South Africa’s diverse and dynamic arts and culture heritage is one of its richest and most important resources, with the capacity to generate significant benefits for the nation. South African crafts are as diverse as the people of this country. Variations are due to geographical or tribal differences and the degree of Western or other influences. Traditionally, the design and production of crafts are handed down from one generation to another. Crafters use natural resources such as beads, grass, leather, fabric and clay and recycled products such as plastic bags, paper, cardboard boxes and wires to fashion their artifacts.
South African crafts are exported all over the world and have come to symbolize the very essence of South Africa. Products range from spears, shields, woven baskets, drums, masks or other products as tableware, Christmas decorations, key-rings, candle-holders and many others.
Craft industry employs about one million people and, according to some estimates, contributes about R2 billion or 0.14 percent to the country's GDP annually, of which R150m is in export sales. In some cases, crafts provide livelihood for whole communities. Such projects range from baskets, made by the community of Fugitive's Drift (in KwaZulu-Natal), to Schmidtsdrift (in the Northern Cape) community of displaced Bushman or San people who produce paintings that constitute an imaginative and highly colored extension of ancient rock art.
South African folk art is also making inroads into Western-style "high art". The work of ceramicist Bonnie Ntshalintshali, with its almost phantasmagoric detail, has gone well beyond the confines of traditional African pottery. Sculptor Phutuma Seoka is another artist who has taken a traditional form and given it a personal twist. In his case, the carving of figures using the inherent curves and forks of tree branches, common in the Venda region, is used to creating a cast of eccentric characters. The Ndebele tradition of house-painting, part of the widespread African practice of painting or decorating the exteriors of homes burgeoned amazingly with the advent of commercial paints. South African beadwork, once the insignia of tribal royalty alone, has today found a huge range of applications, from the creation of coverings for everything from bottles to matchboxes – and the reproduction of the red Aids ribbon in the form of small Zulu beadworks known as Zulu love letters. Basketry and ceramics, of course, were long ago brought to a pitch of perfection in traditional South African society, and the outgrowths of these forms today grace gallery plinths as often as they find a place on suburban shelves.
Between 2005 and 2009, the number of production enterprises has increased by an estimated 40 percent. This is an average growth of 8 per year, attributable to the growth in tourism. However, South African crafts industry still lags far behind similar sectors in developed world. The major challenges faced by the crafts industry is the lack of business skills and access to the markets.
The South African Department of Arts, Culture, Science and Technology (DACST) is contributing to the government’s Growth, Employment and Redistribution (GEAR) strategy through a number of initiatives intended to enhance the economic and social benefits of arts and culture. Goal is a fully developed and vibrant South African craft sector which is integrated into and participating fully in the mainstream economy, also providing income generation opportunities for historically disadvantaged rural and urban South Africans.
Africa Village festival recognizes its role in promoting South African Crafts to the new markets as a unique artistic expression as well as subject for further business and trade development. It has been proven successful in both segments. During the previous two years mayor crafts turnover has been achieved with Africa Village and is believed that it has impacted aprox. 5,000 South African crafters providing them earnings and exposure to international audience. Having in mind this important task, Africa Village continues to expand, opening new markets for South Africa cultural heritage.