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.

Zamani Madonsela

Zamani Madonsela is one of the few men in the district to hold a licensed gun. For this reason, in the summer months, when snakes are most active, he’s always on call to shoot venomous snakes: black mambas and cobras. His skills are practical. He stutters in moments of crisis, but he can shoot straight, think fast, and extinguish smoke billowing from a bakkie (pickup truck) on a lonely country road. He’s an excellent home-thought mechanic. Had he ever had the chance of choosing a career, he would probably have opted for engineering, but he never had the chance to go to school.

Zamani Madonsela started frequenting Mdukatshani in 1991, when he was about 19. Since then he has gained a set of skills that make him something of an all-rounder – and which help to explain the motive that draws crafters to craft: while there are natural artists, waiting for the opportunity for self-expression, the majority, like Zamani Madonsela, do craft as an attempt to survive.

Zamani Madonsela started copper weaving around 2001 and, although his first basket was ripped off the mould and cut away, unfinished, for its awful bumps, his second bowl was exhibited at OXO Gallery in London. He’s often called away on other tasks as he’s still officer-in-charge of breakdowns, the standby resident mechanic, but he can also add copper weaving to his portfolio.

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