Meet Dinah Sibongile Cele, an unassuming Durbanite who is upcycling used printer tape into useful and decorative homewares and accessories.
Dinah never set out to be an eco-warrior. But when she was widowed at age 40, in 1998, she had to find a job—and quick— to sustain her two school-going daughters. She took up the first job she could find, working as a printing assistant at a small printing firm in Durban.
The company, where she still works, was generating a good amount of waste printer cartridges, and one day Dinah looked inside one.
She was intrigued by what she saw: perfect rolls of multicolored tape lay inside. The colours were vibrant; CMYK—cyan, magenta, yellow, and black—and the tape was coiled neatly in an endlessly repetitive pattern. She touched it and tugged at it.
“It could bend like this and like that. This thing is the same as plastic!” thought Dinah.
She asked her employer if she could take some of that tape home, and they were happy to oblige.
Now Dinah’s mother had always woven and crocheted. Basketry is famous among her tribe, the Zulu people of South Africa’s KwaZulu-Natal province. Zulu women make their beautiful baskets mostly from the Ilala palm and the bark of ncebe, a wild banana. The baskets’ geometric patterns have meanings, with masculine and feminine symbols that can tell a story to the trained eye. These baskets have a super-tight weave, and besides storing and carrying grain, they are used to carry liquids like umkhomboti, a traditional Zulu beer.