Handcrafts business slow in Kariba

Judith Simbi selling her wares at Kariba Heights crafts vending area

Business is slow for Kariba Heights Crotchet Works, an association of 32 female craftswomen who operate from a strategic vantage point for viewing the spectacle of the beautiful lake and its numerous islands.

“Very few people are coming here and often they appear to be in a hurry,” Judith Simbi, 63, who has been vending ornaments from here since 1987 says.

Some of the crafts on sale in Kariba

They feel particularly let down by local tour guides whom they feel could direct more traffic to this viewing area and when they do, they don’t seem to allow them enough time to fan through their curio stalls.

“We feel that they are not making an effort to support our business. We have no other means of selling our works but waiting here for visitors to come and buy souvenirs in memory of their visit to our resort town,” Simbi said.

Judith Simbi selling her wares at Kariba Heights crafts vending area

Allocated the land by the local authority, the women also carry the financial aspirations of other craftsmen and artists as they sale a diverse array of products at their open air curio shop beyond their crotchet works.

There are metal, wood and Shona stone sculpts, the enigmatic Nyaminyami walking sticks, hats, bracelets, necklaces, earrings, table clothes, bags, candle stands and various other items as this platforms benefits more than hundred different artists.

Nyaminyami walking stick

Ralph Chingwena a local tour guide however feels that it was rather competition from curio vendors in other view points and elsewhere in the resort town that was making it harder for them to make sales.

“Usually tourists get excited by the artefacts that they see on their first exposure to them so much so that when they visit other places they would have already bought what they want,” Chingwena said.

He said their only salvation was on increased tourist traffic to the resort town which still largely depend on domestic tourists who have a smaller appetite for their wares.

Simbi, like most of the women here, has managed to take care of her family through crafts as the trade depends largely on the performance of the tourism industry. Her prayer is that the industry will bounce back to its glory and afford all of them dissent earnings once more.

Martha Martin, 52, who has been selling her wares in the area for the past 19 years said they are however encouraged by the improved fortunes of their colleagues in the Victoria Falls.

Fides Nhanda, 64, working on her crotchet

“Tourist arrivals in Victoria Falls have been improving and our colleagues there are surviving,” Martin said.

Handcrafts offer rich pickings for marginalised populations – women and the poor, if the sector is adequately supported.

The sector has an estimated worth of $100 billion globally and contributes between five and 30 percent in 26 Coordination Committee for Development and Promotion of African Handicraft (CODEPA) member states in Africa.

Zimbabwe Applied Arts in Crafts Association’s research entitled The Crafts and Applied Arts Sub-sector in Zimbabwe: Strategies and Policies to Grow the Sub-Sector, the handicrafts sector contributes to household incomes amounts ranging from US$500 to US$15 000 per annum depending on region.

Masvingo is at the low end, while Harare is the higher of that income continuum.

India was cashing in $4 billion annually while the sector was contributing 25 percent of the country’s GDP and Zimbabwe could also reap huge rewards from the sector if Simbi, Martin and their colleagues are supported adequately by channelling tourists to their stalls where possible.