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The beauty of doing good

by | Mar 13, 2020

Beauty is an idea, a feeling, an abstraction that means something different to everyone. It is the subject of an age-old debate.  Two weeks ago, South Africa took the conversation into a very specific direction. The purpose of the Design Indaba’s Most Beautiful Object in South Africa award, according to the Design Indaba, is to spark creative connection and debate, and “be relevant and brave and to champion beauty’s potential”.

Nominated alongside exquisite objects including a raffia schnauzer by Chommies, Thebe Magugu’s powerful fashion installation and a plaster sculpture by William Kentridge, was an unassuming, delicate piece of jewellery. It was this that the public voted as the most beautiful object in South Africa at the 25th annual Design Indaba in Cape Town.

Visual artist and activist, Blessing Ngobeni, who nominated the piece for this year’s competition, says that the bracelet encompasses everything beauty will symbolise in the future. He says, “I like the idea of giving back and helping those who are in need of skills… that’s what made me nominate this… “

The Delicate Bracelet is made of corrugated iron sheeting, a piece of material with which South Africans are very familiar. Blessing says, “The material got me thinking about the meaning of beauty, and how art should be honest and truthful. I like the fact that this piece has been handmade from recycled material.”

The bracelet is made at Izandla Zethu, a social enterprise which creates employment in Port Elizabeth. Inspired by the Masifunde Learner Development NGO in Walmer township, German-based, sustainable goldsmith, Michaela Roemer founded Izandla Zethu project over a year ago. 

“Since our little workshop is in the middle of Walmer township, we thought about which materials we could use… and opened our eyes. We shape and work with old, corroded, corrugated iron sheets that residents in Walmer used to build their homes and we turn these into wonderful pieces of jewellery,” says Michaela. The jewellery is packed in materials that are made from recycled materials or are carbon dioxide-neutral.

The project “gives young people the opportunity to learn crafting skills and to make their own living,” says Michaela. She believes that “sharing skills is the most sustainable way to give”. The organisation identified four young people to train the first year.  Except for Luvuyo Pongolo, the team changes every year. Luvuyo now manages the on-site trainings. “From the first group, we connected three participants to a Port Elizabeth college where they are learning to become goldsmiths. From the second group, one young woman got a place to study jewellery design. This really makes us happy…”

Michaela purchased equipment and trained Luvuyo to pass on knowledge to out-of-school youth. In addition to transferring knowledge within this non-profit project, the goal is to turn it into a ‘for purpose’ project. Michaela says, “Ideally, we would like to earn enough money from selling the jewels to finance the whole project”. 

“The object is to inspire young people to open their eyes to existing opportunities in their immediate environment, and use their skills to help combat youth unemployment,” says Blessing.

The turn of the decade has brought with it a reinvention of ideas including that of beauty. It’s no longer only about the final product, but the beauty of the processes and systems used to realise the final product. This year’s MBOISA is proof that beauty now factors in environmental and social responsibility. 

Images: Supplied 

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