Today a friend and I went to a local rural village called Acornhoek. We were planning to meet with the head of the Traditional Healers Association in order to set up a plan to learn about local foraged herbs and food. As it turned out he could not make our meeting so we carried on a little further to the suburb of Rooiboklaagte to visit the Mapusha Weaving Co-operative.
It is really quite educating to drive on the roads in these townships, there are minibus taxi‘s that drive anywhere they like, including on the road verge, pavements and into oncoming traffic. They are fearless. There are also goats and chickens roaming free over the roads around every turn. I think with the mix of taxi’s and animals the roadkill statistics must be huge!
Rooiboklaagte has a population of about 2000 people. The unemployment rate is roughly 70%. That mean a lot of poor and hungry folk. Each person that holds down a job supports on average, 3 other adults and up to 10 children. A very difficult thing to do when you are earning minimum wage of R7.50 per hour (about 0.80 USD.)
The weavers are a small group of Sotho and Shangaan women from Rooiboklaagte. The group came together in the early 1970s, with the help of a mission, as a way for unemployed women in the village to learn a craft and earn money to support their families. Originally, the mission had sent two young women to a successful weaving studio to be trained in the crafts of weaving, sewing, spinning, and dyeing. Two years later, when the two returned to Rooiboklaagte, the studio was built, looms constructed, and other women were trained in these crafts.
At its peak, the cooperative successfully employed 26 women who created bible scene tapestries..When Spanish priests replaced the German priests in 1991, more energy was devoted to building churches than to supporting self-help projects. For nearly a decade, the weavers struggled on their own. In 2002, only six women came daily to the studio. From there, they walked five kilometers, carrying heavy rugs on their heads, where they sat, hoping to make a sale.
Later in 2002, the weavers were “discovered” by Judy Miller who had a degree in textile design and a history of weaving on a tapestry loom. She stepped in as an advocate for the women weavers. She located a source of wool; found an initial commission; created an Internet presence; introduced the art of abstract design to the weavers; and secured sponsorship for eight new apprentices from the community. The current Mapusha Weaving Cooperative took shape and has been moving forward ever since. We met with some of the weavers as well as witha member of the Peace Corp who works there a few days a week.
Today their biggest need is to get commissions and to make sales. Please stop in at their shop to have a look around and support them if you can.
On our way out of Acornhoek we were held up by a demonstration march and had to drive behind the protestors for about 4km’s – it took about 20 minutes with taxis trying to ride past us on the wrong side of the road and on the sand next to the road. The poor pedestrians had to jump out of the way. Another day in Africa……
- A Little Woven Thing (improbableoptimisms.blogspot.com)