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IIt’s quite a surprise to many visitors to South Africa that you can find fine beadwork, wire-framed animals, carvings, pots and other African crafts – imaginatively made from a variety of materials – for sale on the side of the road. These objects are often good quality, reasonably priced and in most cases, directly benefit the person selling them.
Many creative and innovative South Africans, as well as craftsmen and women from other countries on the continent, have set up shops and stalls along urban and rural roads in South Africa.
These ever-changing and increasingly popular roadside markets attract local and international visitors with a range of goods that include hand-woven hats or baskets, beaded wire sculptures, lampshades, wooden carvings, ceramic sculptures and more.
When you support roadside art sellers, you can simultaneously help someone earn a living, negotiate a good price for great quality work and acquire a memorable piece of African art. While some roadside craft is designed with functionality in mind, like tableware, stools and mats made from local materials, other pieces are designed purely for decorative purposes – African fauna and flora are popular themes, fashioned in beaded wire, intricately carved wood or boldly painted clay.
In typically entrepreneurial fashion, traders often take everyday materials, like multi-coloured telephone wire or tin cans and, use them to make designer baskets or candlestick holders. Plastic bags and bottle tops are reused to make art objects or household accessories like bath mats, door stops or fruit bowls. Not only do objects made from recycled materials make interesting and unique souvenirs, but they also reduce waste.
You will also find that the art and crafts from roadside markets are often cheaper than those sold in airports or at tourism centres, because they are sold directly by the artist or crafter who has made them. You might see them working on their next piece while you look through their product range.
Encounters with these gifted entrepreneurs often lead to interesting and inspiring conversations with people from South Africa and all over the African continent. Quite a number of craftsmen and women who trade on the street in South Africa originate from other African countries and have come to South Africa to use their skills to create a better life.
TTravel tips & Planning info
How to get here
Most tourist areas are also thriving centres for roadside art. If you are on your way to Kruger National Park or exploring Cape Town, you are sure to find some quality roadside art and crafts along the way. Roadside rest stops, where travellers can pull off the highway for a break and to take in the view (like the one at the top of Oliviershoek Pass in the Drakensberg Mountains that presents magnificent vistas of both the neighbouring peaks and the Sterkfontein Dam), have also been discovered by canny local artists and crafters with wares to sell. Many farm stalls on country roads offer local arts and crafts, too.
What will it cost?
Bargaining is common practice at roadside stalls. Remember, though, that the sellers earn their living through their art, so fairness should be the guiding principle when negotiating prices.
Metal windmills, wooden giraffes and colourful beadwork are all firm favourites with visitors.
- StreetNet International