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In Memory of Buselaphi Phewa (Xaba)

In memory of Buselaphi Phewa (Xaba)
14/09/1955 – 24/09/2023

It is with much sadness that we heard about the passing last weekend of Buselaphi Xaba, one of the first beadworkers at Woza Moya and a real character.

Buselpahi had the an extraordinary sense of colour in her dress and in her beadwork. She loved making Christmas decorations in strange shapes and colours. She invented the “Zulu Hut” decoration and the “husband-and-wife” decoration that hung from the tree which was a little macabre, but they were a great hit at Christmas and everybody loved them.

She had an eye for the curious and when one day a stuffed toy leopard was donated we saved it for her, the delight we experienced when we gave it to her was endless.

She invented her own Traveller, who we nicknamed the Lesotho man – “Mekala” – again just unique Buselpahi style. She loved making the Inchebe/Beard necklace and no one could make them like her.

Her other claim to fame was the beaded Bra’s she made and a few of these went off to America.

Buselaphi came from a rural household in Inchanga and her rondavel was set in green hills deep in a valley that looked upon a river below. Her washline was strung between two giant aloes.

Buselaphi loved a party and if you visited the homestead, she pulled out all the stops. If it was a very hot day your car would be covered with blankets so when you left the car would be cool. She thought of every kind gesture to make you feel welcome.

You would be escorted with drums to a rondavel and there you would sit upon a reed mat where you were served cake and juice, and then a meal. Then you would be treated to the most incredible performance, the whole family would dance and sing and the energy and joy from the celebration felt as if it would lift the roof off.


Buselpahi loved the drums and if we had a function, we would ask Buselpahi and her family to come to do a traditional blessing for the event, a whole taxi would be sent to collect her and it would arrive here with drums and an endless stream of beautifully dressed dancers. Buselpahi loved everything traditional and if she had a chance she would dress you up in her traditional attire.

Buselpahi had one son, Zachele, who was a small boy when we first met her, and with no husband it was very hard for her to make ends meet – making beadwork helped her support her family and she was very proud of this fact.

Buselpahi was later called to become a Sangoma. We were there when Buselephi had her Twasa and it was such an honour to be part of the ceremony, there were over 22 other Sangomas in attendance. We visited her again when her grandchild, Zacheles’ son, was born.

Most beaders would come in with their wares on a Friday, but Buselaphi would come when she felt like it as she liked to have us to herself. She would sit and tell us every week that she was dying and then tell us a story about home and the people she loved.

It’s curious that she spoke deep Zulu that was very difficult to understand, but somehow there was a strong connection, understanding and love, and we never once felt like we did not understand one another, except when she called on the phone and I couldn’t understand a thing!

For 21 years she has been dying…recently when she came in and she told us she was not well, to be honest we didn’t take her seriously. We were all so busy, we missed real signs, and if we could turn back the clocks, we would have been truly present just to be with her, to listen one more time, to laugh with her… but such is fate.

I keep thinking of Spike Milligan’s epitaph on his headstone which includes the phrase Dúirt mé leat go raibh mé breoite, Gaelic for “I told you I was ill”. She had the last laugh at us.

I certainly will carry this incredible strong woman in my heart and our connection with her family will never be broken. We send all our condolences to the family. We know there is a huge Buselaphi shaped hole that may never be filled. One thing we know for sure is that the drums will be beating her to her next life. May her spirit rest, I know her body was tired of earthly things. Hamba khahle – rest in peace.

Paula Thomson & the Woza Moya team.

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