Grandmother of Baskets Wins Kudos

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By William J. Mbangula OSHAKATI One of the recipients of a prize at the recent Ongwediva Annual Trade Fair (OATF) was an elderly businesswoman from Etilahi in Okaku Constituency. A woman with no small business acumen, she has made her mark both inside and outside the country. After so many years of trading in Namibia and South Africa, she has never been rewarded in such a manner as was done at the Ongwediva Trade Fair. A regular exhibitor at the annual event since 2000,she scooped the first prize of the “Best Small Scale Enterprise”, something which she said will serve as a source of pride and encouragement for her. Martha Petrus (80) started trading many years ago during the colonial era when opportunities were closed for many women. She started selling baskets at Ondjondjo, the once famous and only shopping centre in Ondangwa, the place where at the time contract labourers used to converge. Better known as ‘Kuku Mashungu’, coined by Katutura street kids after her long-time association with baskets which she makes, she has carved her trademark in the small business sector. She has created her own history and can look back with pride and happiness that some of her dependants were able to survive through her hard work and commitment as the only breadwinner of her large family. “I used to sell my products in Cape Town (South Africa). Before I travelled to Cape Town, I would have to transit in Katutura and on my arrival from the North one would hear children shouting ‘Kuku Mashungu’ (the grandmother of the baskets) has arrived. This is how the name came about which is now also the official name of my project. It is now my trade mark which is inseparable from me,” she said. Kuku Mashungu stopped going to Cape Town about six years ago due to the fact that her age would no longer allow her to travel long and exhaustive distances. In Cape Town, she used to exchange second-hand clothes for baskets. The clothes were sold back home. Nothing was easy for her to get to Cape Town, starting from transport and vigorous searches and even harassment by customs officials at the border, she narrated. Now that she has ceased travelling abroad, she has shifted her business activities to major local events such as pension pay points and public rallies. Assisted by her granddaughter Kaarina Benjamin at Ongwediva Trade Fair, Kuku Mashungu won the prize apparently for organising her stand in the most attractive and inviting manner with various combinations of traditional foodstuffs and homemade utensils. Although her main products on display were baskets, she was also selling traditional foods, drinks, cooking oil, soup powder, dresses and decorators, some of which are now rare to find anywhere in Namibia. Kuku Mashungu told New Era that she was driven into business by nothing else but her strong desire to remain above the poverty line. “I don’t want to be a beggar and die of hunger. Even at this advanced age, I am not prepared to sit idle and suffer. My intention is still to generate income from this business and support my six great grand-children,” she noted. “It really gives me pleasure that someone has finally recognised my efforts as a small-scale entrepreneur. This is an indication that my activities as a small business person are not only here to benefit me but will also serve as a source of inspiration to other aspiring traders.” She called on artists to continue using their skills for the economic benefit of the nation. In her view, making traditional baskets is part of the preservation of traditional and cultural heritage, hence her full determination to continue with the work and even pass on the knowledge to young people. So far, she noted, her business has been self-supporting without any financial assistance from anyone. She has not applied for any assistance but would welcome any assistance which will help expand her business.

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