Text adapted from correspondence between Creina Alcock and Julia Meintjes, 2011.

Fiyani John ‘Johanni’ Masondo

Born in 1965, Fiyani John Masondo, who signs as Johanni, has spent most of his life as a farm labourer, picking up skills that are never put to use, although they would make an impressive CV. Farm labourers, of course, don’t get to have CVs. They have a temporary existence, based on temporary jobs, with long spells of nothing in between.

Two of Fiyani’s employers were murdered – which meant the end of work. Other jobs were seasonal or affected by the market slump. He’s not a talkative person, so one has to work alongside him, digging in a field, to discover the wide range of knowledge he has acquired about farming. His experience has been diverse and practical. He’s learnt and observed – and lost another job.
In 1999, during another spell of unemployment, Fiyani signed on for temporary work with a poverty relief programme, clearing land for the plough. When that work came to an end, he joined a copper wire class, sitting with twelve-year-olds and learning from the beginning.

It wasn’t easy for a man with such a strong sense of manhood. He is independent, stubborn, slow, and methodical – and he faltered learning to bead (traditionally seen as a woman’s activity). He would come into his own with the use of brass beads on copper baskets for metal is perceived as a male element. Fiyani was comfortable with brass, a ‘male’ decoration – heavy and assertive, forged out of rock.

Necessity has made him come to terms with glass beads, and his skilled coloured beading has drawn admiration from the women. But that’s a necessity. His real love is metal – and his best work is metal with no beading at all.

Text adapted from correspondence between Creina Alcock and Julia Meintjes, 2011.

Ntombizini Mbatha

Ntombizini Mbatha was five months pregnant with her sixth child when her husband, Mpikseni Ngubane, returned from Johannesburg with “piles” – the euphemism then used for the genital lesions that come with AIDS. The couple went together to hospital to get tested for HIV: Mpikseni Ngubane was admitted into hospital immediately and died two weeks after their positive diagnosis, and their daughter was born HIV positive. For the first time, Ntombizini Mbatha’s work faltered. She had been married for twenty years, when her husband died.

After her father abandoned the family when she was very young, work became a necessity. Her mother, Phumele, was one of the original Mdukatshani crafters, and supported the family with the income from her beadwork. Ntombizini Mbatha turned work into fulfilment.

She was compassionate towards others and had the most generous spirit of all the crafters. Equally adept at copper wire or needlework, she supported her six children and rebuilt her home on her earnings. Nobody worked harder, even during the periods she wasn’t well. She was matter of fact about her status. “That disease” could be treated and she and her three-year-old, Thandeka, were regular patients at the hospital.

Ntombizini Mbatha died in 2021, aged 53.

Text adapted from correspondence between the Mdukatshani Trust and JMFA, 2021.