“I embrace my heritage through the work I do with my hands”

NOMASONTO KHUMALO was just a little girl when she learnt how to make traditional Zulu attire. She tells Zilungile Mnisi about her childhood memories and how she aims to teach future generations about heritage through her work.

I was born and raised by my mother in a small rural area called Umsinga. We were a big family and I was the eldest of eight children. My father had left us but my mother made sure we were rooted to our Zulu culture. She always tried to teach us about our family history and educated us about our heritage, so that we would never forget where we came from.

When I was a young girl, I used to play with other girls, dress up in traditional Zulu clothing and go to cultural events. One fond memory I have of my childhood as a young Zulu girl is the first time I went to the reed dance. We young girls paraded through the village, dressed in our cultural attire, proud to be young maidens. I could see the happiness in my mother’s eyes as they bid us farewell.

We were not the richest family but the love we received from our mother was enough for us. My mother had to struggle to provide for us. Occasionally, my grandmother would also lend a hand; after all it takes a village to raise a child. When my grandmother was around, she would make us all gather around the fire in the evenings and she would tell us stories – inganekwane. There came a point where we could tell our own fairytales and when we gathered, she would listen to our stories too.

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My mother made ends meet by sewing traditional clothes and that is how I acquired the skill that I still practice today. Initially, I would sit and observe her and as time went by I started aligning beads in certain patterns. It didn’t take long until I made my own bracelet and I knew I would be of great help if I continued helping out.

Today, I own a shop at Victoria Street Market and it is where I show off my talents and embrace my heritage though the work that I do with my hands. Making traditional attire keeps me rooted to my culture. I know that I am contributing to teaching coming generations about Zulu culture, just as my mother taught me. It is not only about making money, but being a proud Zulu woman who expresses herself as she makes other people beautiful in traditional attire.

– As told to Zilungile Mnisi