In Makholokoeng village you will find women busy with traditional beadwork, knitting and other crafts. They are members of a women’s empowerment project known as Tsa Lapeng Crafts.

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Most of the women of Tsa Lapeng Crafts do not have electricity in their homes, and work by paraffin lamps and candlelight in the evenings.

Tsa Lapeng Crafts in the Free State speaks to the power of traditional beadwork, knitting and other crafts – over 20 women make a living from this women’s empowerment project near Harrismith.

From exquisite 100% cotton jerseys to playful crocheted brooches, hats and bags, all the products are individually made by the women and marketed in Harrismith, which is a town that attracts tourists as it is situated halfway between Johannesburg and Durban on a national highway.

The project started in 2008 when Harrismith resident Rheola van den Bosch, who has a crafts shop called Rheola’s, launched Tsa Lapeng. 'I wanted to make a difference to the women’s lives,' she says.

She had heard the women could knit because a carpet factory had donated yarn and they had been making items from of this. So Van den Bosch visited Makholokoeng to see if there were women who would like to establish a crafts project, and 28 women responded.

And they have never looked back. In addition to knitting and crocheting, they have done courses in traditional beadwork, costume jewellery, sewing and business management.

While some of the women now work from Rheola's shop, most work from their homes in their rural village, with its combination of traditional mud dwellings and government houses. Each of the women has a plot where some have a few cows, sheep and chickens and Tsa Lapeng has also started a vegetable tunnel.

'We meet in an old cattle shed that has been converted into a church,' says Van den Bosch, who adds that the women have taught her a lot about life. 'Spending time with them is a humbling experience.

'They don’t have electricity and they have to fetch water in drums on wheelbarrows from communal taps. The oldest of the women in the group is 76 and she, too, does all her daily chores in addition to the crafts.'

For those interested, Van den Bosch is able to organise a trip to Makholokoeng to visit these women.

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