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.

Siphokuhle Mvelase

Siphokuhle Mvelase was about twelve years old when her mother started giving her craftwork. Everyone at Mdukatshani kept up the pretence because, although children are not allowed in the craft group, her work was perfect. Occasionally she accompanied her mother to a Bead Day: a wide-eyed girl, taking notes and listening intently.

Born in 1967, she was part of a generation that didn’t go to school. In fact, there were no schools where she grew up, on the edge of a hill with a precipitous path down to the Tugela River. Traditionally, girls were expected to help at home, fall in love and get married, so aged nineteen, Siphokuhle Mvelase was engaged. Her parents warned her not to marry her husband because they felt, and rightly so, that he didn’t love her. She was the second wife who learnt, at her own expense, that there was no place for her in her husband’s heart.

After twelve years, and five children, she moved out of her husband’s home, and built her own using the earnings from her craft work. She now has three huts – and as soon as she was established, her husband started visiting her. She works hard to support their children, switching effortlessly between needlework and woven wire, depending on the orders.

Her husband’s indifference has reduced Siphokuhle Mvelase sparkle. The wide-eyed young woman has matured into a person who feels the weight of the burden she carries. Only in the craft group does she return to herself, joining in the gossip under the thorn trees, her lovely giggle irrepressible, cheerfully mocking the idiocy of life. Work holds her steady and restores her sense of joy. She hasn’t lost the touch and everything she touches is beautiful.

Text adapted from correspondence between the Mdukatshani Trust and JMFA, 2011.