To say the baskets made by the Masendu Bhalule Trust, a cooperative in Zimbabwe, are works of art is an understatement. They are a necessary part of village life. It is their usefulness that infuses the baskets with the qualities that fills these woven, utilitarian creations their true beauty.
The baskets, which feature different types of traditional patterns, are produced by the 15,000-member cooperative, comprised both of men and women. “At the moment, I’m the manager of the natural resources at the Trust,” said Sindiso Malebegwa. “It is an honor to be chosen to work in natural resources and to help people generate money by selling baskets, especially since lots of traditional work is now made of recycled material.”
Sindiso says that today more and more baskets are made from discarded plastics and other materials found in nearby bins. This provides a low-cost alternative and an innovative way to creating baskets made from natural fibers, which grow far from where most weavers live. “We now have two ways to create the work that helps put food on the table of people who live at a subsistence level.
For women like Habele Ndlovu, who have little or no education, an organization like Masendu Bhalule Trust helps open the door to new possibilities. Habele was the sixth born in her family, and she's now the mother of eleven children. Habele grew up in poverty. Her mother used to weave baskets for sale in order to buy the family food. Her father managed to buy a cow from the profit he made as a carpenter.
Habele did not attend school because at the time she grew up girls were prohibited, but she used to sneak out to go to night school, which gave her the little education she has today. She couldn’t continue with her schooling after she became pregnant with her first child and married into a poor family. “I had to adopt my mother’s skills of weaving baskets to get something on the table for my own family,” Habele said.
The baskets are woven in a variety of sizes according to their use. For example, the larger baskets are used in the fields for carrying bread to supply food for the workers, as well as for harvesting crops. Medium size baskets are used to carry food to other homes to share for special occasions, while small baskets are used within the home to hold such foods as biscuits, sweets and sugar. As Sindiso Malebegwa explained, “Any homestead without baskets is looked at as not a full homestead."