Making a living gainst all odds

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“All that you have shall one day be given. Therefore give now, that the season of giving may be yours and not your inheritors.”

Kahlil Gibran

It’s one thing to read and write about women and entrepreneurship, citing statistics and trends; interacting and listening to the stories from the women behind the numbers is another thing altogether.

Coordinating the ILO Business Week women’s exhibitions at the Pioneer Mall this week brought me into contact with amazing women who are making a living against all odds.

Here is a woman who didn’t make it into The Africa Report’s Top 50 Women Changing Africa and is not likely to anytime soon.

’Manthati Flory Mompe who turned 74 years on August 8 turned up at the exhibition venue on Monday with her grass wares in tow.

She had come all the way from HaMakhalanyane which is along the route to Roma.

Her name was not on the list submitted by the various women’s associations but she had heard about this exhibition from one Ntate and she decided to come.

We welcomed her with open arms and in chatting to her and observing her this week; it made me reflect on some of the issues affecting traders such as her.

Skills

Theirs is a special skill which is passed down from generation to generation and is not part of mainstream education.

Her maternal grandmother, who also used to make clay pots, taught Nkhono Mompe how to weave using the special grass and she has been doing this since the 1950’s.  It seems there is not a minute to waste for this seasoned weaver.

While the other women exhibitors are laughing and chatting, Nkhono’s hands are always busy, producing her next piece.

Family responsibilities

Although she raised five children, only one is alive now, the other four having succumbed to HIV/Aids.

Nkhono Mompe looks after two grandchildren, one of whom is still attending school and the other, a 16-year-old has just given birth.

“I don’t think the baby will live long, it is very weak,” she explains.

She is responsible for the boarding school fees of the younger granddaughter.

At 74 years she has to walk long distances and use public transport but this doesn’t stop her from coming into town almost every day to sell her wares from outside the burnt Basotho Shield.

Access to markets

“Things were better in the old days,” she laments. “People used to buy then.”

This has forced her to look further afield for customers and about once a month she crosses the border into South Africa to sell her wares.

On Tuesday, as we were chatting, a young man stopped to enquire about the miniature hats.

He is based in Johannesburg; and wanted about 100 of them.

They exchanged contact details with Nkhono slowly giving out her numbers for the hand set which she confessed to not being able to use.

That is why her granddaughter keeps it but she assures us she will get the messages as we were anxious that she secures this order.

Business was even better for her on Wednesday as she managed to sell all her hats and several other pieces.

She also secured an order for a decorated grass mat for Thursday and indicated that she would leave early that afternoon so that she can buy the inputs and work on the piece overnight.

This made me realise that the demand is there — there just needs to be a system in place that connects the sellers and the buyers such as this exhibition.

But all this hard work is taking its toll on her.

“I am getting tired now and sometimes I feel dizzy”, she says.

I can’t help thinking what the future has in store for Nkhono and her grandchildren when the time comes when she needs to rest and someone to take care of her for a change.

“Be the change that you seek in the world” said Mahatma Gandhi.

You can make a difference in Nkhono’s and the other women’s lives by paying them a visit at the mall the remainder of this week and hopefully something will catch your eye.

afrikarizma@gmail.com

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