Mdantsane is a unique, vibrating, eclectic, African place. Follow us on a pilgrimage to Mdantsane to discover the street culture, fashion, food, people, music, homes, taverns, humor, businesses, history and what's hot in the second biggest township in South-Africa, located close to the city of East London in the Province of the Eastern Cape. Join us on this journey while we capture the spirit of this amazing place for you in the here and in the now. We are going to introduce you to many individuals, artists, musicians, groups and associations.
They are the HEROES OF DAILY LIFE. They are the people who create, innovate and improve their life and their stories deserve to be told. This is a place for only good and positive stories of humanity, that will send out a message of courage, endurance and strength to the world through their pictures and words.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

From Plastic Waste to Bath Mats - A Mdantsane Recycling Initiative

We do not need to ask the question: Is there too much waste in Mdantsane? 
Everybody who has been to Mdantsane knows, that waste management and sanitation are the biggest challenges for the township. Two challenges, that have not even reached the stage of coming close to being mastered. 

Let us show you the good pictures first! There are initiatives in Mdantsane, that try to fight the problem. And they are doing it at grass root level.

Yellow and white striped bath mat made from plastic waste

The bath mats of the Sizamile Women's Group are entirely recycled and crocheted from stripes, that have been cut from discarded plastic shopping bags.
The project is still in its baby shoes and encounters the same problems like many other well meant initiatives in the township, starting with product development and design to make products desirable so that they are bought for their value and not out of charity ending with the lack of proper marketing, project management, public relations, accounting and branding skills and techniques.

Entirely recycled and made in Mdantsane - but still a long way to go.

The recycling project was started by the women alone and the idea is remarkable. But to turn it into an income generating "green project"  the women have a long way to go. 

Consumers all over the world are willing to support green businesses and projects, not only to do good but for their own sake as well. In the end the costumer is interested in eating better, healthier food and in being surrounded by cleaner less hazardous products, that have been produced by taking the environment and the beauty of our dear world into consideration. 

Beautiful and unusual - a green product, handmade and recycled

A well designed and developed proper waste management system is based on the willing participation of all stakeholders involved. 
The municipality can clean up only so much. The residents have to do their part.

Mdantsane and its waste management problem
But in a case like Mdantsane we have to consider several factors: the long history of neglect and discrimination, that the township has endured, the complete lack of environmental education in schools in Mdantsane, and last but not least the fact that poverty reduces drastically a person's capacity and energy to get involved in environmental projects because the fight for survival, for food and shelter is the main concern in that person's mind.

Let's rather say Mdantsane has a plastic problem............

We also have to ask the question: what is here defined as waste? In a location like Mdantsane the definition of waste differs most likely from suburban East London. People in well developed and groomed suburbs throw different things away, than people in squatter camps.

The beautiful old proverb says so wisely: what one man considers as junk or waste can well constitute another man's treasure.

Simply falling apart - but not waste

There are structures, where time has taken its toll and they are falling apart. But they can not necessarily be considered waste. Collecting scrap metal is a source of income for many. 

Wilsonia's scrap yards, an industrial area in East London are busiest on Monday mornings. Collectors are standing in long queues to deliver the metal they have collected over the week-end.  

Metal still has a use and monetary value. Collecting it is an income generating activity for many.

Mdantsane, like many other regions and countries suffers from a disease, that is slowly killing Africa's nature and environment - plastic waste. Africa's waste problem is predominantly a plastic waste problem.
Non degradable, wind torn plastic is found everywhere, in streets, in trees, on fences, in animals stomachs and in any other place you can imagine.

The Endaweni Lounge

Even a most successful and hip business like the Endaweni Lounge has waste problems displayed in front of the door of their music lounge. What can be done about it? The owners are aware of it and they are trying to sort out their waste problem by themselves. 
But it takes capital and investment as well, they say. How does one recycle and discard of thousands of glass bottles and cans, guests have been drinking in a couple of days, if only once a week trash is collected by the municipality?
Recycled plastic carpet in burnt orange made by the Sizamile Women's Group

One can argue, that recycling projects like the one of the Sizamile Women's group are only a drop on a hot stone but they are a conscious start to do something about it.

Back side of the recycled carpet

But we can also argue, that for us, who would like to see a change in the cleanliness of our environment this means, that we have to support grass roots recycling projects like Sizamile. Can we say it is our duty to make an effort and buy from them instead from Mr. Price in town. 

A cleaner environment for everyone.... poverty is a great obstacle

If self help initiatives and recycling projects like Sizamile are not supported they "fall into idle". 

Waste in Mdantsane
And once in idle it is difficult to get out again. Out of a sudden a costumer comes and want to order a product and the group or business can not produce it in the time required.

Waste turned into a consumer product

Why? There are numerous reasons. Life itself is one of them. The members of the group can not be found because nobody has given them an order for so long. So why come to the workshop if there are no costumers. It is discouraging! It would be for you too. So you go along with your life and look for other opportunities although you had a great business idea there! There are government grants to keep you alive.

Back side of  a hand crocheted bath mat made by the Sizamile Women's Group
Made from this.....
And frankly you have enough now of all that project and sustainability talk. You have set up an NGO, you have learned what a constitution is but really it did not give you food.

What have they told you: Consumers all over the world are willing to support green businesses and projects, not only to do good but for their own sake as well. In the end the costumer is interested in eating better, healthier food and in being surrounded by cleaner less hazardous products, that have been produced by taking the environment and the beauty of our dear world into consideration.  

How can you make them come to you? To Nu 5 in Mdantsane?

Something beautiful made from waste

And then there is this thing with the symmetry! Costumers like to buy handcrafted products, they love African crafters but it is good if a product has symmetry! Symmetry means the product has to have the same dimensions on each side.
That is another thing that does not come easy!

Waste or not?

Supporting Recycling initiatives is important

A Sizamile Product

Handmade Carpet in earthy colors - rather a piece of art for some

Friday, March 22, 2013

The Special Seven Day Sbunge

In our article " Where the Mdantsane doctors shop", we introduced you to a traditional African pharmacy in the North End of East London. Want to see how it looks like live? Step inside and meet "Ma".

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

The ShweShwe - Pride Of The Eastern Cape

The shweshwe has been around in South Africa for a long time. The shweshwe fabric, locally produced in the Eastern Cape province is something to be proud of. 
Worn proudly by South African women of all color, it is a part of South African culture and heritage. Like many other products, that can be found on the African continent, it arrived there through colonial trade relations, that were established many years back. The shweshwe's character and style has changed over the years under African influence.

ShweShwe - Proudly worn by South African women of all color

Originally the indigo cloth, as it is called as well was a rather traditional type of fabric. The typical use for the fabric was for traditional ceremonies in the rural areas of South Africa, predominantly in the Eastern Cape. 
This ensured a constant demand for the fabric and and assured its survival through the years. In the beginning this product was not affected by the laws and subtle forces of fashion.

Special designs and patterns were created for occasions like birthdays of royalties, marriages and festivals. Similar to the the African Wax, the shweshwe fabric has a story to tell about the one who wears it.

Special designs for special occasions in South Africa - in this picture the pattern shows the traditional hat of Swaziland 
However, the shweshwe has long claimed the catwalks of the international fashion scene. African designers have created exciting and extravagant couture representing the spirit of 21st century South Africa. Today we are looking into the history of this unique fabric

The shweshwe was originally a rather traditional type of fabric

The history of the shweshwe is a very exciting one and it all started with a gift from nature - the indigo plant. Indigofera tinctoria bears the common name True indigo.

Indigoferes tinctoria - the true indigo
The Arab and Phoenician trade knew about the indigo plant as early as 2400 BC. Yes that is amazing! But the indigo cloth arrived in South Africa only after a sea port was established at the Cape of Good Hope in 1652. The slave trade was in full swing. And the indigo cloth left its mark on many segments of the population.
The slaves were dressed in indigo clothes. The women of the Voortrekkers also had their dresses made from this fabric and to some extent the fabric was used by the Khoi-San people as well who inhabited the Cape. Even soldiers wore shirts made from indigo cloth

It all started with a gift from nature - The Indigo Plant

Much of the indigo cloth of that time was shipped from Holland and from India to the Cape of Good Hope. The cloth was either a simple deep blue or it had small sized patterns printed on. 
In some of our museums, the King Williams Town Museum and The Reinet House in Graaff Reinet are two to name here, settler's women dresses are exhibited, that proof that there were already floral patterns in circulation at the time.    

More modern retro orientated pattern were developed only at a later stage on

Then, during the 18th and 19th centuries European Textile manufacturers developed a block and discharge printing style for indigo cotton fabric. In 1962 a German chemist developed a synthetic indigo color.
Indigo dye is an organic compound with a distinctive blue color. Historically, indigo was a natural substance extracted from plants. Blue dyes were once rare and achieved high prices on the market.

Today it is hardly impossible to buy naturally dyed indigo fabric. Nearly all indigo dye produced today — several thousand tons each year — is synthetic. The color resembles the blue of blue jeans.

 In the 18th century discharge printed fabric was manufactured in Czechoslovakia and Hungary by Gustav Deutsch and was exported to the African market. Before the second World War started Gustav Deustch left Germany and set up a factory in Lancashire in the UK. The factory, machinery and the expertise was later purchased by a company called Blue Printers Ltd. in Wigan.
The demand for the indigo cloth had grown so much that at one time there were four companies producing this type of fabric.
The largest of these four created a brand name, that is known nearly by everyone who loves shweshwe in South Africa - THE THREE CATS.

Three Cats has been exporting its fabrics for several decades to South Africa.

The Three Cats, one of South Africa's most famous shweshwe trade labels

SO far so good but how did the indigo cotton came to his South African name shweshwe?

There was once a great African king named Moshoeshoe.
Moshoeshoe was born in what is called to day Lesotho. He was born in 1786 at Menkhoaneng and died in 1870.
Moshoeshoe was the son of Mokhachane, a minor chief of the Bamokoteli sub-clan. During his youth, he was very brave and once organised a cattle raid against Ramonaheng and captured several herds. As was the tradition, he composed a poem praising himself. He said he was "like a razor which has shaved all Ramonaheng's beards", referring to his successful raid.
In Sesotho language, a razor makes a "shoe...shoe..." sound, and after that he was affectionately called Moshoeshoe: "the shaver".

He also referred himself as the person of Kali, thus showed that he was a descendant of the Great Kali or Monaheng who is said to be the ancestor of most Bakoena people in Lesotho with the exception of the senior Bamolibeli.
In his early childhood, he helped his father gain power over some other smaller clans. At the age of 34 Moshoeshoe formed his own clan and became a chief. He and his followers settled at the Butha-Buthe Mountain.

Moshoeshoe - alias Mshweshwe

He was also referred to as Mshweshwe

In the early 1840's Moshoeshoe received from French missionaries a piece of indigo cloth as a gift. The French missionaries had laid the foundation of a long passion of the African people for this type of fabric. This preference for the indigo print prevailed during the entire 19th century until today. 

In the Xhosa language the indigo print was termed Ujamani.

In the 19th century the indigo was available throughout the Eastern Cape as a trade cloth and German settler women also loved to dress themselves in this type of fabric because it resembled the " Blaudruck" (blue print), a fabric that was popular in Germany at the time.   

A beautiful shweshwe panel in yellow and brown color combination

The local production of shweshwe in South Africa started in 1982 when Da Gama textiles, a factory situated at the entrance to Mdantsane received an investment from the UK based company Tootal. The blue print was produce then under the name of The Three Leopards which was the South African version of the three cats. It was then that Tootal introduced also a new range "Toto"and two new colors, brown and red. 

Ten years in 1982 later Da Gama purchased the sole rights to the Three Cats range.

Red was introduce by a UK based company Tootal

Da Gama Textiles still produces the original German print, Shweshwe or Ujamani. at a factory in Zwelitsha in the Eastern Cape.
The production of this fabric is done by feeding the cloth through copper rollers which have patterns and designs etched on the surface, allowing a week acid solution to flow into the fabric, bleaching out the distinctive white designs. 

The shweshwe found other ways of use and made its entrance into the world of design and interior decorating

The shweshwe can be easily identified for its panels and an intricate overall design

The shweshwe has a very distinct smell and pre-wash. The reason for this can be found in its history. During the several weeks long voyage from England to South Africa, starch was used to protect the fabric from the elements and the salt of the sea and gave it the characteristic stiffness it still has today.
When the shweshwe is washed it looses all stiffness and turns into a soft cotton cloth. The colors do wash out with time.

The common trade marks of the shweshwe are today, the three cats, the three leopards and and Toto 6 Star. It is easy to identify if they are authentic and original shweshwe because they are all stamped on the back.

A rich chocolate brown and more pattern than you can think of

And one is more beautiful than the other!
Your choice now!

Friday, March 15, 2013

The Background Of The Relationship Between Mdantsane And Duncan Village

Our magazine writes primarily about the township Mdantsane. 
We are not publishing breaking news, meaning that if a police car is set alight and burns out in Mdantsane, you will NOT find a story about this incident the next day in our magazine. 
It is possible that at a later stage we might write about it, but if we do, we will write about a person who was involved in the incident. We will write about the how and why and what impact did the incident have on the person's life.

We write about the people who live and have lived in the township. Dead or alive. We write about their incredible and sometimes so astonishing lives and homes. We are stories tellers of the old school, who concentrate on the now, by reaching back into the past, in an endeavour to understand the context of what we are seeing with our eyes and our hearts. 
We are trying to find the essence of the place, that you call Mdantsane. 
We belong may be to a dying breed, a species that has come close to extinction, because we love stories about the small things, like the soup that your mother always cooked for you and its recipe that you learned from her and that you have never shared with anyone.

In our continuous attempt to understand more about the background and the history of Mdantsane, we are looking today at the "old relationship between Mdantsane and Duncan Village".
Duncan Village, the "old and first location of East London" in the late 1940's - image Amathole Museum King Williams Town

Duncan Village was established in 1941 and was named after the then Governor of East London Patrick Duncan - image Amathole Museum King Williams Town

It is indeed a very old relationship if 75 years count for something. Duncan village is still today referred to as the "old location of East London" and it is the place from where the first residents were resettled forcefully to live in Mdantsane in NU 1.

Duncan Village was there before Mdantsane. 
Yeah, that is true. Duncan Village was established in 1941. And if this is so, you might ask why in gods name was the place called Duncan Village. Well, because the governors, politicians and statesmen of this turbulent time had a relatively good self confidence and loved to donate their name to the places they "created" under their rule and governance.

Overcrowding in Duncan Village  in the 1940's and a lack of the most basic facilities- image Amathole Museum King Williams Town

In 1941, the then acting Governor General Sir Patrick Duncan oversaw the opening of what was called a "leasehold tenure area" in the East Bank Location to which he gave his name. After a while, the whole East Bank Location became known as Duncan Village 

The streets of  Duncan Village in the late 1940's - image Amathole Museum King Williams Town

Hard to maintain reasonable standards of hygiene - image Amathole Museum King Williams Town
Only 16 years later, in 1957 the first preliminary plans for Mdantsane were made by the East London municipality. The reason for this was, that the old location of Duncan Village was becoming too crowded. The administration of East London had come under pressure and according to municipal records, they were looking for "a magnet to draw away blacks from East London not for work but for dwelling places" [municipal records, Gordon,1980:6]. 

The administration of East :London was looking for "a magnet" to draw people away from Duncan Village to combat overcrowding - image Amathole Museum King Williams Town

We explained in our article "Where does the name Mdantsane come from?" that the word Mdantsane was derived from Umdanzani. In 1958 land from the white farm called Umdanzani, located near the railway line, was released for the purpose of creating a "dormatory township". 
At the end of 1962 a request was made for the first 300 dwellings of Unit 1 to be built close to the site of a new textile factory.and by the end of 1963 the first residents moved in [Gordon, 1980:10].

The whole East Bank area became to be known as Duncan Village - image Amathole Museum King Williams Town

The first inhabitants of Mdantsane came from Duncan Village and were relocated to NU 1 were 300 houses had been built. Mdantsane was born.  Image Amathole Museum King Williams Town

There is a strong relationship between the two townships Mdantsane and Duncan Village today. There is a bond, and there is competition between them. There are family connections that have lived through the years and it is no wonder because Duncan Village is the seed from which Mdantsane was created from. 
You will often hear expressions like: ah my mother lives in Duncan Village, my grandparents are still there, I have a cousin in Duncan Village, I visit my aunt every Saturday in Duncan Village.

Growing up in Duncan Village - an unknown child - image Amathole Museum King Williams Town

Mdantsane came to house the labor needs of East London and its border industries. East London was one of the first to become a border industry area, based on the fact that it was situated in close proximity to both the Transkei and Ciskei.
The concept of a border industry came out of the report of the Tomlinson Commission in 1955 and such an industry was described as "one which is situated within a white area, but close to a homeland -preferably within walking or cycling distance" [Daniel & Waxmonsky, 1980:49]

The location Duncan Village, was called a squatter camp - image Amathole Museum King Williams Town

Today looking at both townships, Duncan Village is considered the poorer and more destitute one. Urban development and urban renewal programs have somehow overlooked the old location Duncan Village. But the strong ties between the two have been uncut.

All images have been sourced from the Amathole Museum in King Williams Town in the Eastern Cape, South Africa. We thank the Museum for allowing us to show these images here.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Oh Dearest Lord Give Me Power - Slam Dunk Poetry Made In Mdantsane

Masindwa Ntsingisela is part of the of the Imonti Arts Company under V.S.T.C.
The talented members of the drama and dance group come from the second biggest township in South Africa, Mdantsane.
Masindwa asks, in his poem "power" for higher guidance to fight the evils on the street around him and to resist the lord of bling.

In his slam dunk poetry he narrates about the streets of Mdantsane and the life around him.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Mutton, Beef Or A Community Chat? More Wall Art In Mdantsane

Mutton or beef - wall Mural in Mdantsane

Want Mutton or Beef? These wall murals in NU 2 apparently give you two options. 
A while ago we have posted an article about the "Art of African Sign Board Painting", that many of our readers have enjoyed. We call it an art. And it is a dying art everywhere else in the world, that is however pretty much alive on the African Continent.
Signboards or advertising boards are nowadays usually printed, laminated, made from resin, metal and created through an industrial process.

In some places in the world, it is a fact, that it is cheaper for a small business owner to paint his own signboard than to have it done through a printing and punlishing company. Art loves traveling through these countries can only sigh at the sight of some pretty amazing art pieces on walls and boards. Probably later they will land in a museum. Hopefully an African one.

Pretty cool - wall art in Mdantsane

So do you want mutton or beef or just a community chat?

"Community Chat Container Of Mobile Cell Company Cell C In Mdantsane NU 2

The mobile cell company has given other companies and competitors in the same sector a hard run for their money lately by offering the by far cheapest rates in South Africa. Most townships have community chat containers where calls can be made from.

Shoprite down the road in Mdantsane

Naive art or just an advertisement?


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