2010 and the SA Craft Industry: Feast or Famine?

Thursday, 15 January, 2009 - 09:46

There is great expectation that the 2010 Soccer World Cup will result in huge wins for the South African economy. In the craft sector, where some of the poorest and most marginalised people work and earn their living, the possibilities are exciting. But rumours of a deal with Chinese beadwork companies are causing concern among South African crafters.

My name is Robin Opperman and I am the Director of the Umcebo Trust, based in Durban (South Africa). We run an inclusive art and craft workshop and retail space. The idea is to allow crafters to develop craft and retail skills, and to hopefully make some new, exciting and cutting edge work. We have therefore been very excited about 2010 and the possibilities and options that it presents for us and others involved in craft and the related creative industries.

Recently I heard a disturbing rumour, that at Government level a contract had already been signed between Government and Chinese beadwork companies, some of who apparently even have branding with Zulu names, to produce all the 2010 craft, which would then be made available to local authorised vendors, to be officially merchandised in and around the stadiums and 2010 venues.

I felt it only wise to investigate this rumour, for two reasons. Firstly, if it is a malicious rumour, then we need to expose this and stop it dead in its tracks. Secondly, if it is in fact true, then we need to seek clarification on this, and find out why this is so? In my initial investigations, some people have said that if it is true, that it may be part of the complicated network of pre-existing contracts (which includes merchandising), which means that the host country is locked into pre-existing agreements, in which they have to use certain service providers, which FIFA have sourced. This of course is still speculation, as no one has been able to confirm this as yet.

I have contact Debora Patta, Cart Blanche and sent out a general mail to everyone in my contacts list, related to craft. I did this in the last days of 2008. The Cape Town Craft and Design Institute have come back to me already, and they have approached DTI and the Organising Committee for clarification and comment on this.

What is concerning me about 2010 is that the event is now drawing closer, and we have no national dialogue in the craft sector, which I aware of. I hear of people doing work (in Cape Town) for the Visitors Centre, but given the size of this event, and given the range of work that will be required, it is surprising that we are not bumping into people around every corner, who are making some kind of work, to ensure that everything is in place for 2010. I realise this may be taking place, and that I have simply not heard of it, but to me that in itself is a cause for concern, as 2010, being a national and international event, one would imagine that there would be more awareness of what is going on, and how this is developing the sector. Even if we do not make this work, I think we could learn a lot from those doing it, and hearing of their experiences.

People have vast expectations, especially in the craft sector, where some of the poorest and most marginalised people work and earn their living. Currently as crafters we battle the spectre of China and labour and material costs that we can never match. If Chinese companies are involved in the crafting for 2010 in South Africa, I think we need to know this. This will ensure that we can speak in an informed way about what is truly going to happen. We can also prepare ourselves and the crafters and craft organisations around us for what is truly happening, and what they can realistically expect to gain from this. As I said earlier as well, those who do secure the contracts from 2010 also need to be known to us, and they need to serve as case studies and role models to other crafters and craft organisations, as their experiences at this level will be invaluable and a once in a lifetime opportunity for us to all learn.

I hope that there is a national dialogue, and that Government make a statement of some kind, to let us know what is truly taking place. Academics also need to find out who the role players are, and document these case studies and share them with us all. These contracts involve meeting deadlines and moving large volumes of work, with a specific brief. These are the mechanics of business, which we are all trying to develop and fine tune, in order to alleviate poverty, fight HIV and ultimately become self sustaining.

The alternative is that the 2010 Soccer World Cup is an event which comes and goes, and local crafters and craft organisations are left wondering, speculating and passing around rumours, to the detriment of the sector, and its future growth

Robin Opperman is the Director of Umcebo Trust

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