Meet Mnyamezeli Mmhkzana, known by many as Edward. His name means perseverance, which is fitting as he has spent the most time at the Stellenbosch 360 Centre of Entrepreneurship’s Craft Incubation programme. Originally from the Eastern Cape, Edward had no opportunity for formal education. His father, however, took him under his wings and taught him to make grass hats, doormats and baskets during his childhood years. He always liked working with his hands. As he grew up, he used his skills to move from job to job, trying to make ends meet, but decided to, at the age of 24, settle in Kayamandi, an informal settlement outside Stellenbosch
I met Edward behind a table full of acorns and beads. When I inquired about what he was doing, his face lit up and he started telling me about his handiwork. Edward attended a course organised by Stellenbosch 360 to develop his artistic and entrepreneurial skills. Excited about what he learned, he wanted to start as soon as possible. But the initial thrill of learning something new soon disappeared after he realised that he had no money to apply the skills he acquired. While sitting under an Oak tree, he shared his problem with Anna Kruger, the owner of the IThemba Curious shop and director of the craft incubator at the Centre of Entrepreneurship.
When she suggested using small acorns as the basic ingredient in his art, he was sceptic. “Acorns are very difficult to work with. I had to find something sharp to make small holes in the acorns and I didn’t think it would work,” said Edward. Nevertheless, he decided to pursue the idea. He sharpened a piece of metal that he picked up next to the road, and started working the acorns.“ In the beginning I didn’t know what I was doing, so my hands bled a lot. It was not as easy as it looked, but Moses, a fellow crafter , patiently helped me when I became discouraged. After a while it became easier.”
The end result is impressive. For only R30 you can choose from a selection of bracelets, earrings and necklaces made out of real acorns. The acorns look like brown beads
by Mouton Photography
Kruger gives guidance in the colour of beads that are added to make it more fashionable, “I love these products because it is uniquely Stellenbosch. Tourists look at it and are amazed at what beauty can come out of an acorn. We help our crafters to be detail- and quality orientated.” But for Kruger the true reward comes from the change she sees in the crafters, ”Edward was initially very withdrawn. He had lost self-assurance in his artistic ability,but through this process, he has gained confidence again. As a result, he has even discovered that he enjoys drawing . We are also selling his Proteas which he makes out of recycled coke cans.”
When I asked Edward why people should buy his products, he beamed, “Because it’s beautiful.”
If you want to meet Edward or buy some of his products, visit Ithemba, the crafts and arts shop at the Stellenbosch 360 office on 36 Market street.