DISCOVER THE WINTERVELD
Just over an hour’s drive northwest from Pretoria lies a stretch of villages that used to be part of the former ‘homeland’ of Bophuthatswana – Winterveld, Hammanskraal and Temba. During apartheid, only people of Tswana descent were technically allowed property-ownership rights by the Bophuthatswana government, but the Winterveld was far more diverse than segregationist laws acknowledged, and Black people of multiple ethnic and linguistic groups owned land here. This multi-ethnicity and language plurality is reflected in the group of local embroidery artists and craftswomen forming the Mapula Embroidery Project that made this totem.
In post-apartheid South Africa, following the 2001 local elections, Winterveld officially became part of the City of Tshwane Metropolitan Municipality, which falls in the province of Gauteng. However, it still remains economically and socially remote from the city and lags behind in development and service delivery.
Among the biggest issues the Winterveld faces, apart from isolation from the urban centre of Pretoria and its surrounds, are high unemployment rates, poor education, inadequate infrastructure, as well as water, sanitation and electricity access issues. While there is some agricultural activity, mostly on a small scale, this rural part of Tshwane is vulnerable to harsh, dry weather patterns, making subsistence farming challenging and food security a constant anxiety. With little economic activity, the retaining of skills and the development of local crafts is vital for survival.
The mostly rural Winterveld sits on the border of the Gauteng and North West provinces. The closest urban centres to it are the northern Pretoria townships of Soshanguve, Mabopane, Ga Rankuwa and Hammanskraal. There are many alternative routes to the Winterveld from Pretoria, but those that meander are the most scenic. A big drawcard close to the capital is Cullinan, where the world’s largest rough, gem-quality diamond was discovered in 1905. A 30-minute drive from this historic town takes nature lovers to the Roodeplaat Dam, a birder’s paradise. Another half an hour, via the N1, brings tourists to Winterveld’s neighbour, Hammanskraal, where Gauteng’s only free-roaming Big Five wildlife sanctuary is located. Dinokeng Game Reserve allows self-drives and is just a 30km distance from Tswaing – a 220,000-year-old meteorite-impact crater half the size of a soccer field in diameter – outside Winterveld.
WHEN TO VISIT
The area is best to visit between late September and early April, as summers here mostly bring fine, hot days. However, being in one of the drier parts of the country, with a semi-arid climate, the warm season can sometimes feel torridly hot, but the area does experience summer rainfall, which cools down the earth to more pleasant temperatures.
A MASTERY OF MATERIALS
To bring the three-dimensional elements of the totem to life, the Mapula women used foam, batting and haberdashery items. The fabric on which the artists’ stories are told through embroidery is 100% cotton. “What I enjoyed most is designing, using wax crayon,” says Kelelo of her drawings.
The embroidery stitch the Mapula women mostly use is called the stem stitch, while some have started experimenting with different stitches, such as running or cross-stitching, as well as French knots.
THE STORY OF BRINGING JOY
Bringing Joy is divided into five sections, starting from the ground up. The first section of hand-embroidered cloth depicts scenes of nature and semi-rural life where the Mapula women live. “Winterveld is more like a settlement, with cows, huts and no town,” says Kelelo.
The second section comprises minibus taxis, on which the women rely to give them access to work in Pretoria/Tshwane. Income from embroidery work is essential to help pay for this transport, which is a large part of each family’s budget.
Above that, one sees the devastating effect that Covid-19 has had on the lives of the Mapula women, their families and their communities. Lockdowns have all but stopped sales of Mapula products, causing untold hardship in families that rely on income from embroidery work. Food gardening, as shown through plant images, has flourished during this time, as resilient women have found alternative ways to meet their immediate needs and keep positive.
The meaning of the word mapula, which directly translates into ‘mother of rain’, is illustrated by the fourth section with its beautifully embroidered three-dimensional green leaves depicting new life, growth, hope for the future and a reminder that this Covid-19 winter will pass.
The apex represents life after Covid-19, with people dancing and rejoicing in the rain. In Southern Africa, rain symbolises joy, growth and prosperity. The Mapula Embroidery Project has proven, over its 30-year existence, that it has been true to its name and is moving forward in this steadfast belief.