When you start talking to Makaziwe Mandela-Amuah, the first thing you notice is an overwhelming smile before she opens her mouth to answer you … and the next is her overwhelming voice that tells you that “you are at home with me”.
These are the characteristics that struck me as I met her operating her business stand at a small and medium enterprises imbizo organised by the department of planning, monitoring and evaluation at Emperors Palace in Kempton Park on Tuesday.
I was passing by but my eyes fixed on the name “House of Mandela African Royal Mint” on the table she was sitting behind with her personal assistant, Thembi Fani. When I visited the mint in Kyalami, north of Johannesburg, Makaziwe was quick to say the business and its name were not linked to Nelson Mandela the statesman, or him being her father, but rather a depiction of Thembu national pride and the telling of a true South African story.
“This is not about Mandela, it’s about the House,” she said. “Our story has been observed through the limited small prism of ‘Tata’. We are saying we are Mandelas, but at the same time, we are abaThembu and we are South Africans with strong values.
“We are showing that he was a man, a family man, a grandfather and not just a statesman or a politician. He said ‘I am made by traditions, customs and values of my ancestors’. That is what we are celebrating with this business. We are a luxury, but an African inspired brand.”
Makaziwe started the mint in October 2014, after purchasing second-hand heavy machinery and inherited some of the staff from gold products manufacturer and distributor Global Gold.
Among the items the mint makes are beaded jewellery embellished in gold, silver and bronze. In order to infuse culture into her products, Makaziwe engaged a group of women from the Eastern Cape. Some of the necklaces are just pure gold chain and made to order.
The embellished beads enhance the item’s quality while the African inspiration remains. This effectively gives the feel of Africa meets the West in one product, making it attractive to people from both backgrounds.
“Everything that we make here is manufactured and packaged in-house, but all our products must bear the footprints of Africa,” Makaziwe said.
The mint also makes medals with the image of the iconic Mandela and gold finish images of his Amandla salute silhouette. The walls are adorned with Madiba’s framed artwork and remodelled paintings of Mandela’s photographs.
The displays include metallic artwork of the famous Madiba shirt, coasters, wine boxes, packaged gift sets, trophies, bangles, cufflinks and other metal finish pieces. Drawings by Mandela while he was in prison are also on display. But items are not limited to Madiba’s image as Makaziwe insisted it was not just about him but the family and the upliftment of the African tradition.
The items are mainly made to order but Makaziwe can’t run away from the fact that she is Mandela’s eldest daughter. She is proud they are able to give customers, which include corporates, a wide choice and the mint supplies companies and organisations in various spheres.
In fact, the mint is among the leading suppliers of medals and cups to professional soccer tournaments and it makes medals for schools and sports clubs. The mint is complimented by House of Mandela that makes and packages wines from its famous Thembu Collection.
This is another of Makaziwe’s business ventures that deals with corporate gifting. The philosophy of this business, like the mint, is based on Thembu hospitality and values of warmth, compassion and rapport with all people.
Depending on customers’ needs and occasion, the wines can be packaged with some of the products from the mint such as medals, cufflinks and necklaces. “The wines are made in Cape Town where we work and partner with various wineries,” said Makaziwe.
Most of the employees learnt their skills on the job. Some, like toolmaker Malcolm Visser, master jeweller Een Mbedzi, master polisher Joseph Vilakazi, his assistant Sarah Shabangu and all-rounder Desiree Cloete, come to the company from Global Gold.
Visser, a qualified artisan who operates a giant lathe in the workshop, has been doing the job for longer than 20 years, mostly at Global Gold and for two years at House of Mandela.