South African seamstresses kick off rugby fever

Cashing in on Rugby
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Story highlights

  • A group of women are making rugby balls out of recycled material
  • The Touch initiative has sold 800 re-purposed rugby balls and has orders for hundreds more
  • Unemployment levels are high because jobs have been lost in the textile industry
  • South African rugby team The Springboks are in New Zealand for the World Cup
While the country's rugby team battle for glory in the World Cup a group of South African seamstresses are tackling poverty by cashing in on the action.
An initiative making rugby balls out of recycled material is cleaning up a community and providing jobs for unemployed women.
With the World Cup underway in New Zealand there's no denying the country's love for their team The Springboks.
Thousands of fans packed out Nelson Mandela square in Johannesburg to see the reigning world champions set off for the tournament.
But far from the excitement and hours from the city in the country's coal mining area a group of women are sewing balls for the sport.
Close to a town called Witbank in Mpumalanga province the group may know nothing about rugby but they are connected to the sport in their own unique way.
"It's a rugby ball made out of old billboards, retired billboards, and stuffed with plastic bags," explained Thurlow Hanson-Moore, the man behind The Touch Initiative.
Hanson-Moore says the aim is to promote green alternatives to the traditional rugby balls while providing opportunities to women.
"What's got people's imaginations up on this project is the combination of community and rugby because it's obviously not a natural combo," he said.
"You don't think rural women when you think rugby. I think the women initially thought we were a bit crazy. They made a few balls and weren't quite sure if we'd ever come back," he continued.
But in just a matter of weeks what started as a few seamstresses making balls has grown to 14 women making 220 balls a day.
The women will continue to be busy as they have orders for hundreds more.
The seamstresses are paid less than $5 for each ball that they make. It may not be much, but in an area plagued by unemployment it's much needed work.
"My mind is concentrating here now, and I forget about the stress at home. I'm very busy here, all the time," said seamstress Neliswe Leluma.
For the non-profit group behind this initiative, targeting this area and the garment industry was a natural fit.
"Our textile industry has been decimated by cheap foreign imports. So we're trying to create jobs in an industry that has the infrastructure, it's just sitting doing nothing," Hanson-Moore said.
For now the touch rugby balls remain a novelty item and the orders so far have gone out to corporate clients wanting to support a good cause. The balls are also sold at various rugby games around the country.
But Hanson-Moore is hoping to make a long term impact in the communities.
"Effectively you clean up an area around a community and use that litter to create the filling for the ball. And the ball itself is old media that becomes new media because there's a brand behind it," he said.
It was another rugby world cup in 1995 that united a newly democratic South Africa. While the Springboks battle for glory abroad Hanson-Moore hopes his handmade rugby balls will make a difference at home.
"In the communities, people are already starting to throw balls around... we'd love to see these on the streets and I think that will be part of the future plans."