Katlehong is a township located 35km East of Johannesburg and South of Germiston between two other townships — Thokoza and Vosloorus, and is next to the N3 highway in the Ekurhuleni Metropolitan Municipality.
These three townships are collectively known as Kathorus and are amongst many that have a rich struggle history that locals want exposed. Together with Thokoza and Vosloorus, Katlehong forms the second biggest black township after Soweto. Katlehong is home and birthplace to some of South Africa’s celebrated personalities and sports players.


In contrast to other community art centres that were operating in South Africa during the height of Apartheid, Katlehong Art Centre (KAC) developed as a project under the government’s East Rand Administration Board (ERAB) the same year that the leader of the Black Consciousness Movement, Steve Biko died in police custody. It was established in 1977 as a result of the Katlehong Art Society, a collection of individual artists such as Morningstar Motaung, Stanley Nkosi, Napo Mokoena and Lucas Sithole. The Society began in 1969 when Biko and his colleagues were expounding Black Consciousness as a riposte to the state sanctioned racial segregation and White supremacy. The artists, encouraged by the lack of working space in their township, approached the ERAB with the hope of getting support to form an art Centre.

Modelled after the Mzilikazi Art and Craft Centre in Bulawayo, the activities of KAC included drawing, painting, ceramics, sculpture, weaving and wirework amongst others. Maribe Mamabolo, who trained at Rorke’s Drift Art Centre in KwaZulu-Natal, became its first coordinator. He worked closely with the artists and staff that toiled daily at the art centre. Other artists who trained at Rorke’s Drift such as Bhekisani Manyoni and Ephraim Ziqubu were employed as teachers at KAC. The art centre employed full-time paid staff whose responsibilities ranged from cleaning, to labouring and driving. These members, together with some of the teachers were paid by the ERAB. The art centre was composed of a multiracial management team, which engaged the executive of the ERAB. The ERAB also made available funding towards the purchase of art materials for KAC.

One of the initiators of KAC and a former member of the Katlehong Art Society, Napo Mokoena was appointed as the centre’s coordinator during the stormy 1980s. Endemic poverty aside, during this period issues of political violence, curfews and states of emergency were just some of the hardships of life in Katlehong. The KAC was housed at an old dairy in the township where the artists worked. It had studios for full-time practicing artists. As part of its programmes, younger artists were organically mentored while art workshops for local schools were hosted in the afternoons. Mamabolo, as the coordinator of KAC supervised the implementation of these activities.

A gallery space together with an information centre was subsequently opened in Germiston as an outlet for the artists’ work. Lisa Mannhardt was employed to market the work through different exhibitions in and outside South Africa. Considering the period, she was an ideal person who was well placed to market the artworks successfully.  The gallery also bought some of the artists’ creations for their permanent collection that was housed in Germiston.

Instruction by luminary female artists such as Gladys Xaba and Mmakgabo Sebidi intersected with the predominantly male teaching staff to provide a well-rounded education in fine art at KAC. The art centre also produced individual artists who rose to international stardom such as Speelman Mahlangu, Martin Tose and Simon Masilo.

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Frank Beat: The Katlehong Arts Centre story; a remarkable journey [Accessed 02 March 2017]