Mbabane: Talk of empty stalls! With the handicraft business heavily dependent on foreign visitors who are major customers, and international borders closed as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, craftsmen are having a hard time sustaining their livelihoods.
Visiting the Mbabane Market handicraft block one is welcomed by cubicles loaded with all sorts of handicraft products, yet without evaluation by customers who’d hopefully make a purchase. Displayed on the shelves of the stalls are crafts like pottery, ceramics, bead-work, basketry, dolls, and metalwork among others but day in day out none comes in to buy. They also sell traditional tassels, emahiya, spears, knives, sticks carved from indigenous trees, all which are used during cultural ceremonies.
Mbabane Handicraft representative and committee member, Ndvuna Msibi, said they are faced with the worst scenario ever, and worse is that they are still expected to renew their monthly permits at the municipal council offices. “The fact that we still have to renew our permits at council’s offices has depleted us of what little we have, and it is like we are spending without replacing,” said Msibi.
Msibi said they are hoping that with the international donations continuing to pour in, as businesses dealing with handicrafts they will be addressed by either the Municipal Council of Mbabane or the Ministry of Industry and Trade and be guaranteed a relief program. “As other sectors we are pinning our hopes on being called and told that we will be assisted in monetary terms, all to make up for lost business resulting from lack of customers,” said Ndlovu. Ndlovu said despite that Mbabane market was closed for three months as a directive from the Council to fumigate the market and install safety measures like water utility resources and centres; they still had to pay for those months they had been away.
The representative said they are one business that in normal circumstances made a lot of especially during cultural activities like the Umhlanga and Incwala traditional ceremonies but with the constraining of large gatherings and movements it’s not possible to see how they will make money this year. He said they have learnt to take up insurance policies for their businesses in the future in case such calamities such as the Covid-19 pandemic strike.
A handicraft vendor at the market, Nomphilo Dlamini, said she felt like she only wakes up in the morning in respect of the permits she renews every month, for which she pays money; otherwise she has lost the drive to come to the market. “We are stumped for solutions on what to do and what not, and seemingly our only remedy are our stakeholders in the municipal council and government,” said Dlamini.