I have been to Ngwenya glass 4 times now and I love it every time I go there. Not only because they treat me like part of the family (with a welcoming parade fit for a king!), but also for the fact it is a truly inspiring place. The owners, Chas and Kathy Prettejohn are some of the nicest people I have ever met, and I am honoured to know them and their extended Ngwenya family – Sibusiso, Gary, Ann and their staff.
Ngwenya glass is a glass factory with a difference. An environmentalist’s dream – all of its products are handmade from 100% recycled glass, it’s furnaces run using recycled oil (anything from KFC to diesel will do), solar panels line the factory roof, and it also runs a successful wildlife conservation fund.
The resulting social impact is wonderful too. The glass (mostly soft drink bottles) is collected by the people of Swaziland, who are paid both in cash and in kind, while local schools are educated in conservation and environmental awareness by participating in clean-up campaigns in exchange for building materials and sponsorship. In addition, The Ngwenya Rhino and Elephant Fund has grown remarkably – attracting donations worldwide, and largely contributing to these endangered species being saved from extinction.
My last trip to Ngwenya in 2016 was particularly special. Celebrating 30 years since the first glass elephant rolled off the production line, it was a celebration of glassblowing like no other. Master glass blowers from all over the globe came together to teach, create and (possibly) drink a teeny bit too much wine from Chas’ cellar…It was a veritable melting pot of styles and expertise, and extremely rewarding for us to all learn from and watch each other work.
When we arrived the entire factory turned out and formed a parade with singing, dancing and cheering. The hotshop boys were running out of the factory with molten glass on the end of their blow pipes blowing glass bubbles, while Sibusisu (the master blower) had an oil drum strapped to his chest drumming away at it wildly. It was an amazing start to our stay to say the least!
While at Ngwenya, its safe to say any guest artists give it all we’ve got. With the opportunity to make anything you desire, as many assistants as you can cope with, and a team that will go out of their way to help you, it’s seems only fitting that you work as hard as you can whilst there. They have a furnace of glass that is like a lake of glass (3 tons of liquid fire – no weight restrictions here)! Above is a video of myself with the team assisting me to make a sunflower vase. It was great to be back working with them, and we were all proud and happy with the collection of works created throughout the week. There was certainly an air of frantic creation at times, which I love. The week seemed to speed past though, and I find it hard to believe it’s been almost a year since I was there last.
The first time you work there, at the end of the week the boys will give you a Swazi name – mine being Matatazela – its a bit like speedy gonzalez with eyes in the back of your head. I also have an animal familiar – a jack russel terrier!
Ngwenya Glass is a special place, and I can’t wait to visit and work there again. It is a story to share, and proof that business success and a commitment to protecting the environment can go hand in hand. Please check out their website for more information and make sure to visit if you are passing by!