Nyanga artist hopes his success will inspire others

Themba Mkhangeli from Nyanga is the brains behind the design of the R2 coin released in May.

Who would have thought that an ordinary artist from the dusty streets of Nyanga could design a R2 coin which would be used across the country for years to come.

These are the poignant words of Themba Mkhangeli, 29, who has now etched his name in the history books of the country.

The coin was officially launched this year in May. The multi-award winning artist described being able to design South African money as a once in a lifetime opportunity.

He said he received an email from the South African Mint inviting him to be among a group of artists countrywide to design the new R2 and 50 cent coins.

He said he did not see the email until he received a message on his Instagram from the South African Mint, alerting him about the email.

He first thought it was a scam but soon realised that it was something real. He was informed that he was pitted against other artists across the country.

The brief he got was to design a springbok to celebrate the heritage of this country. He chose a female Springbok cub simply because most of his work is centred on appreciating the hard work women do in raising children as single parents.

When he was informed that his design had been selected, he was extremely proud.

He said as a self taught artist who hails from the township, being involved in such a big project sounded so unbelievable and one cannot describe how it felt winning it.

“I still cannot believe it when I get change in the shop knowing that I designed this money. When I told my mother that I’m going to quit studying and focus on my art, the first question she asked me was whether it would bring me money. So my answer was yes even though I did not know whether I would be able to make a living out of it.

“But when my design was selected, I was happy because she could see that this thing is for real. This is big. People across the country will see my design and it’s something that I have never thought about. I was told that they will use my 50 cent design for a limited edition,” he said.

“I think in this democratic century I’m the first black artist to design such money which would be used by everyone. Yes there are other black artists who had the opportunity and privilege to design money but it was limited designs for certain projects and would not be used by everyone. I never applied for anything. I did not know anyone. I know here in Cape Town we were eight artists.

“It means a lot to me and my family. But I’m sad that my mother died last year in September before she could finally see the end product,” he said.

Mkhangeli said he grew up as a creative person and his elder brother also had the gift of drawing. But he never knew that he could make a living out of drawing and at that time it was just a hobby.

However, he said it was only when he started attending Ilinge Primary School that he was afforded an opportunity to learn more about art and some of his teachers noticed his drawing skill and motivated him to keep going.

He applied at Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT) for electrical engineering and industrial design. He was selected for industrial design but was informed that because he did not have any art background, or a portfolio, he would be placed for a year in an art foundation readiness programme, which is part of CPUT, in 2015.

He passed all his practical work but he failed the theory and was not allowed to enrol for his first year and was instructed to complete the theory. The following year he continued with the theory but half way through the year he felt that it was too difficult and opted to drop out of school, something his mother was not too pleased about.

He knew that he would use all the information he gained to kick start his art career as he learnt about pricing and other elements. He then saw on Facebook information about an exhibition and he contacted them requesting to showcase his work.

Themba Mkhangeli invited his mother and his uncle to see his art work and what the art world is like and that is when they understood his passion and love of art. He said many artists were using charcoal and other mediums to draw but he opted to use a pen, not only to be unique, but because it was the only art tool he had.

This year, he was recognised at two big awards, when he became a runner up in the Sasol New Signatures awards for a drawing titled Amawele, using ball point pen on paper, which were held in Pretoria in September, and he won the Ryno Swart Drawing Medal for best drawing at Rust-en-Vrede Gallery last month.

In the next two years he wants to have his own solo exhibitions and in the next five years, he hopes to own a studio or gallery.

As he concluded the interview with Vukani, Mkhangeli said: “What I have managed to achieve gives hope to other children who are still growing. I don’t how I was named Themba (Hope) because I live for hope that things would be better.

“I do not want to be rich but as long as I’m able to fulfil the purpose I was brought for in this world then I’m happy. I hope that one day in the history books my story can inspire others when they learn that an artist from Nyanga or Julukuqu village in the Eastern Cape was able to design a R2 – then that should serve as motivation”.

Themba Mkhangeli said it has not yet sunk in that people across the country when they use this R2 they would be using his design.