Ngwenya Glass was started in 1979 by Swedish Aid. They built the factory, imported all the machinery and equipment and employed and trained Swazi’s in the age old art of glassblowing. Two of the most talented including Sibusiso Mhlanga who is still a tutor to apprentices today, were sent over to Sweden to be trained by some of the leading glassblowers in the world. Sadly, due to a lack of funding the factory closed in 1985, however in June 1987, the factory was re-opened by Richard, Alix and Chas Prettejohn. Already avid collectors of glass elephants from Swazi Glass they could not bear the idea of not being able to add to their collection so there was no alternative but to buy the business and continue the tradition of producing beautiful and unique handmade glass products!
What started with four employees, now employs over 60 people. Ngwenya Glass is World Fair Trade Organisation certified and as has been more than an inspiring success story, it is an environmentalist’s dream. Green is a way of life and environmental considerations are integral to its production values.
Ngwenya Glass has an equal opportunity policy for men and women and the majority of the staff are employed from local villages. An in house counsellor is available to assist with HIV/Aids related issues. Employees are able to participate in a profit share programme and also receive a yearly 13th pay cheque. Ngwenya also provides information and assistance to low interest loans.
Not only are the people of Swaziland encouraged to collect the bottles, but Ngwenya Glass works with the local schools to instil in the children a sense of environmental awareness. In exchange for building materials and the sponsorship of the soccer team, the students participate in clean-up campaigns. Supporting the survival of the wildlife species that inspire their craftsmen to produce works of art, Ngwenya Glass launched the Kingdom’s most successful wildlife conservation fund to date. Known as the Ngwenya Glass Rhino and Elephant Fund, its proceeds go directly to saving these rare and endangered animals which have been saved from the brink of extinction for a second time in the recent history of Swaziland. A percentage of Ngwenya Glass’ sales worldwide are donated to this Fund.
“The glass is greener on our side”
Only re-cycled glass is used – mainly old soft drink bottles and people from all over Swaziland collect bottles and are paid per kilo for clean glass. Glass is collected from landfills, hotels & restuarants. Ngwenya must be the cleanest area because any bottle that catches the children’s attention finds its way into the factory!
Each piece is moulded, pulled and pinched from molten 100% recycled glass at a temperature of approx. 800 degrees/c. Old engine oil is purchased, purified and used to fuel the furnace.
Most pieces take a team of 8 glassblowers to produce and then the glass is cooled in a continuous Lehr (oven) for up to 12 hrs, to allow the glass to cool evenly and not crack. The pieces are then ground and polished to remove any sharp edges before they go through the quality control process.
Finally in the packaging stage the pieces are wrapped in old newspaper and in an effort to decrease Ngwenya’s carbon footprint, materials such as bubblewrap are kept at a minimum and no extra boxes are used than absolutely neccessary.