Holdings.

“The assistance and partnerships by Sasol and other companies that assisted us with testing our products were very helpful because it helped us start off and grow as a company,” Tsiloane said.

Since it began production, the company has hired a young labour force to produce bricks, providing them with an income and new skills.

“My sister and I are very much activists for youth employment. So we hired a number of young, unskilled workers, whom we train to work with the specific cement substances and with the recycled waste materials. One of our aims is to hire workers under the age of 40 and upskill them for the future,” she added.

Ramtsilo has gained major clients in warehouse retailers, Build It and Builder’s Warehouse, which approached the sisters on separate occasions as stockists for a rare product in the country.

“We’re one of the very few female, black-owned brick manufacturing companies that work with environmentally-friendly materials. Our product is being noticed by so many companies and suppliers, not just for our quality, but also because of our business vision – to be environmentally-friendly in an industry that contributes 20% in emissions towards climate change,” Tsiloane explained.

A study published by the University of Johannesburg, authored by Oluwaseun DosumuI and Clinton Aigbavboa, found that the construction industry accounts for 23% of South Africa’s greenhouse gas emissions.

The production of construction materials contributes 18 metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions per year.

The bricks produced by Ramtsilo may not create a dent in reducing the country’s carbon footprint, but Kedibone sees the company’s existence as a step in the right direction towards reducing emissions.

“We’re looking to create more environmentally-friendly products within the manufacturing of construction materials. We’re still young and growing, but we foresee ourselves becoming visible not only in the country but also globally as an eco-friendly company.”

Some of the products Ramtsilo aims to expand to (for now) include underground water pumps, and environmentally-friendly asphalt for road paving.