“Art speaks where words can’t explain.”
– Threadless artist, Mathiolen

To Cape Town based artist, Themba Mkhangeli (22) a ballpoint pen symbolized far more than an item on a school stationery list.

A ball point pen had the ability to elicit a kind of healing and was able to convey the South African face/s and narrative through its strokes.

Mkhangeli knew the face of struggle, as do many black children. He knew the feeling of hunger as it seeped through his bones when he tried to sleep. He was required to wake up at 4am without fail to go to school. On better days you go to school and sometimes you just don’t go.

It is these struggles that has shaped many black children, including Mkhangeli. To some black children the struggle was a training ground preparing them for the greater battle ahead.

“A single matress spread on the floor was enough for all of us
Bread slices were buttered with iRama
And rolled into sausage shapes;
We had it with black rooibos, we did not ask for cheese.”

– Koleka Putuma, Collective Amnesia

Mkhangeli remembers his childhood days and his roots in the Eastern Cape province, in a small village called Julukuqu. This is where he discovered his hidden talent. He started dabbling in art at the age of five, but he took it lightly. He thought it was a little stick men drawing, that every child reverts to upon boredom in class.

Only in Grade 6 when he was doing school projects, is when Mkhangeli’s classmates realised that his drawings were not just stick men drawings nor elementary, it was art.

The older children in his class told him that he was a special and that he should pursue a career as an artist. This is where Mkhangeli’s confidence grew and this is at the same time that he used art as a means of storytelling.

During lessons, Mkhangeli started drawing teachers while they were busy teaching. When other boys went to play soccer, Mkhangeli would sit with his pen and paper and start drawing. Little did he realise that he was sketching out his vocation too.

Drawing and art has been a necessary relief through the black struggle. Mkhangeli uses his art as a tool to inspire other aspiring black children and take them off the streets and keep their minds from negativity.

There’s a lot of talent in the dusty streets of our communities, but no one takes initiative to develop young talent and nurture it. Most of the talent dies on the streets.

In most black communities, a man is taught that “Indoda Ayikhali” which means that a man doesn’t cry. This stigma has caused many black men to stifle their feelings. However through art, these stifled feelings are expressed without words or humiliation.

Mkhangeli artwork started making waves within the art industry when he sold his first item of drawing as a call of action. The drawing was about African childhood and black struggle. It was used for a poverty campaign in September 2015.

Mkhangeli’s dream is to become a top black South African ballpoint artist, even though one of his greatest challenges include supporting his family.

Black families find it difficult to understand how he makes a livelihood out of ballpoint drawing. Mkhangeli also finds it difficult to find people within the community who are willing to support him and allow his work to shine on a global level and get the recognition he deserves.

However, the challenges do not stop Mkhangeli’s quest to excel at his craft. This year he has entered two prestigious art competitions namely, Vuleka art competition which is an initiative of the Western Cape government that is in partnership with the South African Association of Visual Art (SANAVA) and Sanlam Portrait Award which is one of its kind in South Africa, designed to celebrate South Africa’s top artists.

Two of his artworks appeared on the Vukani art competition finalists’ lists and his artwork was selected among 40 other finalists from the 9 provinces of South Africa.



As an aspiring young ballpoint artist, Mkhangeli has learnt the principle of staying humble as a person and throughout all situations one should never lose focus of their main goal. Mkhangeli also adds that, “your circles are important. Choose friends that have the same goal as you because they will always push you out of your comfort zone and bring out the best version of yourself”.

A masterpiece is not complete in Mkhangeli’s eyes unless it signifies the beauty of nature and embodies elements of his childhood which are craziness, struggle and the power of black people.

“The struggle is the strongest memory of my childhood that has helped shape my art work,” says Mkhangeli.

These elements can be seen in Mkhangeli’s favourite artwork. 

 The artwork symbolizes that as a black person you are born through struggle, however it is the struggle that makes us winners. We are taught to rise above situations like our forefathers, to take the struggles and place it in a positive light and to change the world. To always be aware of your surroundings, which is represented by a spider in the drawing.

If Mkhangeli was to describe love using his craft, he would draw a butterfly. “The tiny creature, has the power to pollinate, bring joy, it is free and beautiful to the beholder. That is exactly how love should be,” says Mkhangeli.

Mkhangeli’s art work is Hyperrealist; an artform resembling high resolution photographs, drawings or sculpture. Hyperrealism is considered an advancement of Photorealism by the methods used to create the resulting paintings or sculptures. The term is primarily applied to an independent art movement and art style in the United States and Europe that has developed since the early 1970s.

 Local artists that have shaped Mkhangeli’s work include Ennock Mlangeni, Percy Maimela and Lwando Lunika.

“Never stop dreaming black child, let your struggles be seen through your craft.”

Categories: Lifestyle