Arty Crafts of South Africa
The vibrant variety of cultural groups living in South Africa, and its rich artistic heritage, means that there are countless opportunities for visitors to purchase a wide range of traditional handicrafts. Almost everywhere you go there will be artists selling their wares and by purchasing authentic souvenirs, you can not only take home an attractive keepsake, but also promote local economies and provide these entrepreneurs with a sustainable income.
All of the major cities including Cape Town, Johannesburg, Pretoria, Durban and Port Elizabeth have huge markets dedicated to selling local arts and crafts, and it’s often here that you can pick up the most unique crafts at the best price. Smaller towns also have some charming markets, some of which are permanent, while others run monthly, or during peak tourist season. Bargaining is acceptable in some markets, but realise that you are supporting the livelihood of local vendors.
Crafty Cape Town
Cape Town is cosmopolitan, arty and the perfect place to pick up a unique souvenir. The ‘Mother City’ is home to a brilliant variety of craft markets, which sell good quality, authentically South African pieces at ideal prices.
The cobble-stoned Greenmarket Square in Cape Town’s centre is a lively craft market, selling African carvings, masks and drums, beadwork, jewellery, clothing, leather work and ceramics. You’ll definitely be able to find something as a personal souvenir, or as a gift to take home to someone special. The Red Shed Craft Workshop, and the Waterfront Craft Market are both indoor markets situated at the V&A Waterfront, and are open seven days a week, selling clothing, jewellery, and other fine crafts. For a vibrant flea market experience, head to Greenpoint Market on Sundays, where you can purchase a wide variety of crafts, including African art and beads. Weekends are the time for craft markets across Cape Town, and Hout Bay, Constantia, Kirstenbosch and Rondesbosch hold regular craft fairs.
If you’re in KwaZulu Natal, visiting the spectacular Drakensberg or the region’s gorgeous beaches, you have to pick up some of the beautiful traditional Zulu handicrafts that originate in this area. Although highly decorative and colourful, Zulu beadwork is not just attractive jewellery, but also has an important symbolic significance in Zulu culture.
Traditional Zulu clothing and beads used to be worn throughout the year, but now are normally worn only on ceremonial occasions. Beads are intricately woven into the history of Zulu people, as they were used for traditional finery since they first became available through trading, mainly from India. These glass beads were highly valued in South Africa, because the science of glass-making was as yet unknown in the country. Beads therefore became precious, and were crafted into adornments to be worn for traditional customs, or as a sign of social status.
Certain messages are sent through the specific colours and design of a beadwork item, and this means that the stunning creations you may buy in a craft shop or market might have a wonderful deeper meaning. The language of Zulu beadwork is based around the shape of the triangle, and seven basic colours. The three corners of the triangle represent father, mother and child. So a triangle pointing down represents an unmarried woman, and pointing up it represents an unmarried man. Two triangles joined at their base are for a married woman, and two triangles joined at their points in an hourglass shape stand for a married man.
The vivid colours of Zulu beadwork also express particular ideas, both positive and negative. Black, for instance, stands for both marriage and sorrow, while green means both illness and contentment.
You can buy amazing Zulu crafts, including jewellery and dcor items, at markets and curio shops all over KwaZulu Natal, or for a really authentic experience, visit a Traditional Village like Dumazulu in Hluhluwe, where Zulu residents demonstrate the skilful processes of basket-weaving, spear and shield making, pot-making and beadwork.
Swaziland, the tiny but culturally rich nation within South Africa’s borders, is renowned, along with its fantastic wildlife, for its wonderful art and craft shops and markets. Wooden sculpture, soapstone carvings, glassware, mohair, tapestries, pottery and clothing are among the beautifully-made crafts that can be purchased in Swaziland. The really traditional Swazi craft is grass weaving, and expertly-woven mats and baskets are attractive and useful items that are sold everywhere in the country. One type of basket is so closely and skilfully woven it can even store liquids.
Roadside markets are especially great places to stop off on a road trip to the lively capital, Mbabane, as you can purchase some traditional crafts at bargain prices and also meet the friendly Swazi people.
A piece of Africa
Crafts in South Africa are more than just souvenirs of a region. They reflect the country’s rich cultures, and whether you’re taking home a quirky wire creation, a beaded masterpiece, or a gorgeous woven basket, you’ll always have something unique to remind you of your wonderful trip to South Africa.