Creative Times & Living Testimonies (3): “Changing everything” – Keiskamma artists on life, work, and the COVID-19 Tapestry of Resilience

AiW note: This week, we have been following and introducing the stories behind the Keiskamma COVID-19 Resilience Tapestry, an epic, ambitious response to the pandemic made by the Keiskamma Art Project in the rural hamlet of Hamburg, South Africa. As the tapestry gets underway, capturing the stories and voices of artists involved as they have adapted to the pandemic this year has been part of the process. These collective testimonies form part of the work as they underpin the creative practices unfolding in developing and making the tapestry itself, informing its storytelling and its power: as Nontobeki Peyi, artist and Arts & HR Administrator at the Trust, indicates in yesterday’s “meetings” post, “connections are strength”.

Today, we catch up with four more women from the project – Ndileka Mapuma, Xoliswa Zondeka (Noluntu), Nomakhaya Dada (Nostesh), and Nolusindiso Jakavula Matsheziwho round up their experience of life in the project, and in relation to COVID-19. These Words on the Times – an AiW Q&A subset connecting up our experiences of life and work during the pandemic – are the final set of three “meet-the-makers” posts, before our look-in to the studio and spaces of the making of the tapestry itself as it is unfolding which concludes the series tomorrow.

The Keiskamma Art Project is part of the greater Keiskamma Trust, a South African not-for-profit organization dedicated to the holistic care of the communities that live in the area alongside the Keiskamma River in the Eastern Cape, South Africa. The Trust began in 2000 with a healing vision, to restore hope and dignity to people with very few resources, living at the precipice of change.

Keiskamma Art Project currently has three studio spaces where artists gather to work. The main studio is in Hamburg, next to the Keiskamma River. There is a studio space at what is called ‘the new buildings’, close by, where the Covid-19 resilience tapestry is being made, and there is another studio in a neighbouring village called Bodium where many artists live. Ndileka Mapuma is the manager of Bodium studio.


My name is Ndileka Mapuma. I was born at Port Elizabeth and grew up at Peddie. I am a mother of one beautiful daughter. I did my primary school at Bodiam Primary and my high school at St Charles Sojola High and got my matric in 1999. I took a gap year then in 2001 I went to Border Technicon at East London, but I dropped out because of financial problems. I was doing management. In 2003 I joined Keiskamma and I am now a designer, embroiderer, doll maker, painter and printmaker. I’ve been in many exhibitions (I forgot the dates), been working with a fashion designer, and running drawing and embroidery workshops. I did a big piece of work for the famous architect in Cape Town. I specialize in drawing. Something special about me is that I like cooking and what I care mostly about in life is that  happiness comes first and at work I like to give respect to everyone. My dream is to be self-employed. I wish to have my own restaurant with a bookshop and my artwork. 

In the first stages of the lockdown, Ndileka’s first concern was her family and daughter’s safety.

A few months after the lockdown began, Ndileka also shared her Words on the Times with us.

Ndileka Mapuma – Words on the Times

AiW: Can you tell us more about your work? How are you working now during the pandemic that is different from before?

During this pandemic everything changed. We used to work together not worrying about the space but now we have to do distance to each other, but hey, we are used to that now.

AiW: What have you found most supportive and/or heart lifting during this time?

The food parcels, relief funds, and Keiskamma was very supportive.

AiW: How can other communities like AiW (international) support you?

They can support in many different ways like with food parcels, funds, and orders so that we can work.

Xoliswa Zondeka (Noluntu) concurs, it is work that is most needed, a means for people to take care of themselves and their families that is most important at this time. Noluntu also holds a significant position of responsibility, managing the Keiskamma Art Project shop in Hamburg which has seen very few visitors this year due to Covid-19. Noluntu is assisted by Nomakhaya Dada (Nostesh) and Nolusindiso Jakavula (Matshezi) in the stock room. Matshezi is also a seamstress.


My name is Xoliswa Zondeka aka Noluntu. I was born in King William’s Town in a small village known as Zondeka location. I am a mother of three beautiful boys. I am also a member of the SGB at St Charles Sojola High School, a committee member at Busfare babies (birth centre) in Hamburg, and a committee member at Keiskamma Music Academy.

I attended my primary school at Hamburg Primary School and went on to Sinethemba High School in Mdantsane where I passed my matric in 1997. In 1998 I did a one year computer course in East London. 

Before I joined the Keiskamma Art Project I worked as a domestic worker in Mdantsane and Umtata. In year 2000 I decided to come back home and worked as a child minder for Mrs Stewart. Then she left the town so I worked as a domestic worker again for the Lauren family where I was working mornings only and in the afternoons I had to go to Keiskamma Art building to do embroidery. In 2004 July I started to work as a full time embroiderer at Keiskamma. Then later on, in 2006 I started working as a shop assistant. I became the shop manager in 2012 and I have been doing so since then. 

In 2005 I was one of the people that got to be part of the exhibition of the world renowned Keiskamma Altarpiece in Grahamstown/Makhanda at the Cathedral. In 2010 we exhibited the Guernica in Grahamstown and we got to exhibit the Guernica again at the University of Witwatersrand in 2011. During the same year I was also in Grahamstown for the Rhodes University tapestry. In 2013 I was in Cape Town at the ICC for the Decorex exhibition and also in Grahamstown/Makhanda for the Carnival of the Animals production with the Keiskamma Music Academy. I’ve been part of many more exhibitions, but also trade shows and art fairs. 

I enjoy spending time with children and sharing my childhood stories with them hoping that they would learn something and know that life is never easy for anyone. I wish to see the Hamburg community progressing, creating jobs, and treating each other with love and working together as a community.

Lockdown was not easy for Noluntu in the Keiskamma shop, and as a daughter needing to care for her mother.

First embroideries for the COVID-19 Resilience Tapestry reflecting strict public measures in the streets during lockdown.

“During level 5 it was very strict. You can’t even walk in the streets. For me it was not easy because I have a problem with my mother who is sick so I have to check her daily because she is staying alone. And I had to answer to the police when they stopped and tell them why I’m on the streets. On level 4 I was happy to go back to work but still it was not that easy because at work we are working with tourists of which it is not easy for them to come. And we don’t receive any orders. Even the ones that we had before lockdown are still stuck with us. It’s not easy to deliver to our customers, we are struggling with sales”.

Xoliswa Zondeka, aka Noluntu – Words on the Times

AiW: Can you tell us more about your work? How are you working now during the pandemic that is different from before?

social distancing shoppers sml

First embroideries for the COVID-19 Resilience Tapestry reflecting strict public measures in the streets during lockdown

All I can say is that this pandemic has changed everything, especially plans that I have for this year. We as a project are struggling financially and it hurts but we are trying to push as hard as we can. Lots of plans have changed meaning exhibitions have been cancelled and we don’t get orders, we are stuck.

AiW: What have you found most supportive and/or heart lifting during this time?

Although it’s hard, but Keiskamma is very supportive cause we still have our jobs. Lots of people lost their jobs. Friends of Keiskamma have also sent food parcels.

AiW: How can other communities like AiW (international) support you?

It will be very much appreciated if they can help us with anything they can manage so that we can survive as the organisation, maybe exposure to their friends and families too. I thank you🤝


My name is Nomakhaya Dada (Nostesh). I was born in King Williams town in a village called Liefeltd location. I am a mother of two baby girls. I attended primary school at Kusile primary school in King Williamstown then I went to Gasela High School, but I finished my matric at Oscar Mpeta High in Cape Town at Nyanga East. I didn’t go further because of financial problems. I went to Bellville College and did a cashier course and in 1999 I got a job at Spar in Sea point as a cashier. In year 2000 I went to Enoch Songa Rehabilitation Center to learn sewing. I joined Keiskamma Art Project, now I’m working as a shop assistant and I’m on payroll and I like Keiskamma so much ❤

But Nostesh, like Veronica Betani, has the additional concern of her health amidst the rising crisis of the pandemic. Nostesh, like Nozeti Makhubalo, is disabled.

sanitizing hospitals sml

An outline of black embroidery is just beginning to bring Siya Maswanas drawing to life of the measures underway to sanitize hospitals.

“This Corona pandemic has changed my life. I’m living with fear. I’m supposed to go to Frere hospital for my checkup, but I’m scared because when I was watching the news, the hospital was not ready for this Corona. And what frightens me a lot is to see that we as poor communities, we are not well educated about this virus”.

Nostesh travels by taxi daily from Bodium village to the shop in Hamburg. Her walking is severely impaired. The transport costs are high, and any depreciation in her income is devastating. 

Sustainability of the Keiskamma Art Project is always high on the agenda. As a charity, donations are essential, but sustainability during the pandemic has meant more than financial resources are required. Over the last twenty years Carol Hofmeyr has pioneered an openness at Keiskamma to learning and growth and the sharing of skills. Techniques and experience have been shared by people from around the world. Building strong networks is at the heart of the COVID-19 resilience tapestry, and is the future for Keiskamma Art. We share the last word from Matshezi, someone who has grown from strength to strength, skill to skill, and continues to strengthen her team with her positive outlook.


My name is Nolusindiso Jakavula Matshezi. I was born in Livingstone Hospital in Port Elizabeth. I attended primary school at  Hamburg primary and Horton primary then I went to Saint Charles Sojola High, but I failed my matric. I decided to run a business at home selling fruit and amagwinya at the sports field. In 2002 I’m doing a short course (Dots program) at Hamburg to teach people how to prevent TB not to spread. I decided to join the women at Keiskamma Art in 2006. I work as an embroiderer and I’m good to embroider. Mama Vero teach me how to use the machine and I’m excited because that time there is big orders at Keiskamma and I started working as a seamstress and stock room keeper. At my workplace I like neatness before I start working and before work. In the future I want to start my own business (to take rubbish to make fancy things), recycle.

Nolusindiso Jakavula Matshezi – Words on the Times

AiW: Can you tell us more about your work? How are you working now during the pandemic that is different from before?

At this time of Covid pandemic there is no rush to doing work like before. I work slowly because we don’t have many customers to place an order. During this pandemic everything changed we also used to work together but now we are separated. The first time to wear a mask it’s just a joke to me, but now I didn’t forget.

AiW: What have you found most supportive and/or heart lifting during this time?

The Covid-19 relief was helping during this lockdown – yhooo I’m done wethu thanks!

The Keiskamma Art Project has received no significant financial relief during the pandemic, but food parcels were a welcome aid and the project has succeeded in paying salaries throughout the lockdown, no small feat for a charity organisation with very little means of generating income during this year. Covid-19 has provided the challenge to become stronger than before, to become resilient in the face of change, which is the driver of their response, the new tapestry. This is the vehicle through which the Keiskamma Art Project can garner support to keep on providing the vital livelihoods in an area that is desperately poor, with few possibilities to earn a dignified income to support both families and the community at large.

If you feel you can support the artists and project in any way:
– please direct your questions or thoughts to
– or, you can donate directly to the crowdfunding campaign which has been set up to raise money for the Covid-resilience tapestry specifically, the best means of providing an income to the artists and embroiderers at this time.

Please visit and leave your details so we can be in touch with you. No donation is too big or too small and goes directly towards artists’ livelihoods.

To read Monday’s introduction to the landscapes, history, and context for the artists’ work, please see the post, “A Season of Regeneration“, written in processes of collaboration with the Keiskamma artists by author Marguerite Poland.

You can also meet more of the artists in the first two of “meetings” posts in the series – Nomfuneko Bopani, Nkosazana Veronica Betani, Cebo Mvubu and Siyabonga Maswana – here and from Nozeti Makhubalo, Saneliswa Maxengana and Nontobeki Peyi here.

Tomorrow we are excited to be able to share Keiskamma’s opening a window onto their creative space and the process of making the Keiskamma COVID-19 Resilience Tapestry as it unfolds.

Image credits: Keiskamma Trust.

For more archive posts from AiW on the Keiskamma Art Project’s range and for an insight into the making of another of their series of tapestry works, click the image below to watch 3 short documentary films shared with us in 2017 by Guernica Remakings (Nicola Ashmore, University of Brighton), about the Keiskamma Art Project’s tapestry remakings of Picasso’s iconic painting, Guernica, and through which the makers of the five Keiskamma Guernicas voice their role in the making process.

Each of the Keiskamma Guernicas – compassionate, hopeful, politically resistant, made between 2010 and 2017 – tell the story of the impact of HIV/AIDS and challenge the ineffectual response of consecutive South African governments to its crisis in the Peddie region of the Eastern Cape.

3x documentary films about the making of the first and largest Keiskamma Guernica featured in the Guernica Remakings exhibition, curated by Nicola Ashmore:





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