Portraits of artists as young activists

PAINTED on a skateboard is an unlikely place to find the face of Miriam Makeba. But that, says Cape Town artist, Khayalethu Witbooi, is the whole point of the artwork, which is to be shipped to Bremerhaven in Germany shortly as part of the Young Visions In Motion group exhibition curated by entrepreneur, photographer and skateboarder Kent Lingeveldt.

Using his signature combination of stencilling and oil painting to illustrate how he feels about the late Grammy Award-winning singer, Witbooi calls the piece “Che Makeba”.

It shows her wearing a trademark Che Guevara beret and singing, not into a microphone, but a hand grenade. The unlikely locale of the image and the militant trimmings are deliberate.

“Miriam Makeba was not only a diva,” Witbooi says. “She was an activist who did much more for this country than many of us are aware. She told the world where SA was, who we were and what we were going through. That’s what I want to celebrate with this work.

“I also want to remind people how manipulated the history of this country can be. Because of the way we’re fed our news — mostly through popular media — too many of us remember the singer only for her music. But she was an important activist. We have to look beyond the way history is presented. Often it focuses only on certain points. It’s important that we don’t forget about critical people and things that contributed to where we are now. And by sharing this message on a skateboard, I hope it reaches a wider audience than it might otherwise.”

Witbooi — who began working as a full-time visual artist only three years ago, and has already been part of two other group shows and held his first solo exhibition, New Dog, Old Tricks at the Worldart gallery in Cape Town in March — uses an edgy, urban technique to express what he sees and cares about.

The area behind Makeba’s head, for example, resembles the wall of the old corner shops found in places such as Woodstock or Salt River where, says Witbooi, “freedom of expression is more obvious than in more formal areas like the centre of Cape Town”. The wall is layered with paint, then floral wallpaper. Graffiti followed. Stickers were applied and pulled off. Posters too. Street artists sprayed their tags and advertisers attached their logos.

“I want to give the feeling that you’re not looking at a painting, but that you’re seeing something that is between reality and ideas. It should be something you can easily relate to and make you wonder how it all got there. I want viewers to think about the many different people — some mature artists, some immature artists and some not artists at all — who used this wall or, in my other works, garage door, corrugated iron and tiles in a public toilet, as a canvas. They used the same space to say different things, to develop a language and to tell a history.”

But, while the Che Makeba skateboard celebrates the singer’s contributions as an activist and warns us against accepting history at face value, another of Witbooi’s paintings, this time a large spray-and-oil on canvas, entitled Sold Out, tells a more sinister story of democracy in the balance.

In this case, the artist transformed the canvas into a sheet of rusty corrugated iron. Again, graffiti artists have left their mark, someone has imitated Andy Warhol and others have scribbled. A notice advertising “safe abortions” and a Jacob Zuma campaign poster have been pasted on the iron and then partially torn off.

Most recently applied are the stencilled images of a couple of Stormtroopers (à la Star Wars) and a parachute, and paintings of a man on his knees, a tyre and an Independent Electoral Commission voting box in a petrol can.

Witbooi created Sold Out after seeing video footage of police dragging Mozambican taxi driver Mido Macia behind their van earlier this year. The parachute represents the invasion of the masked Stormtroopers — that is, the ambiguous keepers of the peace, the police. The tyre is Macia. “I felt the dark side of our democracy when I learnt about the taxi driver and a stronger sense than ever that things are not going right. It seemed the police were sending a message saying, ‘This is what we do to you if you mess with us’. We voted for this democracy but it can turn against us. I didn’t want to be too obvious in the painting or make it a depressing piece, but I also believe that as an artist I have a responsibility to express this reality.”

Witbooi’s work is extraordinarily measured, both in process and content. He is precise about how he creates it and what it says, and is determined to draw viewers in and challenge their perceptions of what is real and what is not.

“One of the greatest compliments I received was when the curator of a major corporate collection said he didn’t believe that one of my images was painted. He thought it was a real poster that I’d stuck on the canvas. That’s the kind of reaction I like.”

But it is not just his work that is measured: Witbooi’s decision to become a full-time artist was also a methodical and deliberate process. While he has always been confident about his talent — “It’s genetic. My father and grandfather could also recreate the world visually” — it was only when he was retrenched by the Pretoria architectural firm where he worked as an architectural illustrator for five years, that he began the process of becoming a full-time artist.

“In a sense, being retrenched was a blessing. It was a good job and it seemed irresponsible for me to leave it of my own accord. But when the recession came and I was let go, I remembered an article I had read about Ayanda Mabulu and the Good Hope Art Studio programme.

“I knew Ayanda because we had lived in the same place when I was in Cape Town previously. So I decided to return to the Western Cape and look him up.”

Mabulu was gracious. He and fellow artist Loyiso Mkize invited Witbooi to accompany them on visits to Cape Town galleries to show them their art. Although he had none of his own to show yet, Witbooi was encouraged by the experience and briefly went to his place of birth, Uitenhage’s Kwanobuhle township, to consider his options and “find my voice”. By the time he returned to Cape Town a few months later, he was ready to take the step and, having found a residency at the Good Hope Art Studio at the old castle, set to work. Charl Bezuidenhout of Worldart gallery was the first to sell his work.

In December 2011, Witbooi was awarded an artist’s residency at Greatmore Studios in Woodstock, where he says he is enjoying growing as an artist.

“I want to continue to share relevant things I care about. Many of these issues reference SA but actually, they are universal.

“And that’s important for me. I don’t want to box myself in as an African artist. The only things that restrict me are my visual limitations. And those are unlimited.”

Nelson Mandela: Sentenced To Life Imprisonment On 14 June 1964

On this day in 1964, Nelson Mandela was sentenced to life imprisonment and was sent to Robben Island, seven miles off Cape Town, sparking international protests.

He served 27 years before becoming president in the country’s first fully representative democratic election.

Nelson Mandela Eastern CapeAs president, Mandela prioritised reconciliation between South Africa’s black and white communities as swell as enacting sweeping reforms aimed at reducing inequality.

On Friday, Mandela remained in a “serious but stable condition” in a Pretoria hospital, where he has been for almost a week.

The former leader was admitted on Saturday after a recurrence of a lung condition.

Alarm over high GM content in Ace Maize Products

Ace Maize GMO informationJust as consumers were welcoming the news that Tiger Brands has decided to ditch genetically modified (GM) ingredients in its baby food, GMO testing carried out by an independent laboratory on behalf of the African Centre for Biosafety (ACB) has revealed shocking results in respect of five of Tiger Brands’ most popular maize based products.

The test results on the five products were as follows:

  • Ace super maize meal 78% GM maize content.
  • Ace maize rice 70% GM maize content.
  • Ace instant porridge 68% GM maize content.
  • Lion samp and beans 48% GM maize content of the samp
  • Jungle B’fast energy cereal 41% GM maize content.

The GM maize used in these products will almost certainly contain residues of toxic glyphosate based herbicides, since the vast majority of GM maize cultivated in South Africa has been genetically engineered to be resistant to Monsanto’s Roundup. There is now a substantial body of scientifically peer-reviewed data that links glyphosate exposure with severe human health impacts.

Tiger Brands’ Ace brands, consumed as a staple on a daily basis by the vast majority of South Africans, contained the highest levels of GM presence. Community groups are up in arms about these revelations. According to Zukiswa Nomwa of the Coalition for Ecological Justice (CEJ), based in Khayelitsha, “people don’t want to eat GM maize. Moreover, most people can’t afford Purity. What they feed their infants as a first food is maize. It doesn’t make sense for Tiger Brands to remove GMOs from Purity baby foods but not from their other maize-based products”.

According to ACB’s Consumer Awareness Campaigner, Zakiyya Ismail, “All of these products are misleadingly labelled as ‘may contain GM ingredients’, a label which is only allowed to be used when it is not feasible or scientifically possible to test. Consumers have the right to accurate and truthful labelling as required by the Consumer Protection Act.”

Director of the ACB, Mariam Mayet said that “It is a travesty that we are the only nation on Earth where our staple food, namely maize, is genetically modified. We demand GM-free, safe and nutritious food for all South Africans. Our government must commit to establishing GM-free zones in South Africa as a matter of urgency. It must also support food sovereignty initiatives in South Africa to ensure local control over food production, especially maize. We reject out of hand the current situation of corporate control of our food systems.”

ENDS//401 words

Notes for Editors
Tiger Brands commitment to remove GMOs from Purity baby foods can be viewed here.

For more information on the health risks of exposure to glyphosate see the following ACB publications here.
‘How much glyphosate is on your dinner plate? SA’s food safety compromised by lack of testing.’
‘Setting the record straight on the Seralini GM maize rat study: Why the SA government must urgently intervene’

A recent study commissioned by Friends of the Earth Europe has revealed that people in 18 countries across Europe have been found to have traces of glyphosate in their urine. The implications for South Africa of this are potentially very serious, as Europe does not cultivate any glyphosate tolerant GM crops, while the vast majority of its GM maize and soybean imports are used for animal feed and not eaten directly by people, as is the case here in SA.


  • Ms. Mariam Mayet, Director, African Centre for Biosafety: 083 269 4309
  • Ms. Zakiyya Ismail, Labelling Campaigner, African Centre for Biosafety: 083 273 7304

Call For Economic Freedom Charter

A message from Cedric de la Harpe on his Economic Freedom Charter. As an entrepreneur since 2004 and more so in the last five years, I cannot agree more with what is need in Uitenhage and the rest of Eastern Cape. Watch the video introduction and read the rest of his statement below.

As the violent protests in the South African Mining Industry rumbles, the world will look at us with uncertainty.

Cedric de la Harpe economic freedom charterSix months back I would have adopted the attitude. “I told you so”, referring to the books that I have informally published on my website, where i warm of the underlying animosity that is relevant in our country, all animosity can be attributed to the poverty, if we would like to believe it, but most of the animosity is directly related to our historical past, and compounded by our lack of moving towards reconciliation.

I personally do not believe that the Mine nationalization is the direction that we should take in our quest for Economic Freedom, it will only transfer the ownership of the Mines and the perceived wealth, into the hands of the Government, and their cabal who have access to the use of these funds. This cabal has a poor track record of translating any of the country’s wealth towards the Economic Freedom of all.

The intention of the Economic Freedom Charter, is to recruit one million contributors towards accepting a Charter that will give us Economic Freedom.

This Charter’s focus will includes:

  1. Free trade
  2. Restrictions to Entrepreneurship
  3. Extended Industry Regulations.
  4. Labour legislation parameters.
  5. Property Title.
  6. BEE
  7. Un-employed interests.
  8. Education
  9. Skills development
  10. Outlaw of Corruption
  11. Foreign Investment
  12. Safety & Security
  13. Health
  14. Democracy Extended to the People.

Where will we find the initial one million?

  • Informal Traders
  • Informal Manufacturers and Service Providers
  • Shebeen owners.
  • Spaza shop owners
  • Taxi owners / drivers
  • Farmers, black and white
  • Unemployed, black 7 white
  • Students, black & white.
  • Parents and grand-parents.

Who will oppose this Economic Freedom Charter, by the people, for the people?

Initially there will be resistance, we will not receive any support from any political structure, the media will remain neutral for their economic interests, and initially, the large conglomerates will oppose, but as we achieve our collective voice, we will take proposals to the conglomerates to seek their support to free our economy.

Top English honour for Uitenhage girl

 Micaela White Uitenhage English student
GOING BY THE BOOK: Micaela White and her English teacher, Anne Peltason, wait in anticipation for the De Beers English Olympiad award ceremony in Grahamstown next month

A THIRST for knowledge and a love of books have resulted in 17- year-old Uitenhage pupil Micaela White being selected as one of the top 15 contestants out of 7500 entries in the 2013 De Beers English Olympiad.

Her success means she gets a place at Rhodes University to study in a faculty of her choice and receives a book prize sponsored by the South African Council of English Education in the Eastern Cape.

There is also a sponsorship by De Beers for Micaela to be a guest of the Grahamstown Foundation to attend the National Schools’ Festival in July and to take part in the final of the Olympiad.

The clever teen says learning is just something she enjoys.

“I’m not into sports, and most of my time is spent reading or debating at home and at school. I love learning and researching subjects. I feel quite lucky to have made it this far,” the Grade 11 pupil said.

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source: The Herald newspaper