A women’s enterprise emerges in the new South Africa
The weavers are a small group of Mapulaneng Sotho and Shangaan women (Mapu + Sha = Mapusha) from the village of Rooiboklaagte, in Acornhoek. The group came together in the early 1970s, with the help of the mission, as a way for unemployed women in the village to learn a craft and earn money to support their families. Originally, the mission had sent two young women to a successful weaving studio to be trained in the crafts of weaving, sewing, spinning, and dyeing. Two years later, when the two returned to Rooiboklaagte, the studio was built, looms constructed, and other women were trained in these crafts.
At its peak, the cooperative successfully employed 26 women who created bible scene tapestries for sale in Germany. When Spanish priests replaced the German priests in 1991, more energy was devoted to building churches than to supporting self-help projects. For nearly a decade, the weavers struggled on their own, with their numbers dwindling along with the cooperative’s ability to pay salaries. In 2002, only six women came daily to the studio. From there, they walked five kilometers to a paved road, carrying heavy rugs on their heads, where they sat throughout the day, hoping to make a sale.
The coop has had highs and lows but they have been weaving and spinning and sewing together for 40 years. Last year a generous donation brought them a new studio on the grounds of the New Dawn Center. Their beautiful new studio is surrounded by gardens thanks to a new borehole and the New Dawn Center functions as a community hub with the Katlego creche, the Seeds of Light art center and the Mapusha studio. They are among the top weavers in the country and one of the very longest coop’s. A new generation of weavers came on board through an apprentice program in 2003.