By Busani Bafana
LUPANE, Zimbabwe, Jun 3 2015 (IPS) – Seventy-seven-year-old Grace Ngwenya has an eye for detail. You will never catch her squinting as she effortlessly weaves ilala palm fronds into beautiful baskets.
Her actions are swift and methodical as she twirls, straightens and tugs the long strands into a fine stitch. Periodically she pauses to dip the last three fingers of her right hand into a shallow tin of water that sits beside her, to wet the fibres and make them pliable.
Slowly, under the deft motion of her hands, a basket takes shape. She insists on attention to “detail, neatness and creativity.” Once she has decided on the shape and colour of her product, she will work for seven days straight to complete the task.
“Working together as women has united us, and strengthened our community spirit.”
— Lisina Moyo, a member of the Lupane Women’s Centre (LWC)
When she’s done, the basket will be inspected for quality, carefully packed up, and shipped off to its buyer who could be anywhere in the world from Germany to the United States. Her efforts earn her about 50 dollars a month – a small fortune in a place where women once counted it a blessing to earn even a few dollars in the course of several weeks.
Ngwenya lives in Shabula village in Ward 15 of Zimbabwe’s arid Lupane District, located in the Matabeleland North Province that occupies the western-most region of the country, 170 km from the nearest city of Bulawayo.
Home to about 90,000 people, this area is prone to droughts and has a harsh history of hunger.
Today, rural women are putting Lupane District on the map with an innovative basket-weaving enterprise that is earning them a decent wage, preserving an indigenous skill and enabling them to erect a barrier against extreme weather events by investing the profits of their creativity into sustainable farming.