Weaving Zulu Wire Baskets in South Africa

The People

The Zulu are the largest ethnic group in South Africa and many of us have heard of their most powerful king, Shaka, who united the fractious tribes and created the Zulu nation in the early 1800s.

Basket Making

The Zulu people have long been associated with their skill and artistry in fashioning baskets from the native plants and grasses of their homeland as well as for their intricate and culturally important beadwork.

The original idea to use recycled telephone wire for baskets reportedly came from security workers on the graveyard shift in South African factories. To while away the hours, they would often wind and weave brightlycolored bits of telephone wire around their nightsticks.

Weaving of these baskets from the top down and over a form makes them even more unusual. Most baskets are woven from the bottom up. These inventive weavers start with a thick wire at the top rim of the basket and then work their way down, pulling each wire taut against a form to create the basket’s shape.

The group we work with has invented several new stitches that they weave with and are constantly evolving their styles. These unique baskets are especially functional and can be washed in warm, soapy water.

Fair Trade Practices

Around 800 full time weavers and their families are supported with a fair living wage from their amazing creations.

Since wire baskets are woven by many men due to the difficult nature of weaving wire, they are able to stay home on their tribal lands instead of moving to cities to look for work. In the rural groups we work with, the family units are preserved so that the weavers and their families can live more traditional lifestyles.

About the Wire

Recycled wire is rarely used anymore because of its scarcity and the fact that using recycled wire produces a basket of lesser quality.

Due to the very high price of copper, which is used in telephone wire, weavers are now using an annealed steel core wire that looks just like telephone wire.

The wire we use is custom manufactured in special colors for the weavers using some recycled and all lead-free materials. The wire is manufactured in South Africa.


About South Africa

The Republic of South Africa is the southernmost country in Africa. With over 59 million people, it is the most populous country located entirely south of the equator.

South Africa is a multiethnic society encompassing a wide variety of cultures, languages, and religions. About 80% of South Africans are of Black African ancestry, divided among a variety of ethnic groups speaking different languages. The remaining population consists of Africa’s largest communities of European, Asian, and multiracial ancestry.

At the time of European contact in the 15th century, the dominant ethnic group were Bantu-speaking peoples who had migrated from other parts of Africa about one thousand years before. The two major historic groups were the Xhosa and Zulu peoples. Colonization by the Dutch and later the British ended in the early 20th century, when a government controlled by the white minority (20% of the population) took power, eventually constructing an institutionalized system of strict racial segregation known as apartheid.

After a long and sometimes violent struggle by the African National Congress (ANC) and other anti-apartheid activists both inside and outside the country, a negotiated settlement in 1994 transformed the country into a liberal democracy where all ethnic and linguistic groups have held political representation. South Africa is often referred to as the “rainbow nation” to describe the country’s multicultural diversity.

South Africa is a developing country and ranks 113th on the Human Development Index, the seventh-highest in Africa. It has been classified by the World Bank as a newly industrialized country, with the second-largest economy in Africa, and the 33rd-largest in the world.

However, crime, poverty and inequality remain widespread, with about a quarter of the population unemployed and living on less than US$1.25 a day. Moreover, climate change is an important issue for South Africa: it is a major contributor to climate change as the 14th largest emitter of greenhouse gases as of 2018 (in large part due to its coal industry), and is vulnerable to many of its impacts, because of its water-insecure environment and vulnerable communities.

Source: Wikipedia

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Choose Fair Trade goods.

All of our African baskets are verified Fair Trade, because we believe that indigenous people around the world should be compensated fairly for their amazing work.

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Zulu Wire Baskets

Approximately 4.5 Inches Wide x 2.25 Inches Tall $26.50

SKU: 96745

Shallow Plate

Approximately 10.25 Inches Wide x 1.25 Inches Deep $89.00
Approximately 3.25 Inches Wide x 1.75 Inches Tall $19.50