By Ntombi Mhlongo
FOR generations, African communities have showcased their creativity through crafts and in the process, made a moderate living from selling their creations.
That has however faded over time with many people turning to western inspired careers and neglecting their craftsmanship and in the process, risking the extinction of African heritage.
This is happening despite a growing interest in African crafts and creations. Such an example is the collaboration between South African Ndebele culturist Dr Esther Mahlangu and BMW.
On two different occasions, 26 years apart, Dr Mahlangu was commissioned to create handcrafted art for BMW vehicles which caught the attention of the world and brought her fame and fortune.
In a bid to ensure that African creativity and legacy live longer, the government of the Kingdom of Eswatini has set aside E20 million to introduce and make handicraft production skills mandatory at an early age in schools.
This is contained in the implementation plan of the Eswatini National Handicraft Sector Policy 2023-2030 which was validated recently. The policy has been drafted and presented by the Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Trade which is under the leadership of Minister Manqoba Khumalo.
In the implementation plan, the government says it has a policy objective to promote and uplift the cultural and creative sector as a viable career path and profitable economic sector for all emaSwati, irrespective of their geographical location, gender, age, ethnic origin, socioeconomic status, or religion.
The government is anticipating that by 2026, children will be able to be enrolled for skills in handicraft production at an early stage like in pre-primary and primary school.
The document states that this should focus on the introduction of innovative and advanced technological capacities of historical and contemporary design at all levels to ensure that handicraft skills remain relevant.
The plan is to have a high number of children aged one to 15 years equipped with handicraft skills. Also, it is to ensure an increased number of training programmes incorporating innovation and technological development.
The policy also calls for the identification of gaps in course availability, the relevance of course content and skills and the provision of lifelong learning programmes which it is anticipated should also identify gaps in access to adequate materials, equipment and technology for learning.
In his preamble speech on the policy, Minister Khumalo said Eswatini’s cultural heritage is at the heart of its handicraft sector. He said from traditional weaving and pottery to handmade jewellery and furniture, the handicraft sector has been an integral part of the country’s culture and economy.
The minister highlighted that for decades, the sector has provided livelihoods for countless communities and preserved traditional techniques and designs.
“It has also contributed to the global economy by providing export-driven trade and increasing economic development. As such, the handicraft sector has an important role to play in helping Eswatini to achieve its Sustainable Development Goals and to move towards a more sustainable and inclusive future. Now, as the world enters a new decade, Eswatini has the opportunity to ensure that the sector continues to thrive and grow. The National Handicraft Sector Policy for 2023 to 2030 outlines a comprehensive strategy to support the sector,” the minister said.
He mentioned that the policy provides a roadmap for the sector’s development and a framework for collaboration between government, private sector and civil society as it outlines measures to increase access to finance and markets, strengthen the sector’s capacity and promote the sector’s products.
The policy, the minister said, also strives to create spaces for youth to engage in the handicraft sector by harnessing their creativity, to grow cottage businesses to commercial businesses of various artisans engaged in the different handicraft sector value chains, and to gender mainstream the sector so that both women and men find value in participating.