Beadwork has been currency and language on the African continent for eons. From expressing love to one’s status symbol, to using them as feminine enhancements, in the form of waist beads, it appears you cannot tell Africa’s story without mentioning beads.
The early forms of these usually were bone, shells and seeds to the now colourful, often tightly woven, plastic beads that have entranced the world.
The Ndebele people are one of the groups that have popularised Southern African beadwork. With their distinctive geometric designs and artisans who have garnered the world’s attention, such as Sophie Msoziswa Mahlangu.
Speaking to Mam’ Mahlangu over the phone is a delight. She’s audibly passionate about her work and though there are moments where we miss each other due to the language barrier, the love for her work is easily understood.
Mahlangu is a musician, master bead worker and the winner of the Innibos National Craft Awards 2020 in the Beading Category.
For the competition, Mahlangu entered a pair of beaded bicycles which won over the judges. The inspiration for this art, Mahlangu said, was to be original. She had entered the awards before, but did not win.
“This time I thought about what I could do that I hadn’t done before. Not giving up after I lost worked for me. It shows that you should never give up and to also motivate yourself,” she says.
Mahlangu is based in the village of Gamorwa in Mpumalanga. She lives with her husband, son, daughter-in-law and her grandchildren.
She sells her beaded artworks in her co-op Nomhlekhabo Craft Africa. Her clientele consists of locals who purchase bead works for local ceremonial use and visiting tourists.