Crafters in Mpumalanga and KwaZulu-Natal provinces are using alien wood to create high-quality home décor items – and ease the burden of invasive trees on South Africa’s natural environment.
The Khumbulani Craft initiative, a non-profit company established in 1999, has about 400 crafters on its books.
Building on the meaning of the organisation’s name (khumbulani is isiXhosa, meaning “to remember”), these skilled workers use their knowledge of traditional crafting to earn an income for themselves and their families.
In so doing they ensure that ancient art forms and techniques will be passed down and remembered by future generations.
Crafters are also trained in basic business skills, which help them to run their businesses more efficiently, and are educated in care of the environment.
The group recently broke into mainstream retail when Wetherlys, an upmarket seller of furniture and accessories for the home, launched a new collection which includes items from the Khumbulani range. Each piece is individually made and is entirely unique.
Exotic woods decorate the home
Because most of the crafters live in the far rural areas where transport is often unreliable, Khumbulani’s own field traders take the orders and necessary raw materials to them, and later bring the finished goods to the organisation’s Johannesburg offices for cataloguing, packaging and distribution.
Products available include items made from volcanic stone found in the North West province; Ilala palm products; beaded products; home textiles; and Christmas decorations.
The wood collection includes head rests; spoons and servers; stools; and handmade laundry baskets. They are created from indigenous and exotic tree species such as jacaranda.
According to Mandla Nkoana, Khumbulani’s Mpumalanga field manager, jacaranda wood is currently popular in the décor industry.
This, he said in a statement, is because it is easy to work with, has a light, pleasing colour and a fine grain, and dries relatively quickly. The fact that it’s an exotic species is even more advantageous.
Helping the environment and alleviating poverty
The crafters get their jacaranda wood from Trans African Concessions (Trac), a company that develops, maintains, and rehabilitates the N4 highway between Pretoria, Komatipoort in Mpumalanga and Maputo in Mozambique. This route is known as the Maputo Corridor.
Khumbulani struck a deal with Trac whereby jacaranda trees that were harvested as part of the company’s environmental management strategy, were donated to the crafters to help them fulfil the sizeable Wetherlys order.
"We are grateful to Trac for donating the wood because it fits in well with our vision of producing environment-friendly crafts,” said Nkoana.
“And we are grateful to Wetherlys for placing one of the largest retail orders that Khumbulani Craft has acquired to date.”
For indigenous trees, Khumbulani runs a tree-planting programme which aims to restock indigenous trees used by the wood carvers. This also applies to other indigenous species such as Ncema grass, used to make traditional Zulu baskets.