Essay competition: Hanslo's beady dolls win

30 September 2002
THIRD-YEAR Industrial Sociology student Amy-Lara Hanslo has won the prize for the best essay in the course Democracy, Restructuring and Industrial Relations. The essay title given to students was "A Sustainable Development Employment Creating Project in South Africa". The Van Schaik bookshop in Rondebosch sponsored the prize.

With the advent of the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) in Johannesburg, lecturer Professor Johann Maree thought it would be opportune to get his students on the course to investigate the subject from the topical angle of job creation, choosing an essay as the vehicle.

Hanslo's winning effort describes the success of Monkeybiz, a Cape Town-based ceramics company started by local ceramicists Shirley Fintz and Barbara Jackson after the duo had seen beaded dolls at the Grahamstown festival. “With the help of Mataphelo Naka (who was working with them at their studios at the time), Fintz and Jackson were able to commission several ladies from the rural communities of Khayelitsha and Macassar to assist in creating dolls and other beaded crafts that have soared in popularity and even broken out into the international market,” Hanslo wrote.

“Beadwork is a skill that many black women have come to learn through tribal tradition. The creations are beaded by women who have great historical experience in the craft. The business is currently employing over 200 women who are from rural, disadvantaged communities. News of the success has attracted a further 200 women onto a waiting list. Monkeybiz is not only a place for expressing oneself through art, it is also an empowerment mechanism that creates opportunities of employment for women who are struggling to survive.

“The project is such that women work from home, thus allowing for no transport costs, and the added benefit of being able to care for their children, etc. The dolls are unique and thus individually priced according to the detail of the beadwork.” Hanslo adds that the women are not economically exploited in that they receive a fair share of the profit for each of the dolls that is sold.

“The business is small. The entrepreneurs responsible wish to keep it that way so as not to commercialise a product that has its roots in rich cultural heritage. As for the women, it allows them not only to play an important role of mother and caregiver, but simultaneously it also allows for women to be empowered by creating job opportunities for them, and with experience and the correct guidance, the potential for advancement is great.”

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