Guest Blogger Candice Caldwell on “folkloric” and contemporary Upcycling in South Africa

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Sub-Saharan Africa produces about 62 million tonnes of waste annually.While this number falls at the lower end of the global spectrum, in many of Africa’s nations “recycling” has not yet been fully realised. One of the main reasons: competition for waste-management resources. Upcycling, however, requires little to no resources, increases the value of discarded materials and can be engaged by anyone, regardless of skill level.

In South Africa, “upcycling” is thriving, employing people on every part of the economic spectrum. In a recent Dezeen article, Design Indaba founder Ravi Naidoo says ”South Africa has always had an upcycling culture … there’s always been an acknowledgement, especially when we had sanctions, that we need to cobble things together with tape and bubble gum. This element of resourcefulness – of taking trash or waste and giving it a new utility – has been here for years, even before it became fashionable to upcycle.”

I grew up in South Africa, and I agree. My take on it: people living below the poverty line (with no capital or training) survive by creating things using found materials. I grew up with what I now think of as “folkloric” upcycling: oil-can guitars, seed-pod jewelry and wire toys. Stuff you could buy for pennies from road-side sellers. I also remember both the plastic-grocery-bag creations (everything from crocheted bags to shoes) and the awful mess they created. South Africa banned the bags in 2003. Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda and now Mali have done the same. But there’s still plenty of discarded product to be upcycled!

What fascinated me on a recent visit home was the more contemporary (and costly!) work I saw. And that’s what I want to share in this post.

The love of the continent is expressed everywhere! I was delighted by these colorful scrap-wood pieces.

Forgive the irreverence, but the face of Madiba (Mandela) is used (and re-used) everywhere. Bottom right is the Mandela Capture site Memorial… a breathtaking installation.

Out and about in Cape Town and the peninsula, the irreverent use of color and abundant street-art is as much a part of the background noise as Table Mountain.

Outdoor spaces are used almost year round thanks to the climate. So repurposing old appliances and bathroom “pieces” outdoors is popular. Bottom right: glass-bottle garden borders.

I fell in love with these tables! Especially the multi-level mishmash coffee tables created using old wine crates, silverware cases, mis-matched table legs etc.

I saw lots of great upcycled jewelry and interior accessories … how about that chandelier??!!

Fun with playing cards. From store displays to a little SA slang (howzit!)

Repurposed books and maps! The “I love chaos” pieces are constructed using old maps and clock mechanisms… so they move.

I wouldn’t be South Africa if I wasn’t tripping over tons of wire and bead work.

My thanks to Emmy and the Upcyclista crew for the opportunity to guest here and show of my country a little! Find me blogging about upcycling at

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