Happy Piri left prison in 2010. He was serving a 25 year sentence for armed robbery, murder and illegal possession of firearms and ammunition.
“I know so many people in Soweto that fixed shoes and sold tomatoes in shops. If you go outside you will find so many of them who can repair cars and build. I knew that when I got out I had to do something unique. Something that not many people can do.”
During his time in prison Piri completed his Matric. Rather than get a degree he decided that he would spend his last few years in prison making learning a practical skill. He chose to spend his time learning how to make candles.
“I can only think of two places in the whole of Soweto, there is a gogo that makes candles from reused wax. But so far I am the only one who can make them from scratch.”
Piri sold his first set of candles a few hundred meters down the street from his step mothers house in Soweto. The local Spaza shop owner, a Pakistan gentlemen said Piri, was amazed at the quality. He sold a small box of plain yellow wax candles to the man.
“Soon everyone wanted me to make candles for them. I cannot go down the street without someone asking me to make them a set.”
In spite of his relevant success things are not easy.
“To make candles you have to be patient. You need to know when is the right time to do something, if you do it before it doesn’t help. At the moment I do not have enough time to spend making all these candles.”
He digs around in a large pile of debris stacked in the corner of his office and pulls out a large heavy metal mould.
“I use this to make night-time candles. But it takes me a day to make seven candles from this mould. In a box you need a hundred. The time it takes me to make this many will only bring me a profit of R300. You see, it takes too much time to make these sorts of candles for the money.”
Piri then moves to a secondhand desk in another corner of the room. He bends behind it. Shuffles through a stack of papers and pulls out one. He then comes over to me and points at something on it.
“You see this machine? It’s able to make 300 candles a day. This is what I need.”
The machine will cost Piri R26 000. This is money he does not have since he is now supporting his family.