The Rosebank Art & Craft Market in Johannesburg, South Africa is where you can find some of the most inspiring vendors who during the lockdown, like many others, found themselves without an income. These extraordinary artists earn a living selling their meticulously crafted, hand-made beadwork. Each vendor has an intriguing story to tell about the journey which led them to the two-storey location, a journey which was fuelled by an unquenchable thirst for making something good out of their lives. Greet them by name and encourage them for their unbelievable talent and perseverance when you visit this treasure trove.
This is a place where locals can support not only local by the micro-economies within a space which is held together by hope and determination. These are the stories of some of those South Africans…
Aletta Bakwena Tshabalala is 71 years old. She comes all the way from Harrismith – a small Free State town in South Africa known for its majestic mountains and matchless beauty. We’ve all passed through there on the way to the KwaZulu Natal coast or the Drakensberg. Aletta started her beadwork in 1960 when she was selling fruits to pedestrians to earn a living. She noticed the other informal traders selling beads and decided to try her hand at this art form. Aletta got so good at it that she managed to put her children through university purely on the profits she made. Today her children help and support her with her small enterprise which grew from a unique and charming skill.
Thoko Jane Nkabinde is 32 years old. She hails from Mpumalanga kwaNdebele – where colour and culture collide. Thoko took over her mother’s successful business after she sadly passed away in January this year. Her mother, Anna Masemola, built her bead business from scratch. It took her many years. Before starting her bead business, Thoko’s mother sold mealies to pedestrians and, just like Aletta, she was fascinated when she saw other informal traders working on their beaded creations between sales. It completely changed her life. Thoko’s mother did so well that she managed to build several houses and rented out the rooms. It was this entrepreneurial spirit that empowered her to take care of the whole family. Now, Thoko wants to keep her mother’s legacy alive with the beading skills she inherited, a gift from one generation to the next which will continue to provide.
Bazibonke Chili, now 48 years old, hails from Mpumalanga KwaNdebele. Bazi visited Johannesburg with the goal of furthering her education. Coming from a poor background, this was difficult to dom but a determined and brave Bazi refused to give up. A friend introduced her to the magical art of beadwork, and she didn’t waste any time. She started her beadwork business in 1999 and has since managed to not only earn a living but help her extended family. Today Bazi is a successful breadwinner, and she loves her craft.
Emily Mahlangu is 61 years old. She, like Bazi and Thoko, is also from Mpumalanga KwaNdebele. Emily can’t read or write so life has been difficult for her. She tried desperately to get a job as a domestic worker but without the necessary literacy skills, opportunities were scarce. In 1980 she started creatively designing her own art using beads. Her beaded artwork was so impressive that she soon found herself exhibiting all over Johannesburg – she was even hired to lecture youth on the art of beadwork. Wisely, Emily invested the money she earned from lecturing to start a shop that is still successful today. She now owns her own upmarket home in Mpumalanga and is proud to say that she put her children through university purely from the proceeds of her astounding artistic talents.
Melita Mkoneni Sesana is 56 years old. She started out as a domestic worker in Pretoria (Boesman). When her employer immigrated, she was left stranded. She too wouldn’t give up and started selling mealies. In 1981, when the mealies business became flooded with vendors, she decided to try beadwork. From selling her beadwork in the streets, she has grown so much that she has successfully bought herself a shop. Her life has changed – for the better – since then.
The shopping experience at the Rosebank Art & Craft Market offers the ideal opportunity for locals and visitors from outside our borders to discover these colour-rich treasures, to stroll the walkways and be inspired, to admire the imagination and skill that goes into each intriguing product, and to shop with a conscience, knowing that supporting these vendors builds sustainable livelihoods for many households.
The Rosebank Art & Craft Market is open seven days a week and the entrance can be found on Cradock Avenue just outside the Woolworths entrance of Rosebank Mall. It is a ‘Support Small Business’ concept, offering a rich diversity of authentic and proudly African products at affordable local prices.