Freezing in the UK, it’s summer in South Africa

 

Breakfast

2002
LOSA (LONDON SOUTH AFRICA)

Basket Weaving

TheEye first went to South Africa in 2002 with a colleague from Sotheby’s at the invitation of trustees of The Siyazisiza Trust and the KhumbulaZulu Craft organisations to visit craft communities in rural Kwa Zulu Natal.
Whatever she was expecting, it was a shock to see such grinding poverty, lack of all amenities including lack of education and access to everything that we took for granted. It was the height of the AIDS epidemic, and the disease had spread destroying the lives of so many with the heart-breaking results that children were now orphans and taken into the families of their relatives – sometimes it meant 10 or 12 in one family.

Sometimes 10 or 12 in one family…

But the women in these communities were incredibly resilient. With the craft skills they had been taught, they were making jewellery, pottery, weaving, basketry and making furniture.
They were juggling family duties (water was taken in vessel carried on their heads from wells), raising many children unassisted by their menfolk who spent most of the day sleeping under a tree after consuming quantities of strong home brewed alcohol.

The items were sold on their behalf by the Trust in airports and more touristy hotel gift shops. The skills were traditional and certainly decorative as typical ‘souvenirs from South Africa’ but needed more thought and work to capture a sophisticated international market.

The first priority was to contact a select group of top young designers who would consider the project a challenge and an adventure.

As soon as we returned to London we called six of them and they were very excited. We had no time to waste. In a matter of a few weeks we returned with jeweller – Jessica Rose – a beader from New York who made lovely sculptures, necklaces and bangles.

Ed Barber and Jay Osgerby (Barber Osgerby – now eminent designers of projects which include the Stella McCartney shops, areas of the Science Museum as well as furniture and elegant smaller products).

Barber & Osgerby, image copyright of Vitra.com

Also Tom Dixon, Ou Baholyodhim, Kate Blee whose shawls and other textiles are much coveted.

Hand-painted shawls by Kate Blee

We were also fortunate to have an introduction to JENNIFER LEAKEY, ex-RCA and a former designer for Habitat and by coincidence the niece of Richard Leakey, the renowned anthropologist whose work concentrated on Africa. Talk about six degrees of separation, this was uncanny. So you could say, the stage was set despite a few hiccups along the way.

It was a monumental task but we were naive enough to not see that at the time (sometimes ignorance can be advantageous). For example, how would we transport the work back to the UK? Back then it was possible to secure the transportation of the work from South Africa to London through a friend working at Saatchi & Saatchi, the ad agency on the B.A. account. Our problem was solved. Can you imagine the same scenario today?
They even paid the return fare of six key workers.
I don’t think so.

Miraculously, things went according to plan and the crates of beautifully hand-made work arrived on schedule at Sotheby’s in Bond Street where we held a lively party with an African band and a good representation from the South African embassy, press and well-placed individuals. Habitat bought the entire collection to sell in their branches.
It was an incredible experience for TheEye from all points of view.

Extraordinary Views of vineyards and gardens at Babylonstoren

Fast forward to FEBRUARY 2024 and a quite different experience.
We left London in the freezing cold, driving rain and gales for the sunshine and blue skies of South Africa and a week’s visit to BABYLONSTOREN – A gorgeous hotel set in a wine estate in Stellenbosch growing 12 varieties of grapes and producing excellent wine. TheEye is particularly keen on the Babylonstoren rosé. There are also olive groves and the estate produces its own very good olive oils.

Nothing prepares you for the peace, the views, and the wealth of fruits, vegetables.

150 years old tall weeping mulberry tree

We were incredibly fortunate to have showing us around, Constance, who has worked for 20 years at Babylonstoren and there is nothing she doesn’t know about the gardens and what is grown.

The main designer was Patrice Teravela and it’s the work of an artist.

Gardens of Babylonstoren

It lives up to its promise of being garden to plate and if, for example, avocados aren’t in season then they aren’t served. There was a lot of beetroot, apples, several types of figs, various citrus fruits and so much more. Even the beef came from Italian white Chianina cows reared on the estate, enormous in size, tender and full of flavour.

Lovely Aline bearing freshly harvested figs

If they don’t grow it, you don’t eat it.

Twice a week there is a ‘Carnivore’ evening in a large barn with an open fire and guests sitting at communal tables feasting on different cuts of meat including tongue and marrow bones. Some TheEye couldn’t even look at whilst most people were tucking into everything. Steak tartare seemed to have many licking their lips. With great estate wine, home-baked bread, musicians on guitars and banjoes and a lot of impressive dancing, it was all great fun.

If you don’t eat meat, look away NOW!

Fun, dancing, and too much to eat

In spite of the heat we managed to fit in some interesting activities.
An excursion in a jeep along a bumpy mountain path with a knowledgable and experienced guide, who gave us the history of the area and provided a picnic whilst we rested and took photos. The picnic consisted of delicious snacks with dips, bottles of wine and apple juice.
And the views – spectacular!

The Jeep

Great picnic!

The View

South Africa has always had a troubled history and now, despite the progress that everyone hoped for in the Mandela years, life in the cities is volatile. Crime is rising and walking around Cape Town unless you stick to the main areas is apparently unadvisable.

Is TheEye being overly pessimistic? In the wine growing areas of Stellenbosch and Franschoek you are in a glorious, beautiful bubble. Looking out over vineyards it’s hard to imagine anywhere more peaceful. But sadly,  it is a bubble.

8 Comments

  1. Hi Janice please could you correct my nam e in the article. It’s Julia Leakey not Jennifer Leakey. Thanks and all the best. Julia Leakey

  2. Gorgeous photos & informative! I’m so glad you got away and had a wonderful trip.

  3. Gorgeous photos & informative. I‘m so glad you got away & had a wonderful trip.

  4. Felicity Osborne March 8, 2024 at 1:37 pm

    I was actually at the 2002 Sotheby’s event and still have some beautiful candle holders bought on a very memorable night. South Africa does have such marvellous landscapes and your pictures certainly capture one of them perfectly- an oasis of charm, tranquility and beauty.

  5. I wonder what has happened to all those industrious, hard working women?
    South Africa is such a beautiful country with so many natural resources and amazing places to visit. Shame about the politics, the corruption and the breakdown of the country’s infrastructure.
    Thank you for introducing us to such a fabulous hotel in a country rich in great B and B’s.

  6. What a wonderful trip. It all looks so beautiful.

  7. What a beautiful place, and so well described x

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