The Ngwenya village, named after the crocodile shaped mountain range which
encircles the kingdom of Swaziland, gets its name from the Siswati word for
Crocodile, "Ngwenya". The village is also the location of the famous Ngwenya
Glassworks and craft complex, and the world's oldest known mine, the Ngwenya
Mine. The glassworks were established in 1979 as a Swedish Aid project, and saw
the factory being built and its machinery and equipment all being imported. The
Swedes employed and trained a few of the locals in the art of glassblowing, and
two of the the most talented craftsmen were sent to Sweden to the Kosta Boda
glassworks to learn from some of the best glassblowers in the world.
From 1981 to its closure in 1985, the factory was run entirely by Swazi's. In 1987, Ngwenya Glassworks was re-opened under the ownership of Swazi Glass elephant collector Chas Prettejohn who lived in the Eastern Cape. After a few months production was started with four of the former employees including Sibusiso Mhlanga, the master glassblower. Ngwenya Glass now employs seventy people, including two of the original Swedish-trained blowers. Sibusiso has returned to Sweden on several occasions in recent years to work again with some of the world's leading glassblowers, and now provides training to the new apprentices at the factory.
At the glassworks a group of local Swazi craftsmen practice an age old art, producing a magnificent rnage from recycled glass. The Ngwenya Glassworks not only encourages the community to gather and recycle glass, but also conduct clean up campaigns, and works with school groups raising awareness about various environmental issues.
Those who visit the glassworks are provided with the interesting opportunity
of viewing the glassblowing from an overhead viewing gallery. From here,
visitors can witness the glass being melted, formed and polished, and experience
a little of the heat associated with the process. Ngwenya Glassworks also
features a small coffee shop, and a large adjoining showroom which serves as a
factory shop for visitors who wish to purchase some of the unique pieces
produced there. The showroom houses an interesting variety of ornaments which
include skilfully crafted elephants, rhino, dolphins and many more animals and
birds, plus cups, vases and chess sets, all made from glass. Some of the items
produced at Ngwenya Glassworks may be considered too delicate to include in
one's flight luggage, but a range of heavier pieces are also available.
In addition to glass, other crafts at the complex include a wide selection of rocking horses and the tall wooden giraffes that are typical of Swaziland. The factory has also produced custom made light fittings and tableware commissioned by some of the finest hotels in South Africa. Due to the success of the operation, Ngwenya Glass has expanded into South Africa, and opened a sister factory in Johannesburg called Shades of Ngwenya. In 1996 the first Ngwenya Glass Boutique was opened in the exclusive V&A Waterfront in Cape Town. For more information call 0865305452.
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