Household Artefacts

In KwaZulu-Natal, basket traditions historically associated with men were gradually taken over by women in the course of the twentieth century. 

©Eric Miller
Ntombifuthi Magwaza's wirework basket.

Hastened by the departure of men in search of work on the mines and in large cities such as Durban and Johannesburg, female involvement in the basket industry received renewed impetus in the late 1980s following the breakdown of the apartheid state’s influx control regulations. Rural women flocking to the cities to join their husbands sought new forms of employment.

Those living in the Siyanda informal settlement on the outskirts of Durban became noted for the production of large coiled platters made from multicoloured plastic telephone wire, among them, Ntombifuthi Magwaza, who won a highly respected national craft award in 1998.

The use of colour and pattern in many of the wirework platters produced by these women is demonstrably influenced by the design principles underlying local beadwork traditions.

Magwaza, who was born in 1965, was raised by her grandmother, a skilled beadworker. Interestingly, Magwaza’s working method is spontaneous and largely intuitive. Her designs are never planned in advance, but emerge organically through the juxtaposition of different colours.

By Professor Sandra Klopper

Early Visual Records of Grass Arts

When the artist-explorer George Angas published his folio volume on his visit to southern Africa most of the hand-tinted plates of Zulu subjects included prominently displayed coiled baskets....more

Female Basket Weavers

While some rural women flocked to the cities to join their husbands, sometimes finding work in cottage industries serving South Africa’s burgeoning tourist market, others remained in rural areas, producing baskets for sale to this growing clientele....more

Gendered Labour

In areas such as present-day KwaZulu-Natal, basket coiling traditions were originally associated with men. In other communities, some winnowing baskets were also made by men. Interestingly, though, these were generally plaited rather than coiled....more

The Art of Weaving in Grass

Closely-coiled grass and reed baskets are commonly made for a variety of purposes such as the storing of grain and other foodstuffs in the homestead, including liquids like milk and beer. Many were decorated with intricately woven and embossed patterns....more

The Evolution of a Long-established Tradition

The range of colours available to producers making artefacts from plastic coated telephone wire was initially extremely limited....more