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Zimbabwe: Artisans chisel final portraits on tombstones

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Choose a portrait of your self, have the image hand-carved on a headstone of your individual design — and pay for the monument earlier than you die.

That’s how a former banker in Zimbabwe, Tafadzwa Machokoto, discovered an uncommon components for making a vastly profitable enterprise.

4 years in the past, the 35-year-old holder of a pc science diploma give up a job with a number one financial institution, marching within the footsteps of many Zimbabweans who trek to neighbouring South Africa searching for a greater life.

A yr later, after a not-so-rosy stint, he returned to dwell in Rugare, a rundown district of the capital Harare the place the large enterprise is making tombstones.

Competitors within the funeral sector is ferocious, and Machokoto needed to win his spurs.

“We needed to be modern and that means now we have managed to overhaul many who have been within the enterprise earlier than us,” Machokoto mentioned.

His thought: have artisans delicately chisel portraits of the useless on tombstones.

“We have to keep in mind our family members not solely by their identify but additionally by their face,” mentioned Machokoto, flanked by a mason carving a portrait into black granite at a roadside yard.

He and enterprise companion Brian Haruperi supply folks choices for designing their very own tombstone, selecting a portrait they need, crafting the epitaph and paying for the service earlier than they cross on.

Engraved portraits of the useless are a standard sight in graveyards in Europe and elsewhere, although they’re often etched by laser.

For the same thought to work in Zimbabwe, the pair needed to pitch hand-crafted labour and overcome entrenched traditions and taboos.

It’s sometimes the accountability of the bereaved — not the deceased — to decide on the monument.

However, Machokoto mentioned, many individuals are swayed by the portrait — and the thought of saving their loved-ones a part of the funeral prices forward of time.

Purchasers make a down cost of fifty p.c, and pay 10 p.c of the steadiness each subsequent month.

Lasting picture

“Lots of people are in awe once they see” the portrait, Machokoto mentioned.

One consumer is Jessica Magilazi, a 43-year-old Zimbabwean primarily based in South Africa the place is a home employee. She misplaced her mom when she was nonetheless an toddler.

Her household had no image of the mom apart from the mugshot she had utilized in her passport.

They settled for that for the tombstone.

“After I take a look at the portrait it is like I’m seeing my mom in actual life,” mentioned Magilazi, who had travelled from Gqeberha (previously Port Elizabeth) for the disclosing of the tombstone at her mom’s grave in Highfield township.

“Those that will come after us may have an thought of how she regarded,” she mentioned.

‘I did not study artwork formally’

“I did not study artwork formally,” mentioned 19-year-old Denzel Karombe as he chiselled out a portrait from a black-and-white {photograph}.

He’s one in all many artists working for Machokoto’s enterprise Nyumba Yanga [Editor’s Note: “My House” in the Malawian Chewa language, a nod to the Malawian railway workers who initially began the township.]

The artists are often school-leavers in a township ravaged by unemployment and medicines, whom they practice from scratch to carve and inscribe.

It sells 20 to 30 tombstones a month at a mean worth of US$350 — a fortune in a rustic the place the common month-to-month wage is round $230.

The most costly tombstone Machokoto and Haruperi have offered is a US$5,000 “custom-made, dome-shaped, three-metre (10-feet) -long construction” ordered by a Zimbabwean diplomat for his late mom.

The enterprise employs 12 full-time stoneworkers and several other half timers, and attracts shoppers from throughout southern Africa and as far afield as Britain.