Pressing clothes for 34 years in Jinja - National | NTV

Pressing clothes for 34 years in Jinja

By ISAAC MUFUMBA

Monday May 27, 2019

 

The gigantic frame is stooped over an ironing board. The right arm holding a steam iron glides forward and backwards almost effortlessly, the movement seemingly in tune with the beat and rhythm of a song that only he can hear.
In the background are rows of racks of clothes sealed in polythene bags waiting for the owners to pick them up.
These are the premises of “Wakinyankali and Sons Dry Cleaners”, a sole proprietorship named after Hajj Issa Magulu Zaidi Wakinyankali, but the garments are not cleaned with water-based solvents and pressed with a steam press machines. Here, they are washed using a washing machine and ironed with either a steam iron or iron boxes. He has been at it for 34 years now.
False starts
He was born on October 2, 1958 in one of the oldest Muslim families in Busoga. His father, the late Hajj Wakinyankali was both a County Chief, and Muslim cleric in Iganga District. He also rose to become vice chairman of the Uganda Muslim Supreme Council. He dropped out of school after Senior Four at St James Secondary School in Jinja.
He made two attempts at formal employment, first as licensed teacher and later as a messenger in the office of the District Commissioner (DC). He quit the latter in 1979 after the fall of the Idi Amin regime.
“I had developed a personal friendship with the DC. I had a feeling that the new DC would not be as good as his predecessor,” Wakinyankali recalls.
He went into business, opening up a retail shop and a firewood selling point in Mutai, a small village on the Jinja-Kamuli highway, which is famous for pine and eucalyptus forests. The trees have for several decades now been fuelling a lucrative trade in firewood. The businesses collapsed. Daddy’s boy ran back to his father.
Entry into laundry business
In 1983, it was decided that he gets married. That marked the entry of the mother of his six children, Amina Nambooze, into his life. In 1985, with the first child on the way, his father got concerned that he did not have a stable income. That concern coincided with the return from Saudi Arabia of one of his younger brothers, Sheikh Swaibu Lusooma. Among the many things that he had returned with were a washing machine.

“That is when Mzee came up with the idea. Why don’t you give your elder brother that washing machine so that he starts working? He will however have to pay for it,” he told him. He was to pay Shs350,000 for the machine.
Wakinyankali had not had any prior interest in that business. He had also never operated a washing machine or ironed more than four garments, but he had to learn. He went to another “dry cleaning” place on Lubas Road, pretending that he needed a job.
“I sat and saw how they would go about each piece of laundry. What was most important was how to iron or press the clothes,” he explains.
Two weeks later, he was back to Iganga Road where his father had paid rent for a shop for six months at the rate of Shs150,000 per month.
His father then handed him an iron box and working capital of Shs5,000, which he was required to pay back along with the rent. The iron box remains one of his treasured possessions. He calls it ‘grandfather’. It was, however, the words of his father that still reverberate in his ears.
“He told me ‘you will have brought ruin upon yourself if you ever play around with this job’,” he recalls.

That seems to have set the tone for the business. He had never had cause to doubt his father’s good intentions and never before had he known his father to read situations wrong. That perhaps served to remind him that his life, that of his young pregnant wife, the child they were expecting and the entire future depended on the success of the start-up. He could not afford to let anything go wrong.
Together with his pregnant wife, they turned the two rooms into a business cum residence. The front served as a reception and display area. The back room was the washing area and bedroom.
“At daybreak, we would fold our beddings and place them in one corner. In order for us to have ample space in which to wash. We would not even afford to put there any bed as it would eat up much needed space,” he recalls.
Taking on workers was another luxury that they could not afford. He and his wife formed the initial workforce.
“We would take the clothes out of the washing machine and hang them out to dry. She would then iron the shirts, blouses and the women’s sashes. I would press the trousers, coats and tunics,” he says.
Clientele
His first clients were mostly people he had met when he was still working at the District Commissioner’s (DC) office. The Muslim community came handy too, but it has been his great work, especially on the ironing board, which has seen him emerge as arguably the best tunics presser in Jinja, that has kept the clientele coming.
Wakinyankali comes from one of the oldest Muslim families in Busoga region. His father, the late Haji Zaidi Wakinyankali was both a County Chief and Muslim Cleric in Iganga district, who also rose to become the Vice Chairman of the Uganda Muslim Supreme Council. His clan, the Baise Waguma clan, the traditional hereditary rulers of Butembe County, are also quite big and influential with the likes of businessman Majid Bagalaliwo as key actors there.
The late author, Elmer Letterman once said that, “Personality can open doors, but only character can keep them open”. This resonates with Haji Wakinyankali. 
The clientele is mostly of middle and low income people who cannot afford the cost of services of the high end dry cleaners.
Challenges
All has not been rosy, there have been challenges, mostly heaps of uncollected clothes, but he has few regrets.
“We do not make as much money as we used to. We make between Shs30,000 and Shs50,000 a day, which is slow, but this job has helped me to educate my children and build houses. I have made many friends. I am popular and I live a relatively comfortable life. I have, along with my wife gone for pilgrimages to Mecca, thanks to my job,” he says. Making a pilgrimage or Hajj, to Mecca, if financial and physical conditions permit is one of the five pillars of Islam. The others are shahādah, the profession of faith; salat or prayer, performed five terms a day; payment of zakat or alms for the benefit of the poor and the needy; and fasting during the holy month of Ramadan.
His wife has since taken to the back seat. Two employees have since been taken on to help Haji with the work. His children have always been an integral part of the operation.
“During the holidays we encouraged them to learn the job. That is how they would earn their school fees and pocket money. All of them know this job. One of them, the one who I think understands the business very well stays on these premises and helps to run the show when I am away,” he says.
Two cents
His advice to the young unemployed people is to forget their qualifications and embrace any opportunities that come their way, adding that things always change for the better.
“Whenever I would hold this iron box and blow the ash out, it would even affect my eyes, but I didn’t care about it. Now I am using electric irons,” he says as he shows off the iron box with which he started the 34-journey into washing and ironing clothes. 
This journey, Hajj Wakinyankali does not intend to end soon.
Away from routine
When he is not in Jinja pressing clothes, Wakinyankali goes to his farm in Bubogo in Iganga where he practises mixed farming and animal husbandry.
Others say…
“He is honest and trustworthy in his dealings. That is why most people still take their clothes to him,” William Opolot, NRM Cadre
“His services are convenient. Instead of one wasting time on washing clothes and waiting for them to dry and later ironing them, you take them there and pick them up in a few hours at a reasonable cost,” Moses Maganda, businessman.
“When you take your clothes to Hajj’s place, you are rest assured that the clothes will stay in good condition. I don’t know how he does it, because you hardly find stains. There is a small difference between his services and those offered by those ‘big’ dry cleaners,” Rita Kamuule, Mobile Money Agent