Everyday Sheroes: Thandeka Mahlangu – Using Art to Transform my Community

Someone once asked me my definition of sheroes, and my reply was women who have inspired me to become a better person. Women who have planted seeds of action to make the world a better place one small step at a time. South African Artist Thandeka Mahlangu comes to mind. She has used her gift of art to transform her community of Vezubuhle and teaches art to kids for free at her art school Nothando Development Centre.

Falling in love with art

My name is Thandeka Mahlangu from Mpumalanga, kwaMhlanga in an area called Vezubuhle. I have four siblings and I’m a mother to a 2-year-old boy.

My talent to draw was revealed very early in my life. At school I would always draw better than anyone. Even if I had tried to take art seriously at the time, there was not enough money for me to get the proper tools to work with, and there was no art shop to begin with. And so I used whatever I could find to draw. This became my safe place, and it shielded me from a lot of things that were happening around me like the usual bullying and name-calling from the other kids.

No matter what

It is my grandmother who was a major inspiration for me to take art seriously. She even taught me a few techniques on how to do it properly. Out of all my siblings, I am the only one who took her advice seriously. Even though at the time I had never heard of art being a subject I could take up even at college, I just knew deep down that it was a dream that I wanted to pursue no matter what.

After I completed my matric, I studied theology whilst waiting to do teaching, which the college was not offering at the time, but had promised that it would start in a few months, which never happened until I finished with my studies or diploma. It is only after I completed this course that I enrolled for a Diploma in Arts and Design, which I completed in 2016.

After my diploma, I embarked on taking up commissioned portraits, which gave me a source of income. That is when I realized that there are a lot of children in the community who desired to take up art but didn’t know how they would go about it.

That’s when I approached the authorities in charge of a neglected community centre. I laid out my plan and vision, and they handed over the centre to me.

Renovations have been done from my pocket with the commissioned portraits I have taken up.
Although there is no sponsor yet, I am determined to see this project through, and there has been an overwhelming response from kids in the community.

Pain to purpose

The loss of a very good friend of mine, who was a very promising artist, has been the push factor for me to keep going. The response has been overwhelming so much so that I have had to acquire a volunteer teacher to help with the kids.

On Sunday afternoons, we hold a church service with the kids, and that has made me come to the full realization that everything works together for good to them that love the Lord. Who knew that my theology diploma would come to effect even though at the time I had teaching in mind?

The centre has become my life. During the day, I am there teaching, giving guidance and counselling to some of the troubled kids. During the night, I have to make sure that I get some work done, be it house chores or the commissioned jobs, which leaves me tired but fulfilled.

One of my many visions is to provide food parcels, uniforms and stationery to some of the beneficiaries at the centre. And again, I would love to open an art gallery of my own. One thing I know though is that everything will come full circle because I have planted a seed, and I know it has already begun to germinate.

Some of the famous people Thandeka has drawn are Gogo Esther, veteran actor Sello Maake kaNcube, the late Ricky Rick, the late legendary Hugh Masekela, Shona Ferguson, to mention a few.

If there is one thing that I have learnt it’s that it is better to fail after starting something than to fail to start altogether. Dedication and self motivation are some of the requirements one needs to realize your dreams. Make sure that if you have a dream, do something about it. Plant a seed of action, and it will germinate in due course.

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