With the help of two male pottery teachers who guided them and helped to market their products, the all-female team at the bustling Sincede Women’s Project in Mdantsane township, East London, is beginning to shine. Their crafts are on sale at the local art centre, and the bigger retail outlets are now paying attention.

Did you know?

The Mdantsane Art Centre also houses a school for a group of talented pantsula dancers.

When you go on a tour of Mdantsane township outside East London, look out for the Mdantsane Art Centre, where they make a soccer boot that is a vuvuzela trumpet that is also a little teapot.

Simply ideal for the Mad Hatter’s Birthday Party and other eccentric occasions, the Vuvu Boot Pot is the creation of Loyiso Victor Mzileni, one of the guiding lights over at the Sincede Women’s Project.

Mzileni and his friend Gqitani ‘Rasta’ Buyisile are teaching a group of 10 local women the finer points of ceramic sculpture. Mzileni is also the marketing manager for the Sincede Women’s Project, and is in talks with a garden centre (to make pottery frogs) and a church (for their madonna and child figurines).

Nomonde Vanqa, a vibrant woman with a colourful head scarf and a twinkle in her eye, is busy compiling a mosaic from broken pieces of glass. What will it be?

'Well, I truly don’t know,' she replies. 'Something seems to be developing here. Maybe a Christmas tree?'

As part of the Eastern Cape Arts and Crafts Hub, this project was given a substantial financial shot in the arm in 2009. But, says Vanqa, it’s time for them to become self-sustaining.

'I think we in the townships tend to have a victim mentality, and we need to break out of it. We need to take this project further by ourselves.'

Today, Buyisile is at the back of the studio, quietly working on his bust of a rather fierce Xhosa warrior. Around him sit the rest of the women, concentrating deeply on their beadwork.

On the display table, you will see ducks, fairies, and salt and pepper shakers in the forms of elephants, huts and kneeling women. Also Xhosa clay pots and artfully shaped cutlery holders. And ceramic frogs, lots of frogs…

Travel tips & Planning info

Who to contact

Imonti Tours
Velile Ndlumbini
Tel: +27 (83) 487 8975
Email: velile@imontitours.co.za

How to get here

The project is in the Mdantsane Art Centre, in the heart of the township. It's not easy to find it. It's recommended that you employ the services of an accredited tour guide who knows the township.

Best time to visit

It's an all-year destination.

Around the area

Visit the upmarkte Mdantsane City Mall if you want to see evidence of local consumer power in motion. Mdantsane might be called a 'township' but it is in fact a city within a city.

Tours to do

Imonti Tours does a fine job of revealing the vibe and character of Mdantsane and surrounds to visitors.

Get around

You can visit Mdantsane as part of a tour group in a guiding company's vehicle, or you can go in your own car with the guide as passenger.

What will it cost

The guiding fees run from approximately R350 to R450; the crafts on sale vary from object to object, but are not expensive.

Length of stay

Your visit to the project is part of a half-day tour.

What to pack

For township tours, it's advisable to take a day pack along, containing sunscreen, hat and water.

Where to stay

East London is full of good accommodation options. Mdantsane has a number of home stay options − ask your guide to pick out the most suitable one, if you want to stay overnight in this friendly township.

What to eat

Xhosa food rocks! There's umnqusho (samp and beans), mfino (cabbage and spinach chopped fine and mixed with mealie porridge), steamed bread, fried dumplings, butternut mixed with pumpkin, and lamb stew. Bon appetit...

What's happening

If you're hungry or thirsty, ask your guide to take you to a shebeen in Mdantsane, for a bit of local colour and sustenance.

Best buys

The crafts on sale at Sincede (they do lovely mosaic mirrors too). Just ask the ladies to wrap the ceramics very carefully, so they arrive home safely with you.

Related articles