Source: 7th Space
The lives of rural women in some parts of KwaZulu-Natal are changing for the better now that their arts and crafts are being properly marketed and sold.

The Siyazisiza Trust, started in 1987, helps women to contribute to food security and run small enterprises. The Trust operates in Nongoma, northern KwaZulu-Natal, and opens up distribution channels for the women. It also provides the women with training and financial literacy.

To commemorate International Women's Day - which was celebrated last week - Deputy Minister of Tourism Tokozile Xasa visited the area on Monday to see for herself how women are trying to eradicate poverty and sustain their lives through their art.

"As the National Department of Tourism, we believe that tourism can play an important role in capturing the economic characteristics of the heritage and harness these for conservation by generating funding, educating the community and influencing policy," said Xasa during her visit to Nongoma.

She urged the women to persevere with their businesses because apart from financial gains, their craft also tells stories about the country's history and culture.

"Our heritage is also critical since it defines the soul of the destination and it belongs to all people. We each have a right and responsibility to understand, appreciate and conserve its universal values. Many of our heritage resources are located in rural areas and provide an opportunity for rural development," said Xasa.

Phumla Mnganga, chairperson of the Siyazisiza Trust told BuaNews that women in rural areas were subjected to exploitation for a few reasons.

"The illiteracy rates among the women are very high so they don't always understand the concepts of costing. We provide organisational capacity and help them create proper structures for their work," said Mnganga.

The women do not always have finances to purchase the materials to produce their goods or sometimes even attend meetings.

Mnganga said although they receive an income, many of them have several dependents, which makes saving money challenging.

Some of the women's work has been used to decorate the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy and had it not been for the Trust, they would not have had such an opportunity despite having a high level of skills to make the products.

Xasa said: "We are aware that often such partnerships tend to be exploitative. To this end, we are assured through the involvement of the Siyazisiza Trust that the women receive a fair price for their crafts."

Tourvest is one distribution channel made possible by the Trust and Xasa pointed out that the partnership is a great example of how, through socio-economic development, rural craft women are empowered.

"It is this economic empowerment of women that brings us here to celebrate these gains and showcase the potential of rural economies at work," said Xasa.

Government has prioritised the development of a cultural and heritage strategy for South Africa -which will be aimed at identifying means for turning culture and heritage into sought-after attractions.

"We also are looking at unlocking the economic development of these products. We have developed a heritage and culture strategy which will be launched on Friday. The strategy seeks to raise awareness of the ability of heritage and cultural tourism to contribute to social cohesion.

"We plan participation in the economy as one of the key focus areas for government through proper implementation of Broad Based BEE by the private sector. It is our aim to see more South Africans getting opportunities to participate in the development and growth of our economy," said Xasa.

The women also grow vegetables - they supply a host of companies and schools for the Department of Basic Education's feeding scheme. Mnganga said the Trust is looking at ways to help increase the shelf life of the fresh produce.

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