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Please see our available woven telephone wire baskets on our African Decor page.
A strong weaving tradition once existed among the rural Zulu people of Swaziland and South Africa. For centuries, the Zulu created useful baskets like the imbenge and ukhamba from grasses and palm leaf, but by the early 1990s, the crafting tradition had faded as local markets sat oversaturated with traditional Zulu baskets.
In 1996, unemployment among Zulu people living in KwaZulu Natal, South Africa, reached 80%. As desperation, hunger and migration from home in search of work challenged Zulu populations, a small company called Wezandla Crafts emerged with a concise goal in mind: to help Zulu people rediscover their hope and pride through the work of their own hands.
Wezandla means with hands in the Zulu language, and the name reflects both the company’s embrace of the unique culture and crafting traditions of the Zulu people and the potential to gain an income through a learned crafting skill. Wezandla is the creation of Egmund and Siggi Dedekind, whose KwaZulu-Natal dairy farm serves as the hub of activity for Wezandla's work.
Siggi and Egmund sat down with a small group of unemployed Zulu men and woman and taught them a weaving technique learned from an aging Zulu woman living a few hundred miles from the dairy farm. They adapted patterns traditionally woven into palm fiber baskets called imbenges to candy-colored telecommunications wire, and continued to bring new members into the group to learn the craft as demand necessitated.
The craft form was adapted mainly to address unemployment among Zulu men, and the men chose a Zulu name for their arm of the company: Senzokuhle Wire Co. Loosely translated, senzokuhlemeans well made. Today both men and women craft telephone wire baskets for Senzokuhle.
Senzokuhle weavers craft each beautiful basket from purchased telephone wire. A weaver will spend between 20-25 hours weaving a 12” imbenge basket. To ensure uniform shapes, weavers use tin forms to check their work. As traditional Zulu weaving skills are augmented by new materials, strict quality control and more efficient production processes, Zulu telephone wire baskets continue to grow more beautiful and complex.
Colorful Zulu imbenges are treasured around the world as amazing contemporary art pieces that remain true to Zulu culture. While unemployment, AIDS and the downsides of progress still challenge Zulu populations, over 200 people who might have not otherwise found work are gaining good wages through their basket weaving.
Wezandla and Senzokuhle prove that one road to prosperity uses traditional elements to bridge the past to the future.