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Saturday, December 3, 2011

Binga Craft Centre Zimbabwe - African Baskets

In South Africa today, poverty and unemployment levels are high and xenophobic attacks have sparked a new conversation across the continent amonst the media, advocacy groups and other interested parties.  Xenophobia is described by Wikipedia as "an unreasonable fear of foreigners or strangers or of that which is foreign or strange".  In South Africa, Xenophobic attacks have occured mainly in the townships by indigenous South Africans against other indigenous Africans. 

I spent 6 months in South Africa this year and had plenty of time to watch the news, documentaries and television debates on the issue of Xenophobia.  What disappointed me most was the lack of solutions presented by the parties on opposing sides of the issue.  Some South Africans felt their own people were lazy, therefore immigrants from Zimbabwe, Mozambique and other African nations should be allowed to remain while others argued that all foreign owned businesses should be boycotted!!  I couldn't believe what I heard.

If you are wondering how the Binga Craft Centre of Zimbabwe and the issue of Xenophobia are connected, let me explain....  I walked into a Mr Price Home store at Cape Town's prestigious shopping mall (Canal Walk) and there I saw an entire section of laundry baskets and other hand woven basket containers for the home.  They looked vaguely familiar - very much the same quality you would find in a Walmart, or Target or Bed Bath and Beyond store in the USA...  I turned over the label and yes, you guessed it, the woven baskets were all made in China. 

What was wrong with this picture? I'll spell it out.  Right next door in Zimbabwe, Swaziland, Botswana, Lesotho etc... there are thousands upon thousands of unemployed basketweavers barely eeking out a living selling a quality far more superior than what I saw in Mr Price Home.  Why is South Africa importing all the way from China when they could send the business to its neighboring countries?

If South Africa, as an African economic powerhouse, were to create employment on the continent of Africa, the foreigners in their land would follow those opportunities and go home.  It's a common fact that most crafts sold in South Africa are brought in by cross border traders from Zimbabwe, Kenya, Congo, Malawi etc... and many have now settled there to make a living selling their products. 

Binga is located in a remote part of Northern Zimbabwe close to Zambia but it is not impossible to get there.  It is certainly easier than going to China.  Conditions are harsh and most people live below the poverty line, but at the same time, Binga is renown for its hand woven basketry which has found itself on display in top notch New York stores such as Anthropologie.  In fact South Africa sets a bit of a double standard really, because the Binga Baskets I saw on display in Anthropologie were labelled and marketed as a "South African" product and not Zimbabwean.  Not that it matters to me to be honest, I am more concerned about the bigger issues such has crafters being able to earn a living than the country of origin on the label. 

The Marketing Manager of Binga Craft Centre, kindly provided the photos used in this blog.  They are anxious for business and not hand outs. They don't want to relocate to South Africa to find markets for their products but unfortunately that is what is happening today.  I hope this article will motivate us to push for locally produced products regardless of where we live, especially if the raw materials for those products are locally available.