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Gift Basket Weavers
The gift basket weavers are an association of more than 90 women of LaMgabhi Etiyeni community in the Hhohho region of Swaziland. Their association was founded in 1989, it resulted after visitation and mentoring from the Ministry of Agricultures’ home economics department personnel that enlightened the women on the use and added value of the naturally growing grass (referred to as lutintsi in vernacular) used to produce handcraft products.
To produce a single basket starts with the harvesting of the grass in the mountains which is transported to the homesteads where it is laid out to dry. It a minimum of 7 days before the actual production of the basket begins, however once it starts the average woman within the association can produce at least 20 baskets a day though the quantities are dependent on the size of the order they receive. Orders received are shared amongst the members of the association and the quantity undertook by each member depends on their capacity to produce. With inconsistent orders to produce for, the income generated from the handcrafted baskets is at most times not sufficient to sustain their livelihoods as a majority of them depend on the handcraft products for an income.
The association comprises of women from different backgrounds as some of them are bread winners in their homesteads. Most members also impart the skill to their children who in turn help with production after school. In as much as their children help their parents with the production, it is no different from them working to pay their own fees as the income is used to pay for their tuition and also cater for household needs. The average household comprises at least 6 people.
Make Thembi Hlophe a senior member of the association weavers at her market stall in her home area at LaMgabhi. She also runs a small stall in which she sells fruits and snacks.
Mrs Hlophe (centre) with other members of the association Mrs Msibi (right) and Mrs Dlamini (left). The three are some of the senior members of the association who have been there since its inception in 1989. The baskets are sold for 2 Emalangeni or 3 Emalangeni depending on the size of the basket, and that is the equivalent of (0.13 – 0.19) pounds, per item.
Mrs Hlophe with some of her family members who are also part of the association. To the left is Miss Dlamini and sitting next to her is her mother Mrs Dlamini. Centre is Mrs Hlophe nee Mdlovu who is the most elderly and senior member of the association.
Wooden Spoon Carvers
Carvers of the wooden spoons are disabled individuals who received vocational training from the local school for the disabled (St’ Joseph’s High school, primary, and handicapped school). There are about 20 individuals that carve the wooden spoons, and unlike the basket weavers they are not an association but rather a group of individuals who happen to be linked to one another as a consequence of a shared common background, having been to the same handicapped school.
The two gentlemen interviewed are Mr Exodus Mbhamali and Mr Mfanfikile Dlamini of Mzimpofu and Ekutsimleni respectively, in the Manzini region of the country. Both are handicapped and rely on the income generated from their handcrafted work to make a living, provide for their families and also pay tuition for their children. Mr Mbhamali also manages a roadside stall where he sells fruits and vegetables he buys from other farmers. The stall is primary his business centre as it is also the place where he produces his handcraft. Mr Dlamini is also a shoe mender besides being a wood carver. Both gentlemen try to have extra means of income generation though the profit margins are still low/ compromised considering that in any other venture they have to outsource the products and that there isn’t a great clientele for shoe mending nor is the income great, respectively. The income generated from the handcraft is at 0.16 pounds for each spoon sold, which is minimal considering the time it takes to produce a single spoon.
Mr Mbhamali has three children he takes care of together with his wife who is also unemployed yet strives to ensure that they attend school, while Mr Dlamini takes care of a family of two children his wife, mother and four siblings. Though Mr Dlamini’s children attend school a majority of his family is unqualified and only has at-most high school education (as a result are vulnerable to unemployment, as is it the case with Mr Dlamini who has only received primary education and vocational training at Ekululameni; the handicapped school).
Production of the handcraft, like the weavers, is done upon receipt of an order which is then (amongst the 20 wood carvers). Eswatini Kitchen is the only market for the handcraft products and as a result during the interview there were no products that could be displayed as there are no orders coming in. To produce, the wood carvers have to purchase the timber on which to work on before the whole process begins. An experienced carver will produce at most 20 spoons a day before having to fine them using sand paper, making the production a long process.
On the left is Mr Exodus Mbhamali and on the right is Mr Mfanfikile Dlamini. You can recognize Mr Mbhamalis product by the Zebra on the handle while Mr Dlaminis are the Elephant and Lion carved spoons. This picture was taken at Mr Dlaminis home place at Ekutsimuleni Area in the Manzini region.