Themba Mhlongo started modelling with clay as a young man, concentrating mainly on cattle and other animal shapes. These were made on an intimate scale. He later diversified his approach to sculpture by trying his hand at carving in wood. Mhlongo also did clay studies of the human figure in the form of small portrait busts, like this example of an unknown man (plate 77) in the Campbell Smith Collection. His work in clay was usually fired in the traditional way, using a pit-firing method with dried aloe leaves. Mhlongo is a man of strong religious beliefs and became an active Christian lay preacher. It is not surprising therefore to discover that he has also produced some religious pieces. These include variations on the theme of praying hands – a universally popular subject that traces its lineage back to the drawing dated 1504 by the 16th-century German artist Albrecht Dürer – and the Crucifixion.
More recently Mhlongo has made a serious study of traditional healing and herbalism and is now practising as a full-time healer in Eshowe. He has no interest in working with clay any longer, and to all intents and purposes his career as an artist has ceased. Although it is hard to determine his reasons for abandoning his creative work, the reason may be very simple. Rumour has it that it might well be because a dam has been built in the area where the particular clay that he preferred using was easily accessible.
Prior to Mhlongo becoming a healer, Howard Balcomb commissioned him to make portrait busts of the Zulu kings and of women wearing traditional Zulu female hair styles. In 1999 the Tatham Art Gallery in Pietermaritzburg finally acquired his portrait busts of six Zulu kings: Shaka, Dingane, Mpande, Cetshwayo, Dinuzulu and Cyprian. King Solomon’s portrait is unfortunately missing from this series and of those today in the Tatham’s permanent collection, Shaka’s headdress is without its long blue crane feather, which appears to have been lost in transit.
Mzuzile Mduduzi Xakaza
Born in Stanger (now called KwaDukuza), on the north coast of KwaZulu-Natal; 1940. Training No formal art Training; entirely self-taught as a sculptor. Exhibitions No recorded participation in any formal exhibitions. Collections Tatham Art Gallery, Pietermaritzburg.