In 2002 Toni was approached to run a job creation project at the Noordhoek campus of False Bay College – an 18-month Learnership followed by a six-month Learn-and Earn programme. The range produced during this programme was based upon the original Bambanani bowl – a press moulded bowl with a circle of African women holding hands around the rim – from a previous production unit at the college, which was improved and decorated in Zizamele’s now distinctive colours and patterns.
With the Learn-and-Earn course complete, students were expected to leave campus and set up their own businesses - completely unrealistic given the costs involved in financing a ceramics facility. Toni fought for the students to remain at the campus and Zizamele was born.
The five full time Zizamele artists produce exquisite, sought-after ranges that grace homes, galleries and offices worldwide. The now iconic Bambanani bowl, available in various sizes, is adapted as trends change, but remains the piece that truly represents the company and its community work ethic, symbolised by the women holding hands. Other products include the Bambanani Boxes and the very popular Big Five tea light holders, which are snapped up by anyone wanting a perfect gift, as well as foreign tourists.
Every Zizamele ceramic is a one-off, making each piece truly unique and epitomising the vibrancy that is Africa, and why their work could arguably be classified as fine art rather than craft.
Besides the full time staff, Zizamele has a part time artist who works twice a week and a network of trained potters who are called upon for large orders such as corporate gifts. Commissions and corporate gifts are a large percentage of their business, made easier by the fact that Zizamele is able to offer all types of ceramic work, including thrown, cast, hand crafted and sculpting.
Remarkably, Zizamele has never received any direct funding or assistance, so its success thus far is an almost miraculous achievement in itself. This includes numerous awards and international recognition, as well as the Bambanani bowl being chosen to be part of the Corobrick Permanent Collection, which showcases the history and art of ceramics in South Africa But Toni’s vision for Zizamele is far from complete.
There is no doubt that skills development and entrepreneurial opportunities are vital in South Africa. Despite this, Toni notes that government authorities are closing most of the ceramics training facilities in the country and worse, many of the indigenous crafts and skills are not being passed to younger generations, with a real danger of them dying out. Toni dreams of expanding the workshop in order to train many more up and coming young artists and crafters, as well as building a gallery and store in order to market their work more extensively and for, ultimately, the artists to run the business themselves.