|< Back to Index||April 2002|
"Amongst the mountains that encircle the tiny African Kingdom of Swaziland is one that resembles a basking crocodile. At its summit is the world's most ancient iron ore mine, dating back 43 000 years) and at its foot is the remote village - NGWENYA - (Siswati name for) 'crocodile'.
Here a small group of Swazi craftsmen and women - with age old artistry - breath life into enchanting interpretations of the animals and birds of Africa, imbuing each with its own irresistible personality.
Each handmade piece of Ngwenya Glass is crafted from recycled glass collected from all corners of the Kingdom by the people of Swaziland".
This unique story unfolded in 1979.
A glassblowing factory
called Swazi Glass Craft (trading as Ngwenya Glass) was set up as a
Swedish Aid Project.
Suddenly, no more glass animals! This was a mystery to Swazi Glass elephant collectors Chas Prettejohn, a marine engineer, and his parents, Alix, an ex-librarian and Richard, a farmer, who lived in the Eastern Cape in South Africa.
literally, drove them to neighbouring Swaziland to investigate!
The Prettejohn's took over in June 1987, spending a couple of months getting the machinery working and tracking down some of the original staff. They started production that August with four of the former employees including Sibusiso Mhlanga, the master glassblower.
Ngwenya Glass now
employs 70 people, including two of the original Swedish-trained blowers.
Cathy left the insurance world in 1989 and joined the family business when she married Chas, and Rod Conway, an electrician, joined the team in 1992 - both keeping up the record of "knowing nothing about glass-making!!".
after by tourists
Due to the nature of their product, the little African animals are sought after by tourists as memento's of their African holiday!
Word soon spread that the glass factory had re-opened in Swaziland and visitors started turning up to watch the age-old art of glassblowing from an overhead balcony and to purchase a little gift from the adjoining showroom. It wasn't long before they realised that they had to cater for a new market - tourism. So the showroom shop was extended, a coffee shop built and more toilets were added!
Later, a Craft Centre was built on the premises from which a wide range of reasonably priced African handicrafts and handpainted ceramics are available from Images of Swaziland and Jody's Ceramic Shop. The Rocking Horse and Company is also a must! A large selection of exquisitely carved traditional rocking horses are handmade on the premises from pine, saligna and teak and accessorized with genuine leather and brass saddlery.
It's not surprising
that this charming complex at Ngwenya Glass, set in large indigenous
gardens with space aplenty for kids to play, extensive spotless toilets,
every facility accessible to wheel chair users, is one of Swaziland's
major tourist attractions, receiving an average of 12 coaches per day!
An environmental's dream
Since its rebirth,
Ngwenya Glass has been more than an inspiring success story. It is an
In exchange for
building materials and the sponsorship of the High School soccer team,
the students must participate in clean-up campaigns.
Apart from the lehr which was made in South Africa, all the other annealing ovens and tools have been made by the Ngwenya team on the premises. The crack-off machine and edge melter along with several moulds are the original ones imported from defunct glass factories in Sweden in the mid-1970's!
Because of their
remote location from the rest of the glass-making world and of course
the ever weakening of the Rand to the Dollar; they have had no option
but to service and maintain the original machinery that most of our
grandfathers used in the glass-making world of yester-year!!
Known as the Ngwenya Rhino & Elephant Fund, its proceeds go directly to Mkhaya Game Reserve, a refuge for endangered species in the Swaziland lowveld.
Since the establishment of this fund, generous donations have been received from the likes of: The British Government; The European Union; W.W.F. (World Wildlife Fund of South Africa and the Netherlands); Doctor Felix Schnier; Aide Environmen; Engen, and His Royal Highness, Prince Bernhard of the Netherlands (who is an avid fan of Mkhaya and a regular visitor to the Kingdom of Swaziland).
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