Here’s Something To Celebrate: These Two SA Ladies Invented Schoolbags That Transform Into Light At Night


South Africans are not happy, that’s quite obvious, albeit the world is happy with two South African Ladies who were awarded the Anzisha Prize as young entrepreneurs who did not only start a successful businesses within the South African communities, but have developed and implemented innovative solutions to a social challenge. You’re probably unaware of this because the many ugly and unpleasant happenings in the country persistently dominate the news stories.

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The two ladies who were childhood friends are widely applauded for founding a social enterprise that specializes in using plastic bags to make what they named “Repurpose Schoolbags” which are essentially, school bags that turn into light when it’s dark, enabling students from homes without electricity to study at night.

More to that, the bags are designed with reflective material, so that children are visible to traffic during their walk to-and-fro school, and the production of Repurpose Schoolbags involves the collection and recycling of plastic bags that litters all about our streets. So basically, these ladies got themselves employed, are helping our young students to study better, are ensuring they are protected from the craziness on our roads, and at the same time helping to keep the country clean.


Thato Kgatlhanye and Rea Ngwane had the dream to do something that will be of no little impact to the underprivileged communities and young people of South Africa. After they finished high school, they founded Rethaka, a social enterprise they believed will help make a reality of their dreams. But then, it took them additional two years to decide what to do.

Telling their tale, Kgatlhanye related that “it is a bit funny that you would register a business without a business idea…But at the heart of it we actually wanted to do great things. And when the idea of the Repurpose Schoolbags came to us, we worked on it tirelessly.” Their dedication paid off as they innovated from recycled plastic bags, schoolbags with in-built solar technology that stores up energy during the day and transforms into light at night. Their company with a factory in Rustenburg have about eight full-time employees, and intends to employ more people to meet up with the production target of 10,000 bags.

Flagging their company as an outlet “designed to do more with less,” their site stated that;

We remove complexity and embrace necessity by recycling plastic shopping bags into a textile. We believe our plastic textile is a practical solution to the plastic pollution crisis…The solar panel charges during the child’s walk to school and transforms into a solar lantern to study for up to 12 hours…Our plastic textile is strong and durable as the plastic bags are fused together at a high temperature. It’s also waterproof because we understand that there’s nothing worse than wet books

To those that might regard the innovation as ordinary, here are some hard facts for you as outlined at Repurpose Schoolbags site.

1. Kerosene lanterns & alternative means of lighting kill at least 3 million people each year– mostly children and women;

2. Three children die daily on South African roads – (SANRAL);

3. Plastic pollution is estimated to be costing developing and industrialized nations up to $1.27 Billion annually as it threatens fishing, shipping and tourism.

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