Nesta Mathom Nala, born in 1940, lived and worked in the Thukela valley at Oyaya, near Ndondondweni, in the Mamba area of Inkhanyezi. At the age of twelve, Nesta Nala learnt the craft of pottery from her mother Siphiwe, who had learnt the skills from the mother of her common-law husband (Nesta Nala’s paternal grandmother). As a single parent, Nesta Nala has raised and supported her family entirely from the production of pottery (Garrett, 1997:2). Nesta Nala has seven children (Greenberg)[i] and has taught five of her daughters to make pottery, Bongi Nala (eldest, age 40), Jabulani (Jabu) Nala (33), Thembi Nala (28), Nonhlanhla Nala (24), Zanele Nala (youngest, 21). Jabu Nala lives and works in Troyeville, Johannesburg and her two sisters, Thembi and Zanele, live and work in Milazi, Durban. Two of the seven children who are not potters are Zama (38), the only son and Thandani (36) (personal communication).
In 1983, Campbel Woolmore a farmer and store-owner in the Tugela Valley, discovered an Early Iron-Age pot and shards (AD 600-800) while ploughing his fields to plant potatoes (personal communication). Woolmore took his findings to the Natal University where after Leonard van Skalkwyk, an archaeologist, began working on the Ndondondweni sites at Mamba and Wozi in the Tugela valley (Garrett, 1997). Van Skalkwyk then visited Nesta Nala, who lives in the area close to where the Early Iron-Age pot and shards were discovered. After showing her shards excavated from the site, he had to convince Nesta Nala that they were part of her heritage before she would accept a commission to replicate the designs[ii]. Because of this meeting with Van Skalkwyk, new decorative themes appeared in Nesta Nala’s work. These include raised cords arranged in slanting lozenges, often combined with floral motifs or raised pellets and incised chevron patterns arranged in bands around the vessels (Garrett, 1997:44).
Nesta Nala’s work was chosen to represent SA at the Cairo International Biennale for ceramics in 1994. In 1995 she won the prestigious FNB Vita Craft Competition and the National Ceramics Biennale in 1996.
In 1999 she participated in the Smithsonian Institutions’ Folk Life Project in Washington. Her work is represented in major public and private collections in SA and abroad.
[i] Greenberg, S. 1996. National Ceramics Biennale: Nesta Nala. National Ceramics Quarterly, 37:15.
[ii] Personal communication with Campbel Woolmore: 1997.