You are currently viewing Njekwa: Leather industry entrepreneur
NJEKWA and wife at work

Njekwa: Leather industry entrepreneur

ZAMBIA’s ability to run a successful leather industry is feasible due to the huge amount of animal hides.
Currently, cattle population is estimated to be 3.9 million, goats 3.5 million while that of sheep is estimated at 1 million.

The economic growth being recorded in Zambia has stimulated consumption of livestock products which has resulted in an increase in livestock slaughtering, rising from 600,000 in 2009 to 1.9 million in 2014.
Government estimates the annual production of hides and skins to be at 1.9 million.
Victor Njekwa is one of the few Zambian Small and Medium Entrepreneurs (SME) slowly penetrating the leather industry by making items such as belts, wallets, school shoes, sandals and slippers.
At the age of 54 and physically disabled, Mr Njekwa produces these products at his house in Livingstone with the support of his wife, Kelly.
Despite being confined to a wheel chair, he believes disability is not inability that would force one to seek support in the streets.
“Even in a wheel chair, one can earn a living. My father would tell me that being disabled is not the end of the world.
“He encouraged me to pursue education, exposed me to the public and told me I could do anything like everyone else,” Mr Njekwa said.
In 1985, Mr Njekwa completed his education at Sesheke Secondary School and pursued his craft training at Sichili Mission in Western Province.
After completing his training, Mr Njekwa worked for Small Industry Development Organisation (SIDO) until he resigned in 1991.
During his time at SIDO, he acquired skills in shoe making and design. With that knowledge, he trained other workers.
It was with the support of his sister that in 2002, he bought a leather shoe making machine and a grinder to venture into his own business.
In a day, he is able to produce five pairs of school shoes which he supplies to local primary schools in Livingstone on order.
“Business is good but the major challenge I face is mobility. Being a sole trader, I have to do everything alone; travel to Lusaka and sometimes Bulawayo in Zimbabwe to buy leather materials”, he said.
His wife gives him a helping hand, but she is kept busy by her occupation at one of the schools in Livingstone which she heads.
Mr Njekwa said the demand for leather garments is on the increase with orders he receives from lodge owners, who sell the products to tourists.
“Cold season is a peak period when Livingstone receives a lot of tourists and this boosts my business” he said.
For a leather worker like Mr Njekwa, the leather value chain holds a potential to create jobs and generate foreign exchange for the country.
Mr Njekwa is also one of the few Zambian SMEs that have participated in the trade mission to the Democratic Republic of Congo organised by the Ministry of Commerce, Trade and Industry which he described as a very good market for entrepreneurs.
He encouraged SMEs to seize the DRC market saying it is a huge market that can consume the majority of Zambian products.
Last year, Mr Njekwa took part in the Leather and Textile Expo organised by the Ministry of Commerce in Lusaka that attracted about 121 SME exhibitors, six large companies and eight statutory bodies.
The theme for the Expo was ‘Enhancing competitiveness of the Leather and Textile sectors through value addition’.
The objective of the Expo was to build trade capacity of the SMEs in the leather and textile industries to increase their production, sales and improve product recognition.
To wrap up the Expo, a gala dinner and awards ceremony were held where Mr Njekwa was presented with an award worth K10, 000 for emerging the best theme interpreter.
From the funds he was given, he was able to buy a laptop and raised more funds to buy his second leather shoe machine.
He commended Government for coming up with the Expo saying it is a good exposure for SMEs.
As his business grows, Mr Njekwa’s dream is to develop a vocational centre where youths and the disabled people can be trained in shoe making.
He notes that majority of youths indulge in alcohol and other illicit activities because of idleness.
He said the leather industry, seemly small, has the potential to grow like other sectors, but there is need for increased investment by the Government and the private sector.
From his leather business, Mr Njekwa has been able to fend for his family, and send his wife to college, where she trained as a teacher.
His wife, who is a key partner in the business, has introduced new ideas such as use of chitenge material to make slippers and covering the stiletto heels (on ladies shoes) with African fabric, which has become trendy.
Leather is one of the key priority sectors identified by Government with the potential to accelerate industrialisation and contribute to poverty reduction and wealth creation.