Deep in the heart of the country is the rolling sand dunes of the Kalahari Desert, a home to Basarwa who make a living from craftwork, ostrich eggshell jewellery and animal skin products.
Through the establishment of Gantsi Craft three decades ago, 800 craft producers in 16 communities spread across the Kgalagadi District are at work making crafts to make ends meet.
“Our products are special and we have taught our people not to sell them out of desperation. They know each piece they make is valuable. This is our culture. Our clients are all over the worldwide. They place and pay for the orders online, before we dispatch them,” said Mmamaswe Kikonyane, the Field Coordinator of Gantsi Craft.
“Gantsi craft is a non-profit organization whose sole purpose is to assist and empower Basarwa, to make these crafts throughout the year. So it is a form of employment while at the same time promoting our culture,” explained the 33-year-old Mmamaswe.
Of the 800 craftspeople, 85 percent are women while the rest are men.
“We provide them with all the raw materials at no cost and training on quality assurance of the products. We buy the ostrich eggshells from Talana Farms and goat skins from butcheries,” she said and continued;
“To bring out the different shades or colour of the eggshell, we fry them in hot oil. In the olden days, my people used springbok or gemsbok skins, but due to hunting restrictions we have improvised with goat skins.”
The Field Coordinator, who is also a proud Mosarwa, said she had the skill passed on to her by her mother at the tender age of five.
“The little ones start learning the trade by breaking, drilling, cutting and polishing eggshell. And some manage to make at least P50 for themselves. We have always asked the parents not to disturb their children’s studies.”
After supplying them with the necessary materials and training, each month Gantsi Craft personnel drive to each settlement dotted in the district collecting and paying for the precious jewellery.
“Our master producer is 95-years-old. She has been working with Gantsi craft since it started. The youngest is 10-years-old. The fastest producers make more than 25 pieces per month, earning over P1800,” she said.
“Most people perceive the san as very backward and lowly in social standing. But here I am, one of them travelling the country and the world promoting our culture,” revealed Mmamaswe.
To keep up with changing fashion trends, the producers through the help of Gantsi Craft, infuse their craftsmanship with works from other cultures.
“Now we are combining eggshells with glass, or with precious stones though not diamonds. I intend to exhibit our stuff at the Indaba in South Africa. This will also be an opportunity for us to exchange ideas with bead makers down there. Probably we’ll have more ideas of how to enhance our product variety.”
Mmamaswe has complained of challenges, “lack of funds limit us and is a drawback for us to meet demand.”
Despite that much about their way of life has changed, the Basarwa in Botswana are determined to pass on their craft skills to the younger generation.