Izandla Zethu: Fine jewellery with what’s at hand

30 May 2020

Izandla Zethu involves gathering materials at hand in a South African township to craft jewellery that combines honesty and elegance.

Izandla Zethu (“our hands” in isiXhosa) started in 2018 as jewellery making project for unemployed youth in Walmer Township, Port Elizabeth, initiated by master goldsmith and jewellery designer Michaela Römer and Masifunde Learner Development, a non-profit organization running a variety of educational programmes for children and youth.

As part of Masifunde’s Out of School Youth programmes, Izandla Zethu is one of three vocational training programs (next to hospitality and ICT), which support and provide skills development to school leavers. Youth turn raw material from their surrounding into precious jewel pieces by upcycling corrugated iron. They join the training for five months while being guided by social workers to come up with a tailor-made plan for their future after completing the training cycle.

In 2020, a bracelet of Izlanda Zethu was selected as the most beautiful object of the year by Design Indaba, which included testimonial by Blessing Ngobeni, who commented “Other than the fact that it is handmade from recycled material, I like the fact that it is made from corrugated iron sheet –a piece of material that we as South Africans are familiar with and many hold dear to us. The material of the bracelet got me thinking about the meaning of beauty, and even adds to my view about beauty – that it has to be honest and truthful.”

A testimonial of Karsten, one of the first buyers:

“The bracelet DELICATE accompanies me every day. I work in an open office with about 100 people and receive compliments for this bracelet almost every day. It’s simple, inconspicuous and yet so beautiful – especially because of this earth-like colour. DELICATE is – for me – much more than a jewel. It reminds me of my favourite country South Africa and whenever I look at it, pictures of the wonderful nature and the great people come into my mind.”


Luvuyo Pongolo and Michaela Römer

And here is get some background from the idea giver Michaela Römer:

✿ How did the idea of the bracelet come about?

The bracelet DELICATE is actually one of many jewels which are produced by our team in Walmer Township. When we started training our first group of young people, we tried simple shapes for earrings, necklaces, key rings, and bracelets. DELICATE turned out to be a very straight forward, pure and simple design. It was really a fortune, that people love this lean look

✿ What kind of processing is done to turn the iron into jewellery?

The team regularly looks for old, corroded, corrugated iron sheets in the neighbourhood or at the local junkyard. Then we cut them into manageable pieces and pile them into our basic stock. It’s all handiwork. We use tin snips to cut the needed shapes and then soften all edges as a base to make them wearable. We then clean the raw piece, without destroying the patina of the old metal. In the next step, we punch in our Izandla Zethu symbol—the hand—into the raw piece. To create the bracelet, we carefully bend a strip into the bracelet shape, using a simple, round, wooden block, a hammer and special pliers. In the end, we again eliminate all sharp edges and finally protect the surfaces with a clear coating.

✿ Where do you sell this?

We sell the jewels directly at Masifunde’s MyMito Café in Walmer Township, in some little gift shops like Cupboard Love in Port Elizabeth and, of course, online

Luvuyo Pongolo is the local manager, teacher and driver of Izandla Zethu. He is was part of the team since the beginning and shares his journey with Garland.

I grew up living with various family members in different townships between Grahamstown and Port Elizabeth resulting in three primary schools and two high schools before I matriculated in 2005 from TEM Mrwetyana Senior Secondary School in Grahamstown. I have one child and seven siblings. My mom and dad are still alive.

My whole life changed when I fell in love with theatre. On the 27 March 2005, I made my first appearance on stage portraying the story of Makhanda Nxele whom Grahamstown now has been named after (Grahamstown was renamed Makhanda in 2018). I found myself administrating, coordinating and facilitating drama workshops around Eastern Cape universities and communities. During that time, I co-founded a theatre company (Ikhaya Theatre Co.) which used theatre as well as using visual and performing arts as a basic method to solve social illnesses such as unemployment, substance abuse, crime etc. I was fortunate to be part of this team when we were awarded Eastern Cape 2008 Community Builder of the Year – Youth category in the Sowetan/Old Mutual/SABC community awards.

In 2010 I took a different turn and worked in the construction industry. Between 2011 and 2016 I found myself in a situation where my life changed. Being involved with a wrong crowd in Port Elizabeth, I myself was now faced with crime and substance abuse. I was dealing with unemployment which led to having no roof over my head for six months.

In 2017 I came to realize this was not me and I managed to stay at a family farm called Mount Ruby (named after my granddad’s wife) where I lived away from the cities and access of money, trying to clean myself and rethink my future. I was looking after livestock, maintenance of the fencing, connecting with nature and the elderly people from my clan for eight months before I went back to Port Elizabeth.

In my quest to live a satisfying life of doing what I loved and knew best, with all the knowledge I possess, I desired to open my own business. I came across Masifunde’s Out Of School Youth Centre to help me in that regard. After going through the screening process with their social worker and the organizational intake, the opportunity to be in a jewellery making workshop, trained by Michaela Roemer, a master goldsmith master from Germany, presented itself. After my own training, I was fortunate to be chosen as one to first coordinate the production in the jewellery workshop and later on being honoured to facilitate the Basic Jewellery Crafting Programme to other Out Of School Youth who are interested in learning what we do at Izandla Zethu.

I now am employed Masifunde Learner Development, doing what I enjoy, working with my mind and hands, crafting and transforming lives, creating change and restoring youth dignity by making sure each young individual finds a purpose for their lives when they exit the term of their training.

I facilitate the Basic Jewellery Crafting programme to out of school youth from Walmer Township. I oversee the day to day production of jewellery items as well as the maintenance of the Izandla Zethu workshop space. In my spare time, I am an independent sales agent of Izandla Zethu jewellery.

Izandla Zethu jewellery can be found in etsy 

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