I have had the privilege of being provided with beautifully handcrafted cloths, intricately decorated with beads and safety pins to sell to guests. Through a guest staying here at the guest house I met up again with Mbhanyele Jameson Maluleke, whom I had first met whilst I was still at Wits. Mbhanyele Jameson runs a group project in the north-eastern province of Limpopo, of women who make minceka or decorated cloths.
The Nceka (sing.) is a cloth worn over the upper body by Tsonga-Shangane women of the north-eastern provinces of Limpopo and Mpumalanga . Two minceka (pl) are often worn together, each cloth taken under one arm and tied on the opposite shoulder. Traditionally the minceka fall from the shoulders over a xilebani – a voluminous layered skirt made of pieces of fabric or wool, folded over to increase the bulk. The minceka do not have to match; in fact central to this contemporary Tsonga-Shangane aesthetic is the combination of exuberantly bright colours as well as the emphasis on bulk and mass. Sometimes multi-coloured beach towels worn around the waist and over the top of the hips enhance the kaleidoscopic vibrancy and the solidity and mass of the wearer’s waist and hips.
Commercially bought minceka have patterns printed on the fabric. Details are often added to this patterned fabric in the form of beads and embroidery by the wearers . However these more intricate hand-worked minceka are not usually worn every day but are kept for special occasions, while the even more elaborate minceka, with pins,mirrors, bells and chains have tended since the 1980s, to be made for sale to the commercial market.
The minceka shown here are all made by the Chivurika Project based in Giyani in Limpopo. The project run by Mbhanyele Jameson and Joyce Maluleke has about 25 women who work in the group and make their own designs and develop their stories on the cloths. For example the nceka with the large man and the snake images shows a man with a knobkerrie (a wooden stick for defence). He ‘was travelling through the night (represented by the stars ) [the stars are made of small gold safety pins attached in a delicate cross pattern], when he suddenly came face to face with a snake. He geared himself for the attack, but at the same time he was concerned that he might be bitten by the snake – thus loosing a chance to watch the 2010 World Soccer Match’. (Artist to Mbhanyele Jameson Maluleke 2009). The anxiety about missing the Soccer World Cup indicates the importance of this event for fans and general public alike.