Skills put food on table

A group of 17 men from Thaba Nchu equipped with rare craft skills are utilising their do-it-yourself project to fend off poverty.

The men are a familiar sight next to the N8 Road.

They sell a range of crafts to tourists travelling on this busy road between Lesotho and the Mangaung Metro towns of Botshabelo and Bloemfontein.

This group of hustlers work as skin tanners and wood sculptors.

They have been in the trade more than two decades to provide for their families. They trade in beautifully carved wooden sculptures, as well as handcrafted leather products such as belts, shoes, sandals, bags and purses.

In addition, they sell a range of animal skins (including that of sheep, goats, cows and springbok) which they have tanned to perfection.

Although all the products catch the eye of tourists, the iconic springbok skin always does the trick, according to this group of men.

They also craft some traditional accessories for both women and men.

Armed with the tools of their trade, they get busy and carve products to get out on the market.

They trade from two makeshift workshops which they created from recyclable weatherproof materials.

These stand tall at two entry-exit junctions into Thaba Nchu. The one is located at the junction into Serwalo, coming from Botshabelo, while the other workshop is at the junction leading into Thaba Nchu and the Thaba Nchu Sun Casino.

Express caught up with the foursome of Malefetsane Ntseng (46), Moeketsi Phalatsane (43), Andrew Koloane (57) and Molelekoa Mothabeng (30).

The rough palms of their hands show they are all deeply established in the trade – echoing the sentiment that dirty hands are a sign of clean money.

Koloane has vast experience in skin tanning, as well as producing sculptures and leather products.

The guru has been unselfishly training and teaching the likes of Phalatsane and Mothabeng the trade of skin tanning and making wooden sculptures.

“John ‘Rasta’ Seekoei taught me the tricks of this trade. I’m grateful to him,” said Koloane.

Phalatsane also specialises in art moulding.

He and Mothabeng said they were grateful to Koloane for equipping them with lifelong skills.

Ntseng has mastered mosaic art and wooden sculpting, and he attributes the success of their trade to teamwork.

“Through this trade I’ve survived several years and managed to provide for my family. This trade is doable, like any work if one is dedicated. This trade is in my blood,” said Koloane.

This group of independent-thinkers venture out to find a niche market for their products and do not depend on policymakers from government entities.

Their market includes art museums, exhibitions and flea markets, apart from displaying at their makeshift workshops on the N8 roadside.

The ability to share ideas and have the same vision to make a living, is the ingredients of their successful do-it-yourself project.