Self Help Association of Paraplegics, SHAP, Republic of South Africa

This article describes the experience and success of SHAP, which was launched in 1981 by a group of unemployed Soweto paraplegics. They decided to operate a factory employing only disabled people, doing work on a subcontract basis for industry. By 1989 the factory employed 130 disabled people. Internet publication URL:

The background

SHAP was launched in 1981 by a group of unemployed Soweto paraplegics who reasoned that a gainfully employed disabled person would be in a stronger position to help him/herself in all areas of life. They decided to operate a factory employing only disabled people, doing work on a subcontract basis for industry.

They found that it you knew where to go, sponsors were relatively available for building, equipment and vehicles (in that order), and to a lessor extent, for cash. The secret of their fund raising success was their self help nature, their self-supporting potential, the imaginative but inexpensive presentation of their case, and their sound administration - the latter allaying fears of misuse of funds. Their building was completed in 1983. It incorporated 600 sq.m. of potential production space, offices, ablutions and not enough storage.

Developing self sufficiency

During the months of waiting for the completion of their building, they had spent their time in assessing, motivating and selecting their initial workforce of 30 paraplegics, and a reserve pool of 30 workers. By the time the building was completed, workers were so motivated to secure employment that they worked for six months for only their daily transport and a simple midday meal - as personal contribution to the project.

With a highly motivated but unskilled workforce only simple packaging and assembly contracts were sought initially. Later SHAP found that companies were at times prepared to assist with training, if it meant that companies could 'contract out' an aspect of their production/service which was a headache to their own production process - at a reasonable cost and assured of quality.

SHAP has found markets for its products and services in the traditionally conservative mining industry, in medium sized South African companies, small businessmen as well as from multi-national corporations eager to become involved with developing Black business.

Whatever the supplying company's original motives for contracting with SHAP, the relationship must remain financially attractive to both parties and quality of service must obviously be maintained at all times.

SHAP today

The SHAP Factory employs 130 disabled people doing packaging and assembly work, manufacture of protective clothing and other sewing products, and repairing sophisticated mechanical and electronic devices, such as cameras and calculators. All administrative and supervisory positions are held by disabled people. Today SHAP only seeks funding from the community for capital projects and in support of its always partially self funded service programs.

SHAP's success has been widely publicized. SHAP leaders have been approached by disabled people from all over the country for advice on how they too might organize themselves to undertake a similar self help venture. There are now approximately 30 such emergent groups around the country seeking to emulate the SHAP example.

The experiences of SHAP are:

1 . Self help groups, made up of the people experiencing the problems, are in a unique position to identify desirable and effective courses of action to counter the effects of disability.
2. Self-help groups are attractive to trusts, large companies (including foreign corporations), foreign embassies/governments, churches.
3. Self help employment schemes, due to their typically low overhead costs (as a result of donated capital) can compete for a wide range of sub-contracted work from industry.
4. Self help employment schemes are capable of alleviating the poverty of disabled people in the townships in a relatively short time and with achievable capital expenditure.
5. The Self Help Factory differs from traditional concepts such as sheltered workshops, since they are run by disabled people , with all staff, including any able-bodied skilled people, responsible to an executive committee of disabled people.

Principles of Self-Help Factories

Control of the project is vested in the management committee which is made up of a majority of disabled people elected by the members of the self help organization, all of whom are themselves disabled people. There are no shareholders and any profits derived from the factory's activity are put back into the business or used to fund service programmes in the interests of the members e.g. transport, education, health, recreation, etc. The project is therefore owned by the constituted Association rather than the members, although the members typically develop a strong 'sense of ownership'.

The factory is staffed by disabled people whose continued participation in the project is determined only by their ability to produce. The concept does not preclude the need for sheltered/protective workshops-the latter would address the needs of those who cannot compete successfully for work in either the open labour market or the Self Help Factory. Ideally the project would include all types of disability. Senior management staff will be disabled people, although able-bodied staff with particular skills may be employed. They too will be responsible to the management committee of disabled people.

The Self Help Factory sells its products and services on the open market dealing with all levels of industry and State contracts. Potential buyers may be more sympathetic or prejudiced against the project's ability to produce. Sometimes they may also attempt to exploit the project by wishing to pay less than the market rate. Products and services selected will typically be labour intensive.

The Association registers as a Fund Raising Organization. As such it is able to raise "venture capital" necessary for starting up the factory. The Self Help Factory aims to be economically independent (excluding the recovery of initial start-up capital and ongoing fund raising for the purchase of capital items such as equipment, vehicles, and building extensions) and to pay viable wages and salaries. Depending on initial start-up funds, it may only pay viable wages and salaries once its business has developed to a point where these can be afforded. The disabled workers may be prepared to work for less in order to build up the project in the expectation of more viable incomes later-in the same way that shareholders in a new venture do not expect to derive significant returns immediately.

In practice, it is unlikely that a Self Help Factory would achieve 100% comparative levels of productivity to other factories although their performance should not fall below about 75%. Their relative inefficiency may be attributed to inexperience in competitive business standards and methods, and simply the fact that the disabilities of the employees may limit their overall production. The net effect of this will be that base-line costs will be higher than their competitors but this would be offset by lower profit expectations and the fact that capital items would be community sponsored if their fund raising is successful. This relatively lower productivity also provides the justification for ongoing community support.

From an article by 
Mike duToit, DPSA 
in Rehabilitation in S.A., Dec 1989

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