Ngwenya Glass

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2017.11.05

In the African Kingdom of Swaziland, a mountain that resembles a basking crocodile can be found. At the foot of this mountain lies the village of Ngwenya – the Swazi word for crocodile – home to Ngwenya Glass.

The scene from the balcony above the furnaces is a compelling sight. Highly skilled workers manipulate molten glass in a series of fluid moves. Theirs is a rarely practiced art form requiring a studied precision born of patience and focus.

Founded in 1979 as a Swedish Aid Project that employed and trained locals in the art of glassblowing, the factory faltered and closed in 1983, leaving the artists without work and the collectors without their much-loved wares. One such collector, Cas Prettejohn, travelled to Swaziland with his family in search of the elephants they loved and found a derelict factory, coated in cobwebs and invasive wattles. The Prettejohns became the owners of what was the single glassblowing factory in Africa at the time, renaming it Ngwenya Glass, and within months had reinstated a handful of the former glassblowers ­and reignited the furnaces.

Ngwenya Glass has evolved into an inspiring success story with over 70 employees who, through Source, supply curated ranges to leading retail outlets around the world. Each piece of glassware is made with the age-old techniques, resulting in a superior and enduring product range. All the ranges offer a wide selection of designs within which to curate a unique collection. Master glassblower Sibusiso Mhlanga, who underwent advanced training at the Kosta Boda Glassworks in Sweden during the seventies, tutors apprentices and continues to travel abroad to work with some of the leading glassblowers in the world.

Community upliftment and the preservation of the environment are core values at Ngwenya Glass. Used oil from Swaziland’s KFC outlets is used to fuel the furnaces, and the wood from invasive exotic trees is used to create moulds needed for production. All the products are made from 100 percent recycled glass, most of which is collected by the local Swazi community who are paid for their contributions. In exchange for waste clean-up campaigns, local schools receive sponsorships that go towards funding the development of the schools. In 1989, Ngwenya Glass launched the Ngwenya Rhino & Elephant fund – Swaziland’s most successful wildlife conservation fund. A percentage of the factory’s profits are donated into the fund, which go directly to funding Mkhaya Game Reserve – a refuge for endangered species in the Swaziland Lowveld.