Mofolo Arts Centre

Environmental art from recycled rubbish and linen clothes by Kenneth Nkosi at his offices in Mofolo Art Centre in Soweto, 2011. Image source

Located on Mzilikazi Street in Mofolo, the Mofolo Arts Centre is a hub of cultural and artistic exploration in Soweto. The centre is one of the few institutions that gave township artists a chance to showcase their works during the Apartheid era. In its prime during the 1970s and 80s, the centre was active in the community, hosting artists such as Jabulani Sam Nhlengethwa, Durant Sihlali and Ezrom Legae.

Community art centres and workshops in the Johannesburg area were preceded by the Polly Street Art Centre of the 1950s which was later transferred to the Jubilee Arts Centre in the 1960s. Due to political tensions, Cecil Skotnes and Sydney Khumalo began to build up art workshops in the townships and as a result Jubilee would relocate to the Mofolo Arts Centre in the late 1970s. Bill Hart became director for a short period before the initiative passed entirely on to black artists. 

Printmaking, which had not been prevalent at Polly Street, became important at the Mofolo Arts Centre when Dan Rakgoathe who had been at Rorke’s Drift, came to teach at the Centre until 1981. Chabani Cyril Manganyi, began his art career at the Centre and went on to teach at Rorke's Drift at the end of the 1970s. He later returned as a teacher and thereafter became the director from 1982.

Much of the printmaking was linocut as there was no press at the facility. This allowed for lower material costs due to a lack of resources. The facility also offered many activities from choirs, ballroom dancing, indoors sports and literacy classes.  One of the Centre's objectives, according to Durant Sihlali, was to offer worthwhile projects for young people, especially after the education breakdown due to the government’s reaction to the 1976 boycotts.

Currently the Centre offers sewing, pottery, dance and music lessons. It also runs a library that houses over 14165 books, which is well used by the youth of Soweto.

• Hobbs, Philippa & Rankin, Elizabeth. (1997), Printmaking: In a Transforming South Africa, pp.17, David Philip publishers: Cape Town.

Last updated : 13-Jun-2018

This article was produced for South African History Online on 24-May-2017