This month’s article on ‘Stories from Home’ features Lungi Mantshontsho and her group of crafters from Mathawu Pottery in OR Tambo District, Eastern Cape. The OR Tambo District is named after the late Oliver Reginald Tambo and is home to the AmaMpondo (part of Xhosa speaking) people. It is also the birthplace of other well-known personalities such as Mama Winnie Madikizela-Mandela (who hails from Mbizana) and the late Minister Nkosazana Stella Sigcau (who comes from neighbouring Lusikisiki). Other interesting places and towns in the District include the much-loved coastal town of Port St Johns, the Msikaba Nature Reserve, the Wild Coast Sun and the beautiful Mbotyi beach – which is a well-kept fishing secret. The District is part of the Wild Coast Tourism area and is home to one my favourite holiday resorts – the uMngazi Family Resort (www.umngazi.co.za)
Mathawu was founded in 2007, when Lungi resigned from a pottery manufacturing company in Durban after 18 years of employment to pursue her dream of starting her own business and uplifting the youth. It is a dream she has pursued relentlessly with the team of young crafters she works with – having trained and upskilled them herself.
Mathawu not only provides employment to four young people from the local community, but also keeps them occupied from all the destructive habits of drugs, alcohol abuse and unemployment which plaque young people in the local Ngquza Hill Municipality.
One of my favourite pieces of their artworks is the Zebra Vase Collection with its distinct black and white stripes. As zebras are rarely spotted alone in nature, the collection is available in Small, Tall and Oblong sizes and can be ordered as a set or as individual pieces.
Every item produced by them carries the Mathawu inscription, and the year in which it was produced. Other pottery items available at their workshop include tea sets, coffee mugs, platters as well as other decorative items featuring designs drawing inspiration from everyday life – such as the woman with the water carrier, traditional rondavel huts or men smoking traditional pipes (inqawe in Xhosa).
Figure 3: Woman with the water carrier vase & Mathawu inscription
As someone who grew up in the rural areas and now living in the city, these images are a nostalgic reminder of days gone by. For me, the reason we support Mathawu is not only because they produce good pottery artworks, but also because their work depicts images of things I grew up with and are a reminder of stories related by my granny around the fire late at night. These are things and stories which my children – reared in the city – hardly get to experience first-hand. As a family, it gives us the opportunity as we gaze at the items – to start dinner time conversations of the way life used to be.
However, my excitement bubbles up over a new Nguni cow design which Mathawu is working on producing. Nguni cows are characterised by multi-coloured and spotted skin patterns in rich hues of brown, black and white and are indigenous to the Nguni-speaking people of Southern Africa. When not grazing in the fields, they can often be spotted chewing the cud along the winding roads in much of the Eastern Cape – hence the need to reduce speed and be cautious when travelling on the roads.
I guess if I cannot have herds of Nguni cows grazing in my backyard on my small urban space, I can always gaze at the vase on my table and reminisce of memories from home.
Till next time,
Salani Kakuhle, Totsiens & Goodbye