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