iThemba Tower Of Hope

iThemba Tower Of Hope

by Mamello Sejake                              Posted: 2016/07/25

7 000 bottles, 600 messages of hope and one communication tower.

The project began three years ago with a small pilot project between Isaac and artist r1. The concept came after r1. befriended a homeless man named Isaac who works as a waste recycler along the highway. Isaac and r1. collaborated and used Isaac’s plastic bottles to create an art installation around a street light tower. The installation was documented by r1. and afterwards featured in local newspapers and online websites. Andrew Lindsey the owner Spaza Art Gallery got hold of the story and asked r1 to come and install the bottle installation around the tower located in the Spaza garden.  When they installed Isaac’s bottles around the tower the community in Troyeville suggested ‘Why don’t we wrap the whole tower with plastic bottles?’ This idea sparked new initiative with r1. and he developed the project name ‘iThemba Tower’.      

iThemba means hope in isiZulu, and at the start of the project the intention was to propel hope, fuel prosperity, educate the community and change perceptions.


r1. and his team managed to pull in sponsors who would help fund the project so that they could afford to pay the waste recyclers to collect the plastic bottles. Funding the collection of the bottles wasn’t only a means to an end in terms of reaching the goal of embellishing the entire tower, but it was also a way of generating income for the waste recyclers. You’ve probably seen them missioning through the city with their mammoth trollies; they sell the waste they collect to recycling companies for peanuts so the project offered them a fruitful reward.   


In addition to collecting the bottles r1. and his team also facilitated workshops at schools around the community. These workshops taught the children about the necessity of recycling while simultaneously offering the waste recyclers a voice and an opportunity change the perception of informal waste collection. You see, looking at them from the outside it’s easy to think that they’re homeless people –These men and woman make a living from collecting waste, also helping the City of Joburg take care of the overwhelming amounts of waste we leave. What they make from the waste many of them use to support their families. The workshops aimed to change the perceptions.

Each of the children who attended the workshops was asked to write a letter centered on spreading light and hope – ithemba. Six hundred messages were collected from the children as well as from the online community which came together as a result of the initiative; each message representing a beacon of hope.


The project also attracted the donation from Bushveld Labs which sponsored LED lights so each night the tower comes to life. The lights were cleverly positioned to shine where there’s a message illuminating the posts of hope, all directed at the world from a communication tower.  

Depending on where you are in the area surrounding Troyeville, in the evening if you look outside your window, towards the Spaza Art Gallery, then you’ll see the tower of hope lit up. Now it’s more than just an old communication tower, it represents 7 000 recycled plastic bottles, 600 messages and one structure of hope.  


For more information and videos about the project visit the iThemba Tower page.

Locations: Spaza Art Gallery is at 19 Wilhelmina Street in Troyeville. 

The day photos are curtesy of r1

The night photos are curtesy of Fabrice Bourgelle

7 000 bottles, 600 messages of hope and one communication tower.



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