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DUMILE, article in The Classic, Vol. 2, No. 4, 1968 written by Barney Simon:


The vibrance and uniqueness of Dumile, erratic visionary, artist in transit, extraordinary human being, are very, very difficult to communicate on paper. This is the closest I could come. A factual history (on which Dumile insists) and then, quite simply, things that Dumile has said to me and other friends. I have tried to recapture them, not verbatim, but as best I can.

MHLABA Zwelidumile Mxgasi (to quote Dumile's full name) was born on May Day, 1942, in Worcester, Cape. He moved to Cape Town with his family in 1946. A year later, his mother died, and his father, who had been a policeman, became a trader and evangelist. Dumile travelled with his father all over the country.

Throughout his childhood he was obsessed with drawing. He drew on every available surface. He began to play truant from school not only to be free to draw, but to avoid punishment for the defacement of his school books. He would slip off with his cousins, and while they played on the swings or went to see Tarzan and cowboy movies, he would sit and draw. When he was about eleven years old, Dumile came to live with an uncle in Johannesburg. In 1959, which was the year his father died, he took a job in a pottery, painting the standard "native scenes" (aloes, huts, hillsides, blanketed figures), doing "his own" work all the time. In 1963, Dumile began to know what he "really wanted to do", carving soft-stone and soap-stone and modelling in clay.

In 1963, too, he became ill with tuberculosis and was sent to Baragwanath Sanatorium for three months. There he began to paint pots again. The matron noticed him at work and asked him to paint some murals in the Sanatorium. Ephraim Ngatane was also a patient. They painted the murals together.

When Dumile left the Sanatorium, he visited an exhibition of Boboreki's sculpture, one of the first exhibitions he had ever seen. He tried to meet Boboreki and went to the Gallery 101 to find him. Madame Haengi of the 101 saw some of Dumile's small sculptures and put him under a contract, which has since ended.

In a relatively short period Dumile has had three one-man exhibitions, represented South Africa with five works at the Sao Paulo Bienniale of 1967, and participated in several group exhibitions. These included the Transvaal Academy (1965 and 1966), the Republican Arts Festival in 1966, Fame and Promise Exhibition for 1966, and the S.A. Brewery Competition 1966, where Dumile was awarded a prize. To a very recent exhibition in Pretoria, of portraits in sculpture, he contributed a highly praised portrait of the late Chief Luthuli.

Because he was born in the Cape, Dumile has been ordered by the authorities to leave Johannesburg and return to his home reserve by early 1968.

"I work hard. I draw, I sculpt, I do my best. Sometimes it's good and sometimes it's not so good. Other people can worry about that. I must work."

"One day when I was very small, I was walking in the street and I found a guitar. A real, new guitar just lying there! I picked it up and took it home. Hey, I was so happy! But my Father was evangelist and he wouldn't let me play it. So it just sat there. And then one day I pulled off one string and another day I pulled off another string. It wasn't being used. Then I began to pull it apart and one day we used it for firewood."

''There was a father in the Township who bought his son a coat. He wasn't a good father. He'd never shown any love for the boy. He was drunk from Monday to Monday. He never saw his children. Then as the first sign of love, he bought this coat and it was only a blazer. He gave it to the boy.

‘Thank you Father,’ said the boy and the father said, ‘It's okay.’ And the next morning when the boy saw the father again, he said ‘Thank you Father,’ and the father said, ‘What for?’ and the son said, ‘For the coat.’

‘It's okay,’ said the father. And in the evening again, when the boy saw the father, he said, ‘Thank you Father for the coat.’