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 Mdlodlo

Although Ntombizini Mdlodlo was brought up in a traditional way, she had a marriage of total equality.  Whilst other women ducked their heads when talking to their husbands, Ntombizini Mdlodlo was all for assertiveness. “I look him in the eyes and say: What did you say to me?” Yet it was a love match, full of banter and joy, and her world fell apart when Mtwelanga Mdlodlo died of throat cancer in 1995 after 26 years of marriage.

Born in 1950 at Sqomeni in the Msinga district, she never went to school and grew up in a sheltered environment. She never worked on the farms, as her family considered it improper because, out of sight on the farms, there were too many avenues of temptation. So he stayed at home where she learnt to make macansis, woven grass mats, to prepare for her wedding.

Her first boyfriend was an awful choice and when Ntombizini Mdlodlo heard he had been stealing cattle and goats, she tried to break off the relationship. Rejection in a traditionally patriarchal environment tends to go down badly and the young man tried to abduct with the help of three of his friends. They only left when local men came to help after hearing the commotion created by the violence that had arisen.

Ntombizini Mdlodlo was nineteen years-old when she first met Mtwelanga Mdlodlo at a party. At nineteen she was almost an old maid, and tired of waiting for love. They had six children together, and all of them attended school. Ntombizini Mdlodlo learnt to weave while raising her young children, attending classes under a thorn tree at Mdukatshani, initially learning how to stitch beaded jewellery, and much later to weave copper wire. When Mtwelanga Mdlodlo died, their youngest  on, Sebenzani, was only four, and although she was now a full-time crafter, she struggled to go on.

Today she her mobility is reduced. She moves around in a wheelchair and sits flat on the ground, legs stretched in front of her, doing crafts. There have been many times when her courage was faltered, but although the years have marked her, she still has her sense of joy. You can hear it in her gaiety, hailing a visitor from her wheelchair, or the wonderful giggle that lights up a room. It’s hard to make sense of the blows life has dealt her, but something of the beautiful young woman remains intact, buoyant, and wonderful.

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