Craft cen­tre weavers fall on hard times

Chronicle (Zimbabwe) - - Feature/national News - Pa­menus Tuso

FAM­I­LIES which used to ben­e­fit from the Binga Craft Cen­tre as a ma­jor source of in­come and liveli­hoods dur­ing its peak, have fallen on hard times.

Es­tab­lished in 1989 fol­low­ing the craft­ing of a cul­tural res­o­lu­tion plan by the Binga Ru­ral District Coun­cil, the craft cen­tre aims to im­prove the stan­dards of liv­ing as well as the eco­nomic sta­tus of women through the pro­duc­tion of sus­tain­able crafts us­ing nat­u­ral re­sources. The cen­tre is renowned for its hand-wo­ven bas­ketry which has been in high de­mand through­out the world.

“Gen­er­ally the Tonga bas­ket or Tonga crafts have trav­elled far more than an av­er­age Tonga man or woman has trav­elled. The bas­kets and crafts are in some parts of Europe, Asia and Africa where the weavers have never been and might never be in their life time. This is enough ev­i­dence that the Tonga craft is par ex­cel­lent be­cause no one can place an or­der for a bad thing to fly all the away to Amer­ica when it is sub­stan­dard,” said Mr Matabbeki Mu­denda, the cen­tre’s man­ager.

With the as­sis­tance of the Dan­ish De­vel­op­ment Work­ers’ Vol­un­tary Ser­vices, the Binga Craft Cen­tre was set up with a mem­ber­ship of over 2 000 peo­ple.

Within a year af­ter its for­ma­tion, the com­mu­ni­ty­based or­gan­i­sa­tion grew from strength to strength with the cen­tre gen­er­at­ing tremen­dous sales.

“Dur­ing its peak in the early 90s, the cen­tre used to gen­er­ate a lot of sales from orig­i­nal Tonga ar­ti­facts such as stools, chairs and doors. Dur­ing this pe­riod, the cen­tre also used to train weavers in pro­duc­ing good qual­ity bas­kets so as to be com­pet­i­tive on the in­ter­na­tional mar­ket,” said Mr Mu­denda.

Dur­ing its peak, Mr Mu­denda said, the cen­tre man­aged to change for the bet­ter the lives of many weavers, par­tic­u­larly women who man­aged to buy var­i­ous as­sets as well as send their chil­dren to school with the in­come they got from sell­ing the craft work.

“A lot of women in this area now own cat­tle be­cause of in­come re­alised from the cen­tre. A lot of peo­ple in­clud­ing my­self were ed­u­cated through money gen­er­ated by bas­ket weav­ing. In fact, most of the peo­ple who have good jobs here were able to go to school through money ac­crued from ar­ti­facts sell­ing,” said the man­ager.

On its for­ma­tion, the cen­tre had 34 ac­tive weav­ing clubs dot­ted around the district but due to the cur­rent eco­nomic hard­ships, a lot of weavers have aban­doned the trade as it can no longer sus­tain their fam­i­lies.

Ac­cord­ing to Mr Mu­denda, the cen­tres’ woes started around 2000 when the tourism sec­tor faced a down­turn.

“The non-per­for­mance of the tourism sec­tor has se­ri­ously af­fected the craft cen­tre. We could go for two months with­out a sin­gle sale be­cause tourists who used to be our ma­jor clients stopped com­ing. Right now, the cen­tre owes ser­vice providers such as Zesa, Zinwa and TelOne more than $10 000 in un­paid bills. There is vir­tu­ally no busi­ness tak­ing place here,” he said.

Mr Mu­denda re­vealed that the or­gan­i­sa­tion’s predica­ment had been wors­ened by the cur­rent cash short­ages which have re­sulted in des­per­ate weavers be­ing short-changed by mid­dle­men who are ex­chang­ing the bas­kets with var­i­ous goods in­clud­ing clothes at ridicu­lous ex­change terms.

“The cur­rent cash short­ages have re­ally af­fected the weavers. Un­scrupu­lous peo­ple are tak­ing ad­van­tage of this sit­u­a­tion by ex­ploit­ing our hard­work­ing weavers. Some of the mid­dle­men are even de­mand­ing 12 bas­kets in ex­change for a shirt which costs $3. Ba­si­cally, what this means is that the weavers are sell­ing their prod­ucts for a song,” he said.

Mr Mu­denda said most of the weavers, par­tic­u­larly the el­derly do not have any bank ac­counts and are not con­ver­sant with mo­bile money trans­fer tech­nolo­gies such as EcoCash.

“Most of our weavers do not have bank ac­counts. Some of them are very old and they do not have cell­phones. In in­stances which they have, they do not know how to op­er­ate the gad­gets. As a re­sult of these chal­lenges, the cen­tre has failed to pro­cure bas­kets from the weavers,” said Mr Mu­denda.

The cen­tre man­ager said the de­par­ture of the Dan­ish De­vel­op­ment Work­ers Vol­un­tary Ser­vices has also con­trib­uted sig­nif­i­cantly to the demise of the or­gan­i­sa­tion. Dur­ing the peak of the cen­tre, the donor or­gan­i­sa­tion pro­vided the cen­tre with four out­reach ve­hi­cles but now the or­gan­i­sa­tion no longer has any ve­hi­cle.

The or­gan­i­sa­tion has also re­trenched some of its staff mem­bers.

“We no longer have any ve­hi­cle to trans­port the palm tree to the weavers. Some weavers are now trav­el­ling a dis­tance of more than 70 kilo­me­tres to seek ilala from the palm trees which they use for weav­ing the bas­kets. Be­cause of the ve­hi­cle short­ages, we are no longer able to carry out our rou­tine qual­ity con­trol checks. This lax­ity has com­pro­mised the qual­ity of the weavers’ prod­ucts,” added Mr Mu­denda.

Not only is the Binga Craft Cen­tre or­gan­i­sa­tion­ally dead but its struc­tures have also be­come an eye­sore.

“Our build­ings are now di­lap­i­dated and need a ma­jor facelift. Un­der the build­ing’s cur­rent state, no client will be at­tracted to pay us a visit,” he said.

Mr Mu­denda called upon the govern­ment to sup­port bas­ket weav­ing and the Binga Craft Cen­tre as it has the po­ten­tial to re­gain its glory of past days as well as pro­mote the de­vel­op­ment of the cre­ative arts while pro­vid­ing a source of in­come to peo­ple in this un­der­de­vel­oped Mata­bele­land re­gion.

Binga Craft Cen­tre man­ager Mr Matabbeki Mu­denda (top) shows some of the ar­ti­facts crafted at the cen­tre, while above is the cen­tre whose weavers have fallen on hard times

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