Phanny Mangwiro, A Family man who is part of our home
Some of African Homes’ most unique works are made by 53-year-old Phanny Mangwiro, originally of Zimbabwe. Mangwiro specializes in wire with bottletop work and has even invented and designed his own unique tools to facilitate his craft.
As for his favorite creations- Mangwiro points to his baskets, lampshades and wine bottle holders.
“With wire and bead, there is a lot of competition,” he explains, “young people always ask- how did you make that?”
The secret as far as Mangwiro is concerned is in originality of tools and designs.
Another lifetime ago…
But Mangwiro was not always a crafter. Growing up in Zimbabwe, he served in the Rhodesian army from 1976-1998. Mangwiro recalls those as good times with the army providing free transportation and food. However, in 1985 the changes began. Suddenly transportation was no longer provided compliments of his army uniform; food provisions became ration packs, provided in ever dwindling supply from the central management. After 22 years in uniform, Mangwiro completed his service and took his pay-out pension.
Subsequently, Mangwiro worked for Progressive Insurance for three years. It was at Progressive that Mangwiro learned how to be a salesman and how to speak to people. Things went well for him at first but his salary as an insurance salesman was dependant on commission and with the economy declining in Zimbabwe and with increasing inflation, people soon stopped purchasing insurance. Mangwiro saw his income dwindle and disappear. The situation in Zimbabwe worsened in 2000 and Mangwiro found that he was no longer able to support his family of five in his home, Masingo. He decided to come to South Africa in 2003 though not before studying a year’s art and craft training in Zimbabwe.
“That was when I met other artists selling their crafts and decided I must learn how to make some art,” he said. “I started out making small praying mantis and mosquitoes out of bead and wire and a basket of bottle tops.”
Once in South Africa, Mangwiro began to expand his repertoire and develop his artistic skills. He first started selling his work in Mesina, South Africa’s border town.
“It was like in Zimbabwe, I was able to sell work but for a very low price,” he said.
Joining the ranks of traveling crafters, Manwiro moved to Petersburg and subsequently to Pretoria, Johannesburg and eventually Cape Town.
“In Johannesburg, there were so many Zimbabweans and fewer and fewer customers,” he said. “Now in Cape Town, I go all around, Hermanus, Strand, Somerset West and Stellenbosch. I really make it happen but I don’t have a place where I can sell my wares, I am a foreigner. It isn’t easy to get a stand, I have to go around.
Now, Mangwiro says, God is helping him.
“Now I have customers like African Home and others,” who supply a stream of income and a fair trade price for his work.
Challenges and Support
Still, for Mangwiro, one of the hardest parts of being a Zimbabwean in South Africa is missing his family. On the other hand, he says, it is his family that keeps him going. He is father to two girls, Patience (21) and Palma (18), and one boy, Phanny (14). They all live in Zimbabwe with his wife Mavis. It is due to Mangwiro’s work as an artist in South Africa that he has been able to provide education for his children; indeed one of his daughters is currently studying at Venda University.
Often for foreign workers, it is the relationship with family that suffers over the long months apart. Along with his yearly visits home, Mangwiro says his wife Mavis does a good job of always reminding him of how the children are doing.
“It helps to be a unit with your wife, “He said, “good communication, understanding with each other, and of course- sending money home.“
It is hardest in February, says Mangwiro. “I go home to visit in January after the season,” he explains, “When I come back to South Africa it is very hard, I have overspent my cash, I don’t have anywhere to get cash.”
Traveling to Zimbabwe and back can cost at least 1000 Rand in transport fees, not an easy sum to collect as a crafter.
“Also, it is hard to leave my family,” he said. “If I was a South African citizen I could apply for grants but as a foreign worker there is no hope.”
Mangwiro’s dream is one day to work with young street children.
“The children here, they just go around with no education, no parents; they just want comfort from someone,” he said.
As a foreign worker and a crafter, Mangwiro understands that.
“It is so difficult for them to know what to do. I could assist with teaching them. I know the good of craft. I feel to help them. Everyone needs help of someone,” he said.
Look for Phanny Mangwiro’s unique bottle top baskets, lampshades and other works in our ranges and support him to fulfill his dream.