Bling school welcomes you

Radio chatter mingles with the discordance of several hammers banging and the hiss of gas in the Intsika school on the East Rand. Twenty-two-year-old Aubrey Pale says that he’ll miss the noise when he leaves the school in a few months.

‘I’ll definitely miss the hammers and the music.
We’re always playing Yfm,” he laughs, glancing around the room at students bent industriously over workbenches, forging metal or lined up behind the polishing machine. Pale wears silver earrings that he made himself. A silver and brass ring glints on the hand of another student busy at a bench.

Three and a half years ago, the school accommodated eight students who had to share a single toolbox. Now each of the 25 students has his or her own workbench with a toolbox and gas fixture that looks like an intravenous drip.

There are another five students who already have jobs and come in for assessment in terms of the unit standards set by the mining qualifications authority.

Intsika is one of the two manufacturers in the Gold Zone, a 3,3ha area at the Rand Refinery in Germiston. The refinery created the zone to attract jewellery manufacturers by providing free rent and access to precious metals.

Students work with silver, 9kg of which was donated by the Refinery this year, and brass, which the school buys from scrap-metal companies, according to co-founder Stanley Mkize. ‘They need to know the hardness of that material before they work in gold,” he said.

If a customer asks for a piece of jewellery in gold, the school will purchase the material from the refinery.

The students are mostly in their early 20s and come from the East Rand.

Jetaime Moeti is thankful she got into the programme in January last year after she completed matric the year before, because it ended her month of ‘stressing” at home.

To get into the school applicants have to go through an interview process and make a wire bracelet at a workbench, which Mkize describes as a little test of the student’s abilities.

The school focuses on manufacturing because most companies want employees to work at benches: ‘In the industry, there are not very many opportunities for design.”

Nineteen-year-old Moeti, however, wants to go into design. ‘I’ve always liked design, fashion or interior. This is just another part that I opened up to,” she explains in the courtyard of the former hostel area where the school is located after we moved outside to escape the pounding.

‘I used to ask, ‘I wonder how they made this ring or that bracelet?’ Now I know.”

In three years time, she sees herself driving her own one-series BMW. ‘I’ll be a jewellery designer, not a manufacturer. But if I’m manufacturing, that’s okay too.”

Students each make about two pieces a week, depending on the intensity of the project, said Mkize. When the mining qualifications authority has developed a unit standard on computer design, the school will begin to work towards computer design courses.

The students sell their jewellery at the East Rand mall or Bruma fleamarket. ‘We encourage them to sell their pieces. It makes them value what they do,” said Mkize.

The price of each piece depends on the amount of silver in it and might range from R150 to R500.

The school is free and it hopes to provide students with a monthly stipend later this year.

Jewellery manufacturers are invited to visit in a bid to promote future employment for the students.

Mkize says that he hopes the school will become self-sustainable and able to generate its own income by establishing a separate production unit.

With the Football World Cup around the corner, Mkize said students should try to explore indigenous designs that will show tourists something unique about South African culture. ‘When you are new in the industry, you can’t do what Sterns does.”

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