Maverick Citizen


Sole searcher – how Sibusiso Zulu’s quest for old sneakers became an eco-wise mission

Sole searcher – how Sibusiso Zulu’s quest for old sneakers became an eco-wise mission
Sibusiso Zulu. (Photo: Thom Pierce, The Actionists)

This sustainability Actionist’s sneaker drive has evolved into poetry sessions, youth expos and a clothing swap shop and customisation company.

In his own words, Sibusiso Zulu is “an ambassador for creativity and social change” and it all began with Sneakers 4 Change.

In 2013, Sibu had one pair of sneakers. They had a hole in the side, so he used to stand with one foot behind the other to hide it from the other artists, musicians and skaters he hung out with on the streets of Maboneng. As a plan to get new shoes for himself and his friends, Sibu approached a local club owner and proposed hosting an event where people could enter by donating a pair of old sneakers. 

They received 38 pairs and, after taking a few for himself and his friends, he decided to clean them up and donate them to the Twilight Children’s Home. 

“I felt like I had done something really amazing and the kids were really grateful.”

After seeing the effect this had on the kids, his focus quickly shifted from hosting events to collecting and redistributing used sneakers. He started emailing schools and asking them to encourage parents to bring in any old sneakers their kids had outgrown. From the first school he received 1,000 pairs. 

“I had taken public transport to go and collect the shoes, but when I got there and saw how many there were I had to go home, hire a bakkie and come back the next day.”

Since 2013, Sibu estimates, he has redistributed about 12,000 pairs to various beneficiaries. 

Read more in Daily Maverick: The Actionists

Over the past few years he has started various new ventures through his partnership with Makers Valley in Victoria Yards, Johannesburg. These include poetry sessions, youth expos and his newest venture, Swyft Lab, a clothing swap shop and customisation company that focuses on sustainability, environmental impact and the circular economy. 

It’s a win-win situation, giving people a fresh wardrobe while using local art, design and craft to prolong the life of clothing. 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 engage in direct action. They are people anyone can turn to in difficult circumstances: a growing community of people who care about the future of South Africa. Through a series of photographic stories, Pierce profiles these people. Through a website, discussion forum and social media, the aim is to provide ways for people to get involved.

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


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