Maverick Citizen


Good for street vendors, good for the environment – budding astrophysicist Luyanda Mazwi’s cool idea

Good for street vendors, good for the environment – budding astrophysicist Luyanda Mazwi’s cool idea
Luyanda Mazwi (left) with Gladys, a street vendor in Brixton, Johannesburg (Photo - Thom Pierce _ The Actionists)

Budding astrophysicist Luyanda Mazwi has a cool idea: a pavement ‘fridge’ that helps vegetables and fruit last longer. The gadget is environmentally friendly and could change lives.

In a small church in the Johannesburg suburb of Brixton, a rowdy crowd is singing along to Freshly Ground’s Doo Be Doo as it is performed by a small, enthusiastic choir.

It is the last performance of an evening of music and poetry that has been organised by Luyanda Mazwi, an astrophysics master’s student at the University of Johannesburg. He has planned and funded the whole night for one purpose: to ask if anyone has a 3D printer he can borrow.

While still an undergraduate student, Mazwi and a friend decided to build a community farm in a village in Limpopo. They wanted to provide a viable alternative to the lack of food security in the area and see if they could encourage the community to get involved.

They didn’t think about it too hard; they just went and did it. And they made lots of mistakes. But it started a journey for Mazwi that centred on using his time, energy and education to help others.

Over the years, the idea of creating a small community farm has grown into a dream to overhaul the supply chain of fresh food, from organic community gardens to street vendors.

As a first step, Mazwi has designed a portable, non-electrical cooling system made out of recycled plastic, which could provide street vendors with a cheap, efficient way to keep their fruit and vegetables from spoiling if they do not sell them all in one day.

It is a simple water-cooled system that could be developed and constructed at minimal cost, using materials readily available and already being collected by waste pickers around the city. His designs are promising, but the precision needed for the cooling system makes it difficult to produce a prototype by hand; hence the 3D printer. Using downcycled plastic bottles, Mazwi wants to “print” the prototype and develop it into a product that can be easily reproduced.

Together with small community gardens, the “fridge” could allow for a more productive supply chain that includes many other members of the community. The intention is not to make money: Mazwi wants to develop the product and then release the intellectual property so that anyone can build and sell the cooling systems.

This is a big idea that could change the lives of street vendors and be the starting point for job creation and a more inclusive supply chain. But for now, Mazwi needs a 3D printer.

If you can help him to get access to a 3D printer that can print over 260°C and is not PTFE lined, please email us at [email protected]. DM

The Actionists was launched in early 2023 by photographer Thom Pierce. It consists of on-the-ground problem solvers, community activists, climate campaigners and human rights defenders who don’t just talk but who take direct action. They’re the people you can go to when you don’t know where to turn, who won’t stop working for the change they want to see in the world. The Actionists is also a growing community of people who care about the future of South Africa.

Through a series of photographic stories, Pierce profiles a wide range of people around the country who are providing vital services, intuitive solutions and unrelenting activism.

Through the website, discussion forum and social media, the aim is to provide tangible ways for people to get involved. The intention is to inspire and inform, to challenge the idea that nothing is being done, to create a network of Actionists and to bring people who need help together with the people who can provide a solution.

Nominate Actionists in your circle at or email [email protected]

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper, which is available countrywide for R29.


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