PALAPYE: Modica ‘Bonnie’ Tsienyane a physically disabled cobbler is proving disability does not equal inability. Tsienyane, born with clubfoot some 42 years ago in Serowe, is a shoe cobbler of choice in Palapye.
He has 15 years of experience in shoe manufacturing and repairing. Bonnie learnt his trade in 1993 in Gweru, Zimbabwe where he was sponsored to train in leather works by Serowe-based Tshidilo Rehabilitation Centre.
In Gweru he trained at Bata Shoe Company. He studied in the first year and was employed by the company, designing and manufacturing shoes the next year. After two years he returned home and settled in Palapye, where he opened his shoe repair business.
It did well and he bought some shoe manufacturing machinery and leather works machinery. Although he is known mostly as a shoe repairer, he does all upholstery works that include tents, car port shades, twin covers for all cars, tonneau covers for vans, bags and leather jackets to mention a few.
Bonnie is popular in Palapye and its surroundings. He has customers in the entire Tswapong Region and back in Serowe where he hails from. He is based at the market place in Palapye where he does mostly shoe repairs. Bonnie said as a person living with disability himself, he is more dedicated to helping others like him by manufacturing shoes that suit their condition and help them walk comfortably like other able people.
He said sometimes he receives orders from government departments to manufacture shoes for people living with disabilities. He also manufactures shoes for theatre groups and traditional dancing groups.
“They bring orders and I make shoes for them. I also make shoes for people with leg
“I have always had a soft spot for people with a similar condition as mine and whenever they come here, whether they have money or not, I just mend their shoes. I know from experience it’s difficult to find shoes for people with this condition. They are never available in shops.”
A single father of two boys, an eight-year-old and an 11-year-old, he said he makes enough to sustain his family. He also trains able and disabled people in his shop. He had four employees and the other has since moved and opened his own shoe repair shop in the village. “I don’t see him as competition. I am happy to help people make a life. These are people who come here willing and desperate to learn this trade and do something with their lives. They don’t sleep hungry anymore and that fulfills me.”
He said his main challenge is finding a larger operating space where he can house all his machinery. “Rental in Palapye has grown quite expensive and I have since applied for a plot with the Land Board and it takes a long time.
I need a better place so I can bring everything I have under one roof. My business is growing well and I have even bought myself a car now,” he said.