Monkeybiz is an economic upliftment project dedicated to reviving the traditional craft of African beadwork and empowering women to become financially independent. The idea began with a light-bulb moment in 1999. Ceramicists and African art collectors Barbara Jackson and Shirley Fintz showed a small beaded doll to their then part-time student Mathapelo Ngaka-Mtati, asking whether her mother Mme Makatiso Ngaka, a highly skilled bead artist, could make a similar but unique beaded doll. She did, and Monkeybiz was born, with Mathapelo as one of its co-founders.

Since 2000, the non-profit organisation has helped around 300 bead artists become self-supporting. All profits for the sale of artworks go back into the community, and bead artists are provided with year-end bonuses and funeral cover. The artists are compensated for their work as soon as it is delivered and quality-checked – amounts are paid into the bank accounts that Monkeybiz helped them set up, encouraging money management and helping with cash security. 

“The women bead at home and can look after their children while getting on with their other duties,” says Mathapelo, who now acts as Community Director. “They have no transport or raw-material costs as we bring the beads and cotton to them. Beading lifts their spirits; they share in a sense of achievement. Personally, I too feel happy. I’m from a poor family but, at a material level, things are much better now. There’s bread on everyone’s table.” 

Monkeybiz has six full-time staff members, five board members, and 217 active bead artists, the majority of whom live in Khayelitsha.


Bead artist Noloyiso Maphakati says she’s always been creative, and used to play with clay, making mini sculptures of cows and people while growing up in the small Eastern Cape village of Cofimvaba. Now based in Khayelitsha, and having worked with Monkeybiz since it was founded, Noloyiso says the NPO has armed her with communication skills and how to work under pressure. “I love doing beading because you can stay indoors while avoiding the bad news on the streets,” she says, a sentiment shared by many of the Monekybiz artisans living in Khayelitsha. 

Nomzamo Xhontelo, one of the artists who made the beaded dolls on this totem, says she discovered Monkeybiz through someone in her community after relocating from the Eastern Cape due to poor health. “I love my work because I can put food on the table,” she says. “I pay school fees and it really helps us more now that my husband lost his job during Covid.”

“Beading gives me an interest to have, and is the reason why my children and I can bond and be together, which keeps them safe from dangerous things happening outside,” says group leader and bead artist Phumla Mramba, who created beadwork for the totem that depicts her Khayelitsha home from where she works and tends to the vegetables in her small garden. 

The Monkeybiz artists have become specialists at beading particular forms. “My favourite animal is the wild dog because it is a very clever animal,” says Bongeka Dyakalashe. “I love beading because it keeps me busy at home most of the time instead of going out partying.”

This totem was proudly made by: 

Sun and moon Self-portrait dolls Portrait mats Houses Trees Goat and rooster People
Noloyiso Maphakathi  Mantshepiseng Maphaka  Babalwa Mgutsi Nokwaliwa Makhonco Bongeka Dyakalashe Nomalizo Singama Asive Lempuku
Tapiwa Zvanyanya (wire artist) Nokonweba Marebethwane Edith Mafuduka Noma-Over Phetshana Nomthandazo Nyhontso Tapiwa Zvanyanya (wire artist) Bongiwe Gobodo
  Nomzamo Xhontelo  Lucy Lumkwana Nomthunzi Zelanga Nosipho Ndaba   Madinese Lenata
  Princess Jordan Mandisa Phindela Nonzaliseko Mshiywa Sandisile Nqadala   Thandiswa Qabazi
  Tapiwa Zvanyanya (wire artist) Thando Ngalo Phumla Mramba Tapiwa Zvanyanya (wire artist)   Zukiswa Bentshu
    Vuyokazi Khohliso Thobeka Bessie     Tapiwa Zvanyanya (wire artist)
      Tapiwa Zvanyanya (wire artist)      

Project Manager: Barbara Tosalli-Dunlop 
Production Manager: Mathapelo Ngaka-Mtati

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