The fabric binding this community is sewn by a seamstress with no hands
Bolekwa Salusalu has no hands, but she sews every single day. The 62-year-old is a designer and creator of immaculately stitched wedding dresses, traditional outfits, and school uniforms. Draped around her modest studio are a range of colourful garments, each pattern more interesting than the next. Her friend Luluma Mnyute is perpetually bowled over by Salusalu’s talent. “Bolekwa, without hands she has done this!” Mnyute says. Salusalu works tirelessly to provide for her family from her home in the Eastern Cape, but she does it with style.
As a little girl, Salusalu watched her grandmother make her own clothing. She eagerly soaked up lessons in sewing at school, but her family’s limited finances forced her to drop out in Grade 8. In spite of this, the young seamstress pursued her passion and soon blossomed into a talented designer. After working as a tailor for 28 years, she began experiencing pain in her arm. Upon examination, doctors found that she had developed gangrene. That year, Salusalu had both her right hand and her leg amputated, but she kept on sewing. And even when she lost her left hand, she never gave up.
Despite the barriers she faces, Salusalu has come up with innovative ways to keep living life on her own terms. Crickets chirp outside her window, and the whirr of the sewing machine fills her room. Though surrounded by noise, Salusalu’s demeanor is always calm. “I put material on the bed, and I draw,” she explains. “My granddaughter or my daughter cuts, then I sew it myself.” Not one to be deterred from passion, Salusalu has made a point of proving the ease in simply doing what needs to be done. Beyond dressing her community in the finest fashions, she offers something far more profound to South Africa: inspiration. In just being herself, Salusalu demonstrates how we can do anything we put our minds to, no matter the limitations. “With my stompie,” she says, “I’m going to show you.”