Dropout doing it for Madiba
A university dropout is fast becoming a national asset through his pen portraits of former president Nelson Mandela.
Themba Mkhangeli, 24, dropped out in his first year at Cape Town University of Technology because he was failing the theoretical aspect of his industrial design degree course.
After that, he poured everything into his first love: art.
“I did not like studying. I kept failing the theory and I was told that I could not progress to second year without passing the theory so I just went back home.
“I do all my work at home and I send my work to galleries all around the country. They buy my work in Durban, Johannesburg and Port Elizabeth,” he said.
Mkhangeli is from Julukuqu village near Mqhekezweni, where Mandela grew up. He uses pen and paper to draw his portraits.
On Friday, Mkhangeli handed over 20 portraits of Mandela to the Nelson Mandela Museum in Mthatha, where he will soon hold an exhibition.
Having spent six hours on each of the 20 portraits, Mkhangeli said the most delicate part is drawing the eyes.
“The eyes are difficult to draw because they really show the mood, emotions and character,” he said.
“If you mess up the eyes, the whole face changes. To me it is the most difficult to draw.”
Museum CEO Bonke Tyhulu said Mkhangeli’s work was in line with their ethos.
“His work is part of the museum’s narrative about spreading Madiba’s legacy. Youngsters have been influenced by Madiba and they are using art to interpret that.
“This shows how Mkhangeli appreciates the importance of tradition because he drew Madiba in his traditional gear. We appreciate his work,” he said.
Tyhulu said the museum was going to have an exhibition in August and September and it invited Mkhangeli to bring more of his work to be on display at the museum.
Besides sketching Mandela, Mkhangeli has also painted late South African hip-hop legend Prokid, father of Pan Africanism Robert Sobukwe and American actor Morgan Freeman.
He uses social media platforms to share his work. When a national TV station used his portrait of Prokid without his permission – and without even crediting him – the office of the Eastern Cape premier decided to help him register his company, and also funded him with R60,000 for material.
Premier Phumulo Masualle’s chief of staff, Nandi Sikutshwa, said: “We became aware of the exploitation by the media and the unfairness thereof.
“We felt that we should jealously guard his talent, especially since the premier promotes youth development.”..