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Made in Soweto

Many people know about the big, beautiful cars made in Germany, America and Japan. But few people know about the beautiful cars made in Soweto.

Joe Muthuphei Mavunga is Soweto’s car-maker. Joe does not need a big factory for his cars, like Ford and BMW. Joe’s car factory is right at his house. It is a small room made of tin and wood. The sign outside says, “Joe’s workshop”.


You cannot move in Joe’s workshop. The whole room is full of wire cars, aeroplanes, and other strange looking things. There are no chairs. Joe sits on the floor as he works and talks. “I was born about 21 years ago in Alexandra, says Joe. “I have always liked making things with my hands, even when I was a young boy. I started when I was seven years old.

” I took an umbrella. I took off the handle. Then I tied a stone to the umbrella with string. I climbed on to the roof and dropped it. The umbrella looked like a person flying down on a parachute. All my friends really liked it.” said Joe.

“When I left school, I could not find any work. Then my uncle said I can come and stay with him. He liked my cars so he gave me a place to work.


“When I make cars, I first make a frame. I use wire for the frame. Then I cover the frame with tin. After that I weld the tin onto the wire. I put on some wheels and there you are — a good toy for a young man.

“Sometimes I make other toys like aeroplanes, for example. I make them in the same way I make cars. It took me a month to learn how to make them.”


In Joe’s room there are small cars with wire sticking up. Joe picks up a tin box from a shelf. The box also has wire sticking out of it. It has buttons on it too.

Joe switches on the box and touches some of the buttons on the box. One of the toy cars starts to move — like magic. Joe smiles. The car is remote-controlled — the wire is an aerial.

“I make trains, ships, aeroplanes and machine guns which are remote-controlled. By pushing the buttons on my box, I can make these toys do what I want without touching them. But they must have batteries in them, otherwise they don’t work.


“Children love remote-controlled toys. Last year I built a remote-controlled man called Ramatlali. Today Ramatlali is a star — he was on television and many children liked him,” he said. Joe has a very beautiful helicopter. The helicopter is blue. It has red seats and big guns on its side. The front window has a red light in it. When the helicopter starts to move, the light comes on. It is also remote-controlled.” I built this helicopter to show children what old planes look like. Helicopters like this were used in the First World War,” he said.


“I need to find a place where I can sell all my things. I think that a lot of people do not know about me. But if I can get a small stand where people can come and see my toys I can be very happy.

“Many people ask me to give them toys. But I do not give them away. I sell them because I need money. I am looking for someone to give me money — like they give to big football teams. Then I can work and not worry about money,” Joe said.


“There is a guy called Peter Matthews. He makes toy-trains and double deckers. I want to be just like him. I want to learn to make other toys like him.

“But right now, I want to make myself a beautiful home-made car. Not a toy — a car like all the others on the road. The only problem is that I cannot learn how to build a car in South Africa. I must go to another country. But I do not have money.


“It is hard trying to make money out of toys,” Joe said. “But last year I went to the Soweto Homemakers’ Festival. A lot of people came to the show. I made R300-00. So I bought a generator — I was very pleased.

“But now I am not making any money. A lot of people are not working now. Even those who are working do not have money to buy toys. I do different things to get money. Sometimes I frame pictures, fix cars, weld burglar-proof bars and steel fences. I also make coal boxes.


After drinking a Coke with Joe, it was time for Learn and Teach to go back to the office. We hoped Joe would break his rule and give us one of his toys — he had a red and black train that we really liked.

Joe took us to the taxi. On the way he said, “I am very happy to make children happy. I want to make children all over South Africa happy with my toys.” And if Joe gets his chance, that is what he will do.


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