08 February 2012 by Dianne Tipping-Woods

In search of Venda pots

A trip looking for pots ends up in so much more – being welcomed into and finding our more about a community.

In what was a typical experience from the time I recently spent in Venda, I went in search of 1 thing and found more than I expected.

In this instance, I was looking for pots. Venda pots are famous around South Africa. Made from clay, they are marked with angular designs in luvhundi (red ochre soil) and phomo (graphite). They are both decorative and functional, although today they are used mainly on ceremonial occasions, having been replaced by plastic, glass and tin in day-today use for meals, washing and water collection (there are many villages in Limpopo without running water). They range from very small, cup-like sizes to very tall ornamental pots.

You can buy these pots all over the country at markets and craft stalls. Most will have started their life in Venda and been transported by bakkie to far away cities and towns, the money earned selling them eventually finding its way back into this area in the northern-most reaches of Limpopo province. Good specimens are coveted and good potters are respected artists.

After spending the night at the community-run campsite near Gundani Village, it was an early morning start to find Rebecca Matibe, the grande dame of Venda pottery. The area is prosperous and dotted with fruit trees. Traditional rondavels (huts) and modern houses stand side-by-side – a reflection of the money that is being put back into the area, although it’s predominantly earned elsewhere in the country by migrant workers who return home over the holidays and on weekends from the economic centres of Polokwane and Johannesburg.

She leaves the pottery for a few months each year because she needs to plough her fields, and it’s ploughing season.

We find Rebecca’s house – a silver Mercedes parked under a mango tree, chickens in the yard and pottery figurines at the gate – but no Rebecca. The homestead was deserted. There was activity next door, though, and on asking, 22-year old Ipfani Matibe, explained that Rebecca was not at home. She leaves the pottery for a few months each year because she needs to plough her fields, and it’s ploughing season. Ipfani shows us Rebecca’s pots though. They are beautiful.

Ipfani helps Rebecca, but is studying IT and computer science in Thohoyandou. She explains the activity next door – a party is being prepared, because Ipfani’s cousin, Vhuhwavho, got 7 distinctions at matric. 'In fact, she had the 3rd best results out of 137 000 students in Limpopo province,' says Ifani.

We are invited next door to meet Vhuhwavho (meaning God’s Love and Grace). Her school is in Tengwe, 15km from the house. She’s modest: 'My results don’t mean I am there, but it means the doors are open for me,' she explains. She is now going to study to become an actuary at Wits. 'My family is very proud,' she smiles. 'They have done a lot for me and when I went to school I felt I went to school for my whole family and not just for myself.'

With 97% for science and 90% for maths and accounting (compared to the national averages in these disciplines) this is 1 smart young woman. Her father Khorommbi Matibe explains that 'there is a culture of learning and teaching in Venda'. He has just returned from the butcher, where he has taken a goat to be slaughtered. The women are preparing traditional dishes of pap and morogo for the feast.

We spend about an hour taking with her aunt, her mother, her sister and her father, who has hired a motivational speaker for the party, at which the whole village is expected. We are invited to the party too, but have to move on. I give Rebecca’s house a coveted last look. There are beautiful pots in Venda. But that’s not all.

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