Business & EconomyHome Featured

A potter in Botswana turns traditional pottery into thriving business

In 1999 when the pottery was facing closure due to lack of profit, Kabwe took over the pottery business from German investors and later renamed it as Gabane Pottery

AFTER being introduced to pottery by his teacher at secondary school, Martin Kabwe developed an interest in making beautiful pottery pieces. Now as the director of Gabane Pottery, the 57-year-old man is trying to revive the ancient traditional patterns which were used to decorate homes in Southern Africa.

Martin Kabwe has 32 years’ experience in studio pottery. He trained and worked as a potter at the Mindolo Ecumenical Foundation in Kitwe, Zambia. In 1993, Kabwe and his family emigrated from Zambia to Botswana where he was to supervise and manage Pelegano pottery.

In 1999 when the pottery was facing closure due to lack of profit, Kabwe took over the pottery business from German investors and later renamed it as Gabane Pottery.

Upon taking over the business, Kabwe changed the direction of the business which included decorative items that were being designed and sold. Instead, Kabwe focused on manufacturing table items that people could use in the kitchen, office, and hotel, such as mugs, and plates. ‘The reason for this was that decorating items were not profitable in the long run,’ he explained.

Located on the outskirts of Gaborone, the company also make ceramic pots, coffee mugs, and flower pots out of clay, which they sell to the government, individuals, tourists, hotels, and corporations, in addition to taking online orders.

Martin is currently a member of the Botswana Crafts Council and has over the years used his acquired skills and experience together with his passion for the beauty of the Botswana landscape to produce unique pottery pieces. ‘With my work, I am trying to revive the ancient traditional patterns which were used to decorate homes in Southern Africa,’ he told the Xinhua news agency.

Kabwe’s business currently employs six people including four women who help with decorating pottery pieces made by the factory. Their pottery is made of clay, and the designs are inspired by African designs, particularly African huts made of clay and cow dung, as well as the shape of Botswana diamonds.

‘We incorporated our pottering design into the Botswana design. We want our pieces to be unique so that our customers can recognize our brand simply by looking at them,’ Kabwe said. ‘If you look at our products, we glaze them half way and leave the design alone, which is different from other wares.’

He added that when they make pottery items, they get the clay from anthills in Gabane and the surrounding area, then break it down into small pieces and add water to sieve out the unwanted materials. The clay is left to settle at the bottom for a day before being scooped up and dried for about a day. After drying, it is ready to be used. Furthermore, Kabwe said that they only use water and do not use any chemicals in the production of their clay.

‘The majority of our items are made on the potters’ wheel and left to harden after we make the shape we want. The patterns are then engraved and later allowed to dry at room temperature,’ he said.

‘The items are painted and fired for the first time at about 900 degrees Celsius, which takes about eight hours to avoid breaking. They are allowed to cool for about a day before being glazed to make them shine. They are then returned to the oven for a second firing at about 1,120 degrees Celsius for eight hours, after which they are allowed to cool.’

The products they made mainly include kitchenware and decorative potteries. The prices for the items range between 70 pula (about $6) and 2,500 pula. They also offer classes to members of the community and kids who want to learn how to make pottery.

Kabwe said that the business is not bad at the current moment. The potter said however, like any other business, they were impacted by Covid-19 pandemic, but that things are now back to normal.

‘The Botswana Tourism Organisation (BTO) supports us a lot, and through the organisation, we have our merchandise exhibited in airports where the organisation has set up shops for tourists. Our crafts are regularly purchased by the BTO for sale at airports like OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg,’ said Catherine Kabwe, Kabwe’s wife.

Gabane Pottery is currently participating in Expo 2020 Dubai in Dubai as a representative of Botswana crafts.

 

Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button