COPPER IS ART
By Sbongakonke Mbatha
What is the first thing that comes to mind at the mention of copper?
Is it metal? Perhaps mining? Plumbing? Art is the first thing that Kalu Tshabalala thinks about at the mention of this mineral. Tshabalala is an artist from Witsiehoek in the Free State who makes copper wire handmade jewelry.
He is the owner of Nthat’s Arts and Craft Jewellery, an accessories company that produces handmade copper earrings, necklaces and hair accessories.
“Everything I do is completely original,” said Tshabalala.
He has been growing his business for four years and his company is a one man operation.
“My craft is hard labour. As much as I would like to employ someone to assist me to work faster I can’t because I currently cannot afford to and even if I did, this a very complicated skill to grasp,” said Tshabalala.
In most locations around South Africa copper is the most hunted mineral. Not in mines, but from people’s households. Many have been victims of house break-ins where copper plumbing is targeted by cable thieves.
Stealing is not how Tshabalala gets his copper to practise his trade. He usually targets car dealerships, old car garages and scrapyards, then digs out copper from car engine radiators by hand.
“It is very hard to get a hold of large amounts of material because sometimes negotiations do not go accordingly or it happens that I don’t have enough funds to seal the trade,” said Tshabalala.
Selling handmade copper jewelry helps him feed his family.
“My wife is a cancer survivor and she is currently unemployed. We have four beautiful children. Our eldest daughter Nthato is in matric and my company is named after her because her eagerness to learn the craft inspires me and makes me feel like a good role model to my children,” said Tshabalala.
With the assistance of the Free State Provincial government and financial support from the Department of Arts and Culture, Tshabalala’s art is slowly becoming a brand.
“I attend exhibitions and art festivals all over South Africa through all expenses paid trips. I am very grateful for that because I get to network and exhibit what my hands can do, to the rest of the world,” said Tshabalala.
Prices for the craft range from R30 for a pair of earrings to R750 for a necklace. The steep pricing is determined according to the labour required per item, the design and the amount of copper used to produce it.
“My craft attracts a lot of white customers. Some buy and some are chased away by the price tag. It is fine when people don’t buy- of course I need income for my family but doing what I love brings me great satisfaction,” said Tshabalala.