Clay art escape from poverty

You don’t have to be well-trained to be a fine artist. This is what the Dispatch adventure team learnt when travelling through Port St Johns last month.

In the area, along the R61, you will see a number of handmade clay items, among them some very detailed Land Rovers, for sale.

The artists we spoke to were three unemployed friends from Qhaga village who found themselves falling back to their childhood pastime of clay art when they could not find formal jobs.

They have honed their childhood skills and now sell their clay art on the road between Umngazi River and Port St Johns town every day.

Each morning they wake up as early as 5am and rush to sell their wares to tourists arriving or leaving Umngazi River Bungalows and Spa. This is their sole source of income.

Vuyolwethu Gila said poverty has forced people to do something with their hands in order to survive. “If you are not lucky enough to get work here or you are not old enough to get a government social grant, you are an unfortunate individual who is lost in the middle… the best way is to wake up and do something for yourself, hence we are playing with clay to produce these beauties,” said Gila, referring to the exquisitely-made clay vehicles he was holding.

His two friends of over 10 years, Mnikelo Ngxelelwa and Mxoleli Ndabeni, said deciding to sell the art had been life-changing

The trio specialise in making the clay vehicles which they then sell to tourists. Each vehicle sells between R120 and R150. If they are lucky, they take home between R300 and R450 every day.

A tourist from Limpopo, James Hunt, who is originally from Zimbabwe, said he buys the art wares. “I support them and I would love to see other people supporting as well.”

The trio dream of making a full-scale Mercedes-Benz. “We would make it in the hope that it would be put in the company’s German museum. That will make us happy and it will make people of Port St Johns proud, as that will be their contribution to the world of automotive industry,” said Gila. — Bongani Fuzile

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