Jambo Africa Online’s Deputy Editor, DITHAKO NAKEDI, profiles Sarah Masunga, a fierce advocate for enterprise development as a vehicle to reverse the frontiers of poverty and hunger among her people.

The northernmost Limpopo province in South Africa is the land of the majestic baobab tree. Here a goat stands on hind hoofs, nibbling at the green shoots of Thorn trees. Against this postcard picturesque backdrop is village cattle kicking dust, their tails swinging lazily this way and that way.

But then the reality of children chasing locusts to eat, is a reality which caught the attention of modern day philanthropists, among them Sarah Masunga.

The granny with wizened eyes has personal of plucking at morogo (wild spinach) and brewing morula beer, as a means to push back Thabo Mbeki’s poignant frontier of poverty.

For a period of time the determined Masunga extricated herself from Limpopo’s circle of poverty, to seek wisdom nearer home and beyond.

To paraphrase old time Black Consciousness Movement tongue-in-cheek lingua franca, Masunga is “a downright-been-to”.

Remember those days when some returning exiles boasted about “I been-to” … New York … London … Toronto?

For Masunga, she of the Hluhlurile Pot of Beads skills development project, the been-to was a worthwhile journey.  Born in the Limpopo Hamlet of Mookgophong, her parents relocated to the city of gold, Johannesburg, metaphorically to work in the belly of the earth extracting those wonders of nature.

Close your eyes and remember the late Hugh Masekela’s coal-powered steam train in his iconic song, “Stimela”, chugging through the hinterland.

In 1975 the steam locomotive hauled its passenger carriage back to the platteland, to deliver Masunga into matrimony.

The couple was blessed with three bouncing babies, who they named Masingita (miracles), Nsuku (gold) and Vukosi (wealth).

Unpacking the order of things, the proud mother waxed lyrical: “It’s a miracle to get gold, but gold is wealth.”

Her tapestry of career choices included among others nursing and academia.

But then with a background of grinding poverty, teaching and training others were to be the highlight of an otherwise illustrious career.

This culminated in the founding of the Hihlurile Pot of Gold.

The Limpopo-based project is driving to bring village beadwork Weaver’s and Crafters into the “first economy value chains, such as digital advertising.

Her company profile speaks volumes. The establishment was founded in 1999 by Sarah Masunga herself, who was popular for her craftsmanship in bead making.

According to Masunga, the initiative was aimed at finding an outlet for unemployed villagers to acquire requisite skills to become economically active. 

Among others, the vision of this 100% black-owned giant establishment is to preserve indigenous knowledge systems; impart skills related to the development of arts and crafts, cultural heritage and local traditions through commercialization, marketing, education and training to develop technical and entrepreneurial competence among young and established artists. 

Masunga emphasises that the mission is to create an arts and crafts enterprise which will link the local artists and crafters with the first economy value chains and simultaneously develop technical and entrepreneurial skills in the community, by using outlets and other major tourist destinations, export and e-commerce or digital marketing.

That will also include the facilitation of local artists and craftsmen with an interest in indigenous arts and crafts by providing training, facilities and creating business opportunities. “This organisation is essentially intended to create a community-based enterprise which is aimed at the development of skills; development of micro, small and medium enterprises; market development; and, also create employment for local artists and crafters,” she said matter-of-factly. 

Among the variety of products and services output at Hihlurile are the manufacturing of both handmade/Artistic Beads and Seed/Mechanical Beads.  “By the way, not many people are aware that even though we regards beads as part of our traditions, we still import them from Asia,” she said. “So we pride ourselves for being the first, if not the only, entity in Africa to manufacture Seed/Mechanical Beads in Africa. The Handmade/Artistic Beads tell a story about our culture, and also are instrumental in the preserving our Heritage.” 

After the glass beads were introduced to the Kingdom of Mapungubwe in the eleventh century, the locals then began to produce their own from the gold they mined in the area. Mapungubwe, declared a world heritage site by UNESCO, sits at the confluence point where South Africa, Zimbabwe and Botswana meet – where Shashi river cuts between Botswana and Zimbabwe as it flows into the Limpopo river that divides South Africa from Zimbabwe and Botswana.

Then there is a dynamic Product Development of wares of the Vatsonga traditional bead work, embroidery and traditional clothing; Interior Decoration, Cporporate Gifts, Christmas Decorations and Branding.

Hihlurile Skills Development Programme  is a viable business which aims to develop creative industries to be sustainable and profitable. “The project will undoubtedly help to meet the demand of suppling the rare commodity of beads which will reduce the cost of beads for crafters, who often have to look beyond Africa’s borders for supplies. We are here to service this insatiable appetite.”

Furthermore, the project will also assist in developing entrepreneurs in creative industries and help create the ever elusive jobs for the close knit community of Mookgophong.