We are in shock as we have just heard that Thenjiwe Kawe, one of the artisans we collaborated with, has passed away. The news is as yet still unreal, how many times did we sit and discuss her unique gift and ponder what would happen if there were more opportunities for her.

Thenjiwe was sick from time to time and the lingering winter season just wouldn’t let go of its grip on her. Yet, whenever she felt a little better it would be Thenjiwe contacting us saying “come, I need beads and I have necklaces to show you”.

One evening only a few months ago we sat pondering her skills and remarked that she almost seemed obsessed, something happened for her when she touched those glass beads, the shy reserved woman would suddenly sparkle and the creations that emerged were always a delight. We often wished we had an endless pot of gold so we could just let her create as many broad collar designs as she wanted. Her affinity with the beads were even more remarkable given the fact that she was self-taught, Thenjiwe did not have the guidance of an elder, she unveiled and perfected the magic of beading on her own.

Thenjiwe means the one who can be trusted, now a smile nudges at the corner of my mouth as I recall the first time I met her and her response after we relayed what we needed was “I can make it!” The shy woman, who had up to this point avoided eye contact, now spoke confidently as she looked straight at us daring us, willing us to trust her.

At first Thenjiwe learnt how to create a specific pattern by copying a sample necklace and using only the bead colours we supplied her with but it wasn’t long before this caged bird flew and we no longer needed to guide her, she requested specific colours and amazed us time and time again with her unique designs. Small wonder then that not too long after she started beading, her enthusiasm inspired first her sister and later her daughter to start beading too.

And now…now there is the deafening hollow echo of our hopes and dreams for your designs. Thenjiwe you took our stiff traditional broad collar necklace patterns and designs to another level. We marvelled each time at how it could be possible for someone to work with glass beads and cotton and render something so fluid, so fabric like. People need to see this, touch this, these designs belong on the ramp, they belong on every woman and man’s shoulders who want to step into the world with pride, flair and courage.

On the surface our connection with you may appear as fragile as the thin cotton thread you wove your magic with but the depth of emotion we feel with your loss is as endless as the grains of sand from which the glass beads you worked with, are made of.

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