Sunday World (South Africa)

Beading paid for children’s education

Beadwork is not only about fashion

- By Boitumelo Kgobotlo boitumelo@sundayworl­

African beadwork has undeniably made its mark in the fashion industry.

However, the meticulous­ly crafted beadwork is also contributi­ng to making a living for many, while putting food on the table for grandmothe­rs, who in the past typically used the art as their favourite past time.

The Rosebank Art & Craft Market in the north of Joburg, offers a burst of colour, where some of the most inspiring vendors can be found, some could never have imagined making a living out of beadwork.

The vendors have incredible stories to tell of their journeys and how they landed on the two-storey art and craft market. They all speak of a journey fuelled by an unquenchab­le thirst for making a livelihood from using their crafty hands.

Speaking to Aletta Tshabalala during our visit, she proudly talks about her origin. She hails from Harrismith in the Free State and started beading in 1960, when women of the time used the art to adorn their traditiona­l attire while promoting their culture.

The now 71-year-old Tshabalala says her initial money-spinner was selling food on the streets, but while minding her business she met and made friends with Ndebele women who taught her the art. That was when she realised she could join in and make money out of the Ndebele culture and beadwork-inspired products.

Mama Tshabalala quickly mastered the art that she earned enough to put her children through university.

“I will forever be grateful to the women’s unselfishn­ess as they allowed me to invade their space and learn the Ndebele art.

“I never imagined I would one day sell beadwork and make a living out of it because it had always been seen as backward,” she recalls.

“But the bright colours and the art itself could not be ignored by profession­al fashion designers who, I think, felt this was a missing piece of the puzzle and started in fusing it in their designs to make a fashion statement.”

Tshabalala sells mokorotlo, the traditiona­l Basotho straw hat and all cultural and traditiona­l garbs with bead work.

She says the hats are made in Lesotho and her supplier “does special designs on request”.

“My children are now helping me to keep the business afloat because it helped educate them.

“Traditiona­l clothing and beadwork is making a comeback big time. You just have to be a bit modern, otherwise the business is good, except during the pandemic.

“I was young when I started off, so the idea that beadwork is only for gogos emakhaya [rural area grannies], who typically have nothing to do, is not true.

I’ve learnt that people appreciate hand-made artwork and in this space, I learn every day.”

Tshabalala says seeing overseas tourists and locals appreciati­ng their work as they walk around the art and craft market with its colourful and rich treasures daily, was an inspiratio­n for her to sustain the art of original African craft and beading for future generation­s.

“I am always willing to teach the next generation. Remember, I was also taught.

“I would also appreciate it if we could one day get a person willing to invest in our work and take it overseas as exports because, here, you get it all.”

My children are now helping me keep the business afloat

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 ?? ?? Aletta Tshabalala displays her colourful beadwork at the Rosebank Art & Craft market in Johannesbu­rg.
Aletta Tshabalala displays her colourful beadwork at the Rosebank Art & Craft market in Johannesbu­rg.

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