13 November, 2016
Our woman who weave
Head weaver Nazeema Solomons sits on the floor in front of the giant loom, cross legged, as she has done for the past 34 years. Her fingers feed the mohair deftly through the strings that make up the warp, and slowly, the complicated geometry of the pattern begins to emerge. Nazeema was born in Green Point in Cape Town, but the family was forced to move to Mannenberg under Apartheid’s notorious Group Areas Act. She has lived there all her life and, with her husband, raised two sons.
“I started at 19”, she explains. It was hard to get a job in those days; there were few choices for women of colour. But at Cape Tapestry Weavers (the forerunner to Coral &Hive) she discovered her unique talent for weaving. For Nazeema “Weaving flows out of you. You put something of yourself into it. Each piece connects…the way everything in life does.”
Nazeema has trained all the staff at Coral & Hive, but her biggest pride is the Arts and Craft work she does over the weekend. Local children, aged from 8 to 19, come to her home to learn skills, including weaving. In an area that is rife with drug abuse, this is meaningful work. “I am happy that I am keeping them busy and off the streets” she says.
Nomtheliso Ngxomi is weaving a complex Navajo style pattern in red and black. She came to Cape Town from Lady Frere in the impoverished Eastern Cape in 1997 to look for a job and survived on domestic piece work until she had the chance to attend a government sponsored training workshop for weavers. She had found her métier. “You read your rug” she says. “I am happy when I am weaving.”
Her husband has passed, and she has three children and four grandchildren, two of whom are twins. The twins live with her in her home in Khayelitsha and it is her earnings that clothe, feed and educate them. She still doesn’t have a brick home and lives in a dwelling built of corrugated iron, which is boiling hot in summer and freezing cold in winter. But she is hopeful and with a gracious smile she says ” I have a job that I love. One day I will have a proper house.”
“There is no beauty in the finest cloth if it makes hunger and unhappiness” Mahatma Gandhi