Welcome to Week 19 of my #Gauteng52 challenge, for which I will visit and blog about a new place in Gauteng Province every week for 52 straight weeks. This week I visit Aranda Textile Mills, home of the Basotho blanket.
Basotho blankets are not made in Lesotho, the tiny country for which the blankets are named. Originally produced in England, these woollen symbols of Basotho culture are now produced at Aranda, a factory/showroom in the South African town of Randfontein on Johannesburg’s West Rand.
I’ve been wanting to visit Aranda since I learned about it in 2013 from the Basotho blanket ladies of Clarens. (Read more about Basotho blankets and the blanket ladies here and here.) I finally got my chance a few weeks ago.
Aranda’s extraordinary story started several generations ago with the Magnis, an Italian textile-making family in Tuscany. The Magnis’ factory was destroyed by the Germans during World War II, and a South African colonel convinced the family to move their operation to South Africa after the war ended. After several decades of producing a range of blankets and shawls at their mill in Randfontein, the Magnis added Basotho blankets to their repertoire in the 1990s.
Basotho blankets have an extraordinary history of their own. I’ve touched upon it in my previous posts, but the Aranda website includes many details that I wasn’t aware of before. I can’t retell the story as well as they already have so please read it there.
This incredible painting, featuring a man in Lesotho wearing the signature “NZ” blanket, hangs in Aranda’s front office. Read more about it here.
Visiting Aranda Textile Mills
My friend Marie-Lais and I showed up at Aranda without an appointment, which turned out to be a mistake. We only had a few minutes to speak to Marketing and Sales Director Tom Kritzinger, who was on his way to another meeting, and it would have been nice to speak with him longer as Tom has an encyclopedic knowledge of Basotho blankets. It also would have been great to tour the factory but we didn’t think to arrange that ahead of time. But Tom did give us permission to take pictures in the sales room so we headed back there to explore.
Ray and I already own two Basotho blankets and there was no need whatsoever to for me to buy another. But damn, did I have to hold myself back. I love these blankets. I managed to leave empty-handed but just barely.
Even more than the blankets themselves, I loved watching people shop for Basotho blankets. People come to Aranda from all over South Africa and Lesotho to buy blankets, either for themselves or to resell to others in their hometowns. (Basotho blankets, which range in price from a couple of hundred rand to around a thousand rand depending on the quality, sell for quite a bit less at Aranda than they do at smaller shops in South Africa and Lesotho.)
Security guards outside the sales room help customers to wrap up their purchases, then the customers hop onto minibus taxis to head back to wherever they came from.
Winter is coming to Joburg, and I promise there is nothing better than a Basotho blanket for keeping warm in a freezing-cold house. Get yourself to Aranda before it’s too late.
Aranda Textile Mills are at the corner of Wol and Desert Streets, Randfontein. Call +27-11-693-3721 for more information.