The Mapula Embroidery Project

The political, social and economic forces that left the Winterveld area under-developed and many residents vulnerable, led to the founding of the Mapula Project in 1991. The three-decade-old project, which since 2016 has fallen under the independent Mapula Trust, was initiated as an economic empowerment initiative for women. The Sisters of Mercy have, since 2001, provided a creative space at the DWT Nthathe Community Learning Centre in Winterveld, where the Mapula women gather to work on the embroideries, sew, participate in workshops and attend meetings. Most of the embroidery is, however, done in the embroidery artists’ homes and then handed in to one of three co-ordinators who arrange for the sewing of final products and delivery of items to the marketing team.

The signature Mapula story cloths, which depict life through the eyes of the Mapula women, are sold from stock or can be commissioned. Some hang in museums and private collections around the world and the Mapula Embroidery Project is recognised as one of the most important community art projects in South Africa, assisting more than 150 participating women to develop artistic and life skills and create works for sale.  

While the pandemic may have stopped tours and sales, dealing a heavy blow to the project and the embroiderers, it is another story in the Mapula history that has been told through art. An online exhibition of a series of commemorative embroidered panels depicting the trials of 2020 can be viewed at The Mapula Embroidery Project also plans to launch its own online shop in October 2021.

It is through drawing and embroidery that the Mapula women capture their stories of hope, survival and thriving. 

One of the totem designers, Elizabeth Malete, joined the Mapula Embroidery Project in 2000, after witnessing Rosina Maepa, one of the totem co-ordinators, embroider black cloth, creating beautiful images that Elizabeth hugely admired. “I taught myself to draw by observing in the classroom and practising a lot,” says Elizabeth. She drew some of the images for this totem, and was also part of the embroidery team.

Designer and embroiderer Kelelo Maepa says she’s been drawing and doing embroidery since she was a child, learning from her mother who has been part of the project since inception. “I started by drawing elephants and other animals and the botanicals I saw around me,” she says. Kelelo was part of the drawing team that illustrated the stories you’ll see on this totem – from minibus taxi passengers and women carrying firewood, to the huts, plants and birds that form part of these makers’ everyday lives.
This totem was proudly made by:

Project coordinators
Bertha Rengane
Pinky Resenga
Rosina Maepa

Dorah Hlongwane
Elizabeth Malete
Kelelo Maepa
Maria RenganeEmbroiderers
Agnes Monyane
Amakelani Mnisi
Anna Machebele
Bertha Rengane
Elizabeth Mabiya 
Elizabeth Malete
Elizabeth Mathebula
Elizabeth Nyakale 
Ephita Boloyi
Esther Bengu
Evelyn Rapodile
Francinah Maiketso
Glory Mnisi
Innocent Maredi
Jennifer Makamo 
Joyce Baloyi
Joyce Rengane
Lydia Mathebula
Mavis Skhosana 
Martha Phalatsi
Marriam Baloyi 
Peggy Resenga 
Rosina Maepa 
Semantha Rengane 
Savannah Chauke
Selina Bapela
Selina Ngobeni
Stella Mnisi
Tebogo Utla
Thandi Sondlo
Virginia Ndlovu

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