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 What is Boitumelo?

Boitumelo is a unique project in Hillbrow Johannesburg. Through arts education, skills development and creative programming, the project enables young people and adults to find economic opportunities, develop skills and social support in the city.

Boitumelo offers a safe space for those who seek creative guidance. Men, women and youth can create artistic products and crafts while learning key life skills to address the social, financial, emotional and personal complexities of their daily lives.

Boitumelo operates on the intersection between arts education, income generation, skills development and contemporary art production. Originally using methods that come from traditional crafts, such as needlework, the activities have expanded into the realms of public art, art for healing, land art and memory projects.

 ‘My name is Itumeleng, I am 14 years old, still young, I’m in grade 8, I came from like, how can I say…more of a city place. Boitumelo, for me, it is helping me to face my fears and to say, ‘Yes I’m proud of me, I’m proud of what I can do.’ Boitumelo has made me really proud, I feel like it’s home for me. At Boitumelo we treat each other in a good manner.’

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What does Boitumelo do?

Boitumelo has been operating in Hillbrow since November 2001 as a centre offering integrated training and skills development, artistic and economic opportunity.

Artist/crafters have exhibited and participated at art fairs, competitions, exhibitions and have collaborated in the international artistic arena. [embed link to Awards and Accolades section.


·        Some of the processes we use to create work include:

-       Create Journals: This activity engages the community in the art of actively recording experiences and history. Creating journals facilitates the growth of individual creativity and becomes an artistic resource as well as a therapeutic tool.

-       Collect Material: This activity activates the understanding of natural materials and the potential that various natural or recycled materials have for art and craft creation.

-       Walk the daily Paths: This activity challenges the community to actively participate in understanding of their space, context and see the possible impact they could have through their art practice.

-       Mapping Home: This workshop explores the meaning of home and environment for the human community, drawing parallels and creating empathy with the natural world such as bird homes.

 ‘Now, I wanted to start my own business, even if it is small or big - but my own, my own. My own. Maybe one day it’ll be a company. Because nowadays there are no more jobs. Even though maybe the business will be a small franchise…as long as it’s a business.’ Jeminah Mnisi

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 Finding joy

The name ‘Boitumelo’ means to make a person smile or be happy, or bring joy to a person. The name itself is a very strong motivation for the artists and crafters to creatively explore artwork that will enable people to experience or find joy.

 Stitching together communities

For Boitumelo, we use the arts as a way of communicating with one another, with extending creative expression through public participation. Products and artwork are handmade through embroidering, weaving or knitting/crochet. Many of the projects are collaborative and emphasize collective healing, memory and restoring relationships to the land or communities.

 Giving expression to social responsibility

Artist/crafters explore different art-making methods to express their needs and concerns about their social contexts pertinent to living in Hillbrow. By giving voice to what happens in their immediate surrounds, people are more likely to care, engage with the Global Village and be empowered to take action in their daily lives.

 Excellence, self worth and value

Boitumelo strives for creative excellence, facilitating communication within communities in Gauteng and South Africa. The project uses the arts to nurture self-worth that enables product development, which in turn supports product sales and income. This facilitates economic independence and combats poverty in an incremental way for participants.

 Theory of change

Erica’s involvement in the art making process at Boitumelo means that she gets involved and explores, investigates and teaches new techniques and art ideas together with the crafters. The ability to collaborate on an artwork only has validity if it challenges the crafter and the viewer, thus the ideas of each project must be sufficiently researched. Through the creative process of making, the artwork becomes defined and the working together of many hands and hearts creates a clear path that can be defined be each individual and the intentions can then be communicated to the public collectively.

 Ms. Sylvia Guela: ’This project, I want to take it home, to teach it to another one in my place. I come from Eastern Cape, I want to take it there to teach others, so not only for me.’

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Boitumelo creates beautiful hand-made products and artwork with historical value and social relevance. Each artist or crafter receives careful mentoring – not just in terms of their skill but also their own identity and creative path. The products therefore are imbued with an authentic, once-off uniqueness. The artworks are both a deeply personal expression of the students hopes and dreams, while at the same reflecting a collective sense of belonging - their response to living in the Afropolitan melting pot of Hillbrow and the strength they draw from each other.

 Shopping bags

Made from bull denim, embroidered and appliquéd with original imagery in 3 sizes. Laptop bags and cushion covers extend this range. We also make custom made bags which clients can order.

 ‘Karos vir die Karoo’ 

A series of blankets made from leftover interior design fabrics. Each blanket is a unique colour and pattern design. They are available in different sizes. They also produce custom made blankets on request from clients but they currently do this only with the donated design fabrics that are recycled.

 Joburg Panels

The crafters makes panels depicting various themes from Johannesburg. The panels vary in sizes, from small to large extended panels over a meter in length. They also make panels as orders for clients such as for instance a family who celebrated a 50th wedding anniversary ordered a family tree panel for each family that included all the names of the children and family events.

Each product is designed and created by the individual participant. It is only when they receive the same orders of over 12 items that they set up a more stream-lined production.

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Naledzani Matshinge joined Boitumelo Project in 2001 and is currently the project coordinator for product development and sales. She has trained herself in multiple disciplines of craft making, all of which are offered at Boitumelo. Naledzani attended a course in trauma counseling at Reginald Oswald Counseling Services from 2008 to 2009. She plays a pivotal role in helping the young men at the foundation, who lack a sense of fathering roles, to craft better lives for themselves. She does this through guiding and motivating them to accept responsibilities and challenges. Nale offers one-on-one counseling to many of the young men and women who have arrived in the city and feel completely alone without family and support. She was a valuable ward committee member 2011-2016, completed a course in food processing and costing with Forever and Africa meets Europe Cuisine, First Aid Course with St. Johns, and roof top gardens with the Department of Social Development.

Mary Mawela joined the project in 2001 and is currently the project coordinator for implementing training. When she first became part of Boitumelo, she was skeptical about the introduction of drawing and designing lessons, but now tells this story with amusement. Mary is a cornerstone of the training at the Foundation and is a strong advocate of creativity. She is attending the Fetola legends Program and is her financial abilities help towards creating sustainability for Boitumelo. Her skills include entrepreneurship training, silk-screen printing training with renowned Artists Yda Walt, and is a valuable ward committee member for ward 63 since 2011.

 Tsakami V Baloyi: ‘Where I am coming from, there is nothing like this. I would like to have my own project, help the people to get this skill. I’m very happy about Boitumelo, the way we are learning, our teachers…I can say thanks to them, they are patient with us …teaching a big person like I am, is different from teaching a small child.’



The project has participated in international collaborations concerning issues of environmental pollution (Naxos 2003), South Africa’s path to democracy (‘Journey to Peace’ 2004), the harsh realities of suburban life, identity, xenophobia (‘how we Bleed’ 2008), roots of violence (‘FairPlay’ 2010), poverty alleviation and eco-environmental awareness (Site_Specific Land Art Biennale 2011 and 2013).

Boitumelo has successfully participated in numerous arts competitions and exhibitions, including the Brett Kebble Art Awards Competition 2003/2004, the Johannesburg City Art Competition, 2004, a Women’s Day 2005 exhibition on ‘Ansisters’ at Constitution Hill, the Waste Art Exhibition 2006, an ‘Urban forest and the wolf’ exhibition at the University of Johannesburg in 2007, Memory of Water at the University of Johannesburg 2007, and the Visual Learning International Conference in 2008, where Boitumelo’s quilt concerning ‘Trees and our stories’ was exhibited.

The Joburg Artbank commissioned an artwork on the city of Johannesburg and this was on exhibition at the Johannesburg Art Gallery, 2008. ‘Mama Jozi’ Artwork including a poem won third prize for Gauteng and was sold to The Department of Arts and Culture, 2009.

‘Fair/Unfair’ was exhibited at Alliance Francaise, 2009; ‘FairPlay’ exhibition including the white shirts ‘violence of language of violence’ was shown at Constitution Hill, 2010.

Boitumelo Projects won the first Skaftien Prize for ‘Veiled Hope’ in 2011 and was invited to be part of the training and exhibition team for Site Specific International Land Art Event, May 2011. They have successfully participated in the Site_Specifc 2013 Land Art Biennale with performances, ‘die strandloper’ and ‘Vir Krotoa’ and facilitating the building of the mermaid called ‘Nellie’s Mermaid’ crafted from black wattle trees and the bark and braided linen flax for her hair.

Artworks are included in private and corporate collections in Canada, Britain and Germany.


In 2016, Boitumelo facilitated the South African educational component of the Global Nomadic Art Project, Stories of Rain: a land art collaboration involving 19 local artists from Hillbrow, 33 artists from Gauteng, 11 artists from Northern Cape, 21 artists from Western Cape, 11 international artists from Ghana, Korea, Sweden, Iran, Hungary and Namibia, 588 school children and local artist participants and 17 site visits across the country. 

2016 Participation in the Karoo Geo Glyph project creating the Riverine Thinking Path in Loxton.

2016 The Green Mountain Festival

Gladys Jackson, Mary Mawela, Erica Lüttich, Naledzani Matshinge,

Boitumelo Project is a project of the Lutheran Community Outreach Foundation