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Art For Art’s Sake

William Kentridge is one of the golden names in art in Africa. What are his works worth?

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The international art world in which he finds himself is complicated, like the artist himself. South African artist William Kentridge strides confidently in this tough and demanding world, whether he is showing his work in a gallery in Sydney or Paris; featuring in a retrospective in the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) in New York or the National Museum of Modern Art in Kyoto; or premiering an unusual opera at the New York Metropolitan Opera or at the Festival d’ Aix en Provence.

Artist William Kentridge at his ‘Arts on Main’ studio, Johannesburg; 11 August 2011 – Photo by Brett Eloff.

The art world requires excellence in execution, but most of all, it requires a unique spark of creativity, of individual expression that sustains itself. Kentridge has been blessed with this. One cannot describe him by any glib epithet. He is South African, yet he is internationally recognised as one of the world’s greatest contemporary artists. In 2009 he was on Time’s 100 list of people who most affected the world. His exhibition, 5 Themes, was second on Time’s Top 10 list of exhibitions in 2009. He has won several international accolades, including the 2011 Kyoto Prize for outstanding contributions to society. Kentridge may frequent the art capitals of the world, but he is firmly rooted in South Africa, in Johannesburg specifically, where he has two studios. One at home in a leafy suburb, where the bulk of his solitary work is done, the other in downtown Johannesburg, in the Arts on Main complex. The latter is a large space, ideal for the expansive drawings used in theatrical performances, and for rehearsals for performance pieces.

At the time of writing this, Kentridge and his team were working on Refuse the Hour a series of live collaborative performances to be staged at the Market Theatre in Newtown, Johannesburg in September. Among them is the lecture performance I am not me, the horse is not mine, which incorporates eight short films, and which is being staged for the first time in Johannesburg. It was inspired by the short story The Nose, written in 1837 by Russian writer Nikolai Gogol. Gogol’s story inspired Dmitri Shostakovich to write his opera The Nose in 1928. The main character’s nose takes on a life of its own, and thus opens the discourse around matters of social hierarchy and division of the self. In turn, I am not me, the horse is not mine formed the basis for Kentridge’s interpretation of the Shostakovich opera, which premiered at the New York MetropolitanOpera, and garnered him his “best reviews yet” at its

European premiere at the Festival d’Aix en Provence. So good, in fact that several international opera houses have expressed interest in staging the production, with its massive painted canvasses and video projections. Several large mechanical contraptions are ranged around the studio. Kentridge steps up to one, turns a lever, and the wooden machine which sprouts metal megaphones at its tips, moves. These structures are larger than life, curious. Looking at them in this space makes one aware, in Kentridge’s words, of the process of looking and seeing and making sense of the world.

Against one expansive white wall a film image is projected. It is of Kentridge walking. Behind him walks dancer Dada Masilo. He throws a book from a stack on his head back towards her. She catches it and tosses a book back at him. They continue walking in a timeless loop. It is fascinating to watch. This too will be part of the September performances. While preparations for these performances will take up the next few weeks at the downtown studio, Kentridge spends most of his time working on his own in his studio at home. For the past 18 months, he has been working on a new film and exhibition that will show at the Goodman Gallery in Rosebank, Johannesburg in November.

Other Faces is the 10th in a series of animated films that he started working on 23 years ago. The films feature the same characters, and primarily use the same technique. He makes drawings with charcoal on paper. A drawing is done, then filmed with an old 35mm animation camera. The same drawing undergoes “many, many” erasures. Through the animation of these drawings, the artist leads the observer to understand the world as process rather than as fact. Kentridge continues to work on one drawing until the sequence in the film is finished.

He doesn’t work on the series constantly, but comes back to it every few years. The films are invariably about Johannesburg. The themes in this one are about xenophobia and the changing look of streets of downtown Johannesburg. It has to do with the further erasure of the mine dumps and Johannesburg memory. It’s about “one’s relationship to one’s younger self”, Kentridge says. Other Faces brings back the character of Soho Eckstein, who along with the character Felix Teitlebaum, is a constant in Kentridge’s films. It took a while for him to understand that they each represented an alter ego, a “self-portrait in the third person”. Kentridge talks about our collective amnesia as South Africans about the apartheid years. It is always easier to forget about the uncomfortable things. Yet when I look at Kentridge’s work (I was lucky enough to get a preview of Other Faces), I am jolted back into the past.

As lyrical music sometimes juxtaposes with his stark images, deep passions rip around my interior. I am struck by the horror, the poignancy, and the irony of his themes and the beauty of his art He strives to evoke or recreate the strength of a passionwhen first experienced, whether it is anger or distress. He does this so successfully that the viewer cannot remain distant from his work. It engages one on a deep, even subconscious level. The Goodman Gallery will show the film as well as about 30 or 40 drawings that were made in the process of the film. These will be for sale, but the artist won’t talk about value. This is where one of the grey areas of the art world comes in. Artists create art for the sake of creation. They are not motivated by money in the same way as investors and stock market traders are. And yet, there is an art market. And there is always a local art market and an international art market.

So I ask Lisa Essers, the owner of Goodman Gallery, for an estimated comparison of the investment value of a Kentridge work. If, in the late eighties one had bought a Kentridge drawing for around R40 000 ($5 600), today it could fetch somewhere between R1.6 million and R2 million ($235,000-$280,000). Kentridge is one of only a handful of contemporary African artists who are part of international art history, and therefore part of the international art market. Essers says the South African art market is quite far behind the curve as far as other art markets in the world are concerned.

The top international curators handpick the talent that is brought to the art markets, and it’s the collectors who put a price on the work. Often, it is on auction that works bring in the largest amounts, and more often than not it is the collector who benefits, rather than the artist. In brief, there is one essential difference between investing in art and investing in stocks. Stocks are more liquid and offer dividends, whereas an art investment takes a number of years to mature. The joy of investing in art in the short term is about aesthetic pleasure and status. In the long term, the value of a work is determined by a number of variables, one of them being the name and reputation of the artist. That, Kentridge undoubtedly has.

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Agriculture

Green-Sky Thinking

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In Johannesburg, city-dwellers like Linah Moeketsi have taken the future of sustainable farming into their own hands. Where land is becoming scarce, they look to the skies.


Doornfontein is one of Johannesburg’s older inner-city suburbs with decaying buildings and dingy alleys that wear a dour, monochrome look.

Daily commuters and street surfers jostle with delivery vans and mountains of metal scrap but the grey of the concrete city makes it hard to believe that there could be a patch of green in a most unlikely location.

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Above the humdrum of life here is a rooftop hydroponics farm looking down on the city, but upwards to a new route to restoration and urban preservation.

Atop the eight-floor Stanop building – offering a breath-taking view of the city and the landmark Ponte Towers in the distance – one woman has made it her mission to turn a grimy grey terrace into a green lung on the city’s skyline.

“City life is taking on a totally new direction… even people who think they couldn’t one day farm, find themselves on rooftops,” Linah Moeketsi tells FORBES AFRICA.

Moeketsi grows herbs, used to treat non-communicable diseases (NCDs), in a 250m x 500m greenhouse on the building’s terrace. But her rooftop farm is sans any soil – it uses a hydroponics system.

“I think because we are in the city and we would like to produce for people in the city, hydroponic farming is one of the answers because you can actually harvest more than twice the produce, and the growth rate is quicker and there is produce that you can have throughout the year that people demand because it is in a controlled environment,” she says.

On a windy Wednesday morning in October, we meet Moeketsi at her aerial green facility, a couple of days before she is to send some of her plant produce to the market.

She talks about her journey as an offbeat farmer. It all started when her father fell ill in 2013, when doctors failed to correctly diagnose his disease.

“They couldn’t see that he was diabetic. He didn’t show the signs of diabetes, but he had this foot ulcer that just wouldn’t go away,” she says.

“The future of city farming is great simply because we have more and more young people getting into this space. Even though it’s farming, they are looking at it from a very different angle.

Moeketsi decided to do her own research, so she read up books on African medicinal plants and used some herbs that belonged to her late mother, who had been a traditional healer.

“It took me a good eight months to help my dad and I actually saved him from having an amputation.”

The news of Moeketsi curing her dad’s diabetes using herbs spread. Sadly, her father died in 2016, at the age of 87. But she is proud to have helped prolong his life.

“So he passed away in his sleep, not sick, nothing, he was just old. But he was always grateful; he was like, ‘even when I die, I’m going to die with both my limbs’, so we would make a joke about it.”

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After her father’s demise, Moeketsi rented some land and turned her knowledge on natural herbs into a fully-fledged farm. However, when the owner of the land returned, she was forced to vacate.

Land was always going to be a problem in the city. But instead of giving up, Moeketsi looked to the skies.

“Because of this passionate drive for an answer, I found myself researching what’s happening outside Gauteng and South Africa, and I saw in Europe, they were farming on rooftops,” she says.

In 2017, her dream became a reality when she secured a deal with the City of Johannesburg as part of an urban farming program, and started the rooftop project a year later.

When we visit her greenhouse, we are welcomed by the sweet lingering scent of herbs. It’s hot and humid, and two fans whir away to cool the air.

Moeketsi walks around the greenhouse wearing dark glasses and a white jacket, with a syringe in hand – she could easily pass off as a medical doctor.

She elaborates on the hydroponics system. There are four pyramids, each attached to their own reservoirs of water. On each pyramid, different plants, ranging from spinach, lettuce, sage, parsley, basil and dill, rest on beds with pipes connecting them to the reservoirs. Moeketsi plucks out one of the pipes and inserts the syringe; water spouts out of the tube and she returns it to the bed.

“Twice a day, you have to check that water is actually going through the pipes, because that’s how the plants get water and nutrients,” she explains, as she unblocks a pipe using the syringe. She says it’s one of the best ways to farm using little water.

“When you put in certain plants in the greenhouse, you know you are guaranteed sustainable farming because you can produce those plants and harvest them,” she says.

Moeketsi adds that this allows her produce to stay consistent season after season.

“So, from that point of view, it makes the city more sustainable in terms of food produce that is easily accessible and cost-effective for the consumer because not everyone around here can afford the high prices of food but they can at least afford what we sell, whether it is at R10 ($0.5) or R15 ($1).”

As Moekesti continues to tend to the plants, a farmer she works with walks in and begins filling up the reservoirs.

Lethabo Madela has known Moekesti for almost six years.

“When you look around Johannesburg, there is no space, so rooftops have saved us a lot, especially those of us that love farming,” says Madela. “I’m learning a lot and I think she [Moekesti] changed the whole concept of farming for me because I used to farm vegetables. I didn’t know culinary herbs or medicinal herbs.”

Moeketsi speaks of other farmers around the city who have taken to the rooftops to farm plants such as strawberries, lemon balm, spinach and lettuce.

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In a suburb called Marshalltown, a 10-minute drive from Moeketsi’s farm, Kagiso Seleka farms lemon balm also using hydroponics.

He produces sorbet and pesto from his produce which is then used to make ice cream.

“It [hydroponics] is great for farming sensitive plants in terms of temperature. Lemon balm does not like frost. But it’s better to grow even out of season so you can set a higher price,” he tells us.

However, he says hydroponics farming is a luxury not many farmers can afford.

“It [hydroponics] does have a bit of a higher capital upfront, but you get a higher yield and higher quality, so people are willing to pay more. Hydroponic planting saves about ninety five percent of water soil farming in a water-scarce country,” says Seleka.

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“We do have water shortages, and I know people are on the whole ‘organic trip’ but, is it more important to have an organic plant versus a water-saving environment?”

The Program Coordinator for Agriculture at the City of Johannesburg’s Food Resilience Unit, Lindani Sandile Makhanya, says there certainly are more rooftop farmers in Johannesburg now than ever before.

Converting idle terraces into avenues of profit is becoming a norm. There are new rooftop farms being set up every day, offers Makhanya.

He regularly visits Moeketsi’s farm to check on the progress and collect produce to sell.

“Urban farming in Johannesburg is rising, mainly because the idea of producing our own food is very important because most people are moving to urban areas and therefore it stands to reason that we have to try to produce as much as possible,” says Makhanya.

“[There is growth] even in animal production, although we are moving away from the bigger numbers, but we are involving the smaller ones; because of the space issue, they are increasing overall.”

For Moeketsi, her farm has changed her life and given her hope for a better future. In addition to the teas, tinctures, ointments and medicinal products she processes from her plants, she plans to include more by-products such as syrups in the future.

“The future of city farming is great simply because we have more and more young people getting into this space. Even though it’s farming, they are looking at it from a very different angle,” she says. “That is why the city is changing and rooftop farming is going to get bigger and bigger.”

Clearly, farming in Africa is covering exciting new ground.

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30 under 30

Applications Open for FORBES AFRICA 30 Under 30 class of 2020

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FORBES AFRICA is on the hunt for Africans under the age of 30, who are building brands, creating jobs and transforming the continent, to join our Under 30 community for 2020.


JOHANNESBURG, 07 January 2020: Attention entrepreneurs, creatives, sport stars and technology geeks — the 2020 FORBES AFRICA Under 30 nominations are now officially open.

The FORBES AFRICA 30 Under 30 list is the most-anticipated list of game-changers on the continent and this year, we are on the hunt for 30 of Africa’s brightest achievers under the age of 30 spanning these categories: Business, Technology, Creatives and Sport.

Each year, FORBES AFRICA looks for resilient self-starters, innovators, entrepreneurs and disruptors who have the acumen to stay the course in their chosen field, come what may.

Past honorees include Sho Madjozi, Bruce Diale, Karabo Poppy, Kwesta, Nomzamo Mbatha, Burna Boy, Nthabiseng Mosia, Busi Mkhumbuzi Pooe, Henrich Akomolafe, Davido, Yemi Alade, Vere Shaba, Nasty C and WizKid.

What’s different this year is that we have whittled down the list to just 30 finalists, making the competition stiff and the vetting process even more rigorous. 

Says FORBES AFRICA’s Managing Editor, Renuka Methil: “The start of a new decade means the unraveling of fresh talent on the African continent. I can’t wait to see the potential billionaires who will land up on our desks. Our coveted sixth annual Under 30 list will herald some of the decade’s biggest names in business and life.”

If you think you have what it takes to be on this year’s list or know an entrepreneur, creative, technology entrepreneur or sports star under 30 with a proven track-record on the continent – introduce them to FORBES AFRICA by applying or submitting your nomination.

NOMINATIONS AND APPLICATIONS CRITERIA:

Business and Technology categories

  1. Must be an entrepreneur/founder aged 29 or younger on 31 March 2020
  2. Should have a legitimate REGISTERED business on the continent
  3. Business/businesses should be two years or older
  4. Nominees must have risked own money and have a social impact
  5. Must be profit generating
  6. Must employ people in Africa
  7. All applications must be in English
  8. Should be available and prepared to participate in the Under 30 Meet-Up

Sports category

  1. Must be a sports person aged 29 or younger on 31 March 2020
  2. Must be representing an African team
  3. Should have a proven track record of no less than two years
  4. Should be making significant earnings
  5. Should have some endorsement deals
  6. Entrepreneurship and social impact is a plus
  7. All applications must be in English
  8. Should be available and prepared to participate in the Under 30 Meet-Up

Creatives category

  1. Must be a creative aged 29 or younger on 31 March 2020
  2. Must be from or based in Africa
  3. Should be making significant earnings
  4. Should have a proven creative record of no less than two years
  5. Must have social influence
  6. Entrepreneurship and social impact is a plus
  7. All applications must be in English
  8. Should be available and prepared to participate in the Under 30 Meet-Up

Your entry should include:

  • Country
  • Full Names
  • Company name/Team you are applying with
  • A short motivation on why you should be on the list
  • A short profile on self and company
  • Links to published material / news clippings about nominee
  • All social media handles
  • Contact information
  • High-res images of yourself

Applications and nominations must be sent via email to FORBES AFRICA journalist and curator of the list, Karen Mwendera, on [email protected]

Nominations close on 3 February 2020.

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Entrepreneurs

The Life And Wisdom Of Richard Maponya

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He was one of the big names in business in Africa; as gentlemanly. as he was shrewd. He fought the odds and apartheid to stake his place in business and inspire millions of his countrymen to do the same.

Richard Maponya – the doyen of black business in South Africa – passed away in the early hours of January 6, after a short illness. Maponya turned 99 on Christmas Eve near the end of a long and fruitful life that saw him dine with the Queen, laugh with Bill Clinton and chauffer his old friend Nelson Mandela. Mandela asked Maponya, who owned a car dealership, to pick him up at the airport in Johannesburg after his release from prison in 1990.

Ï picked him up at the airport and that was the most frightening time of my life. We were chased by people on foot, helicopters, motorbikes and cars. Everyone just wanted to touch Mandela. They could kill him just trying to touch him,” Maponya recalled to Forbes Africa in a cover story in March 2017.   

Mandela was a close friend of Maponya since the 1950s. The future president, then a young lawyer   helped Maponya set up his first business against the restrictive apartheid laws that shackled black business.

Maponya wanted to open a clothing store in Soweto, Johannesburg; the authorities said no. Mandela lost the fight for the clothing store, but did manage to secure him a license to trade daily necessities. This opened the way for Maponya to start out with a milk delivery business that was to prove the foundation of his fortune.

More than half a century on, Mandela, then a former president of South Africa, beamed with pride, in 2007, as he opened the first shopping mall in Soweto.

Maponya Mall had taken the canny businessman a good deal of patience to put together. He acquired the land in 1979 – the first black man to secure a 100-year lease for land in Soweto – and spent many more years building up the mall.

“Ï fought for 27 years for that mall and was many times denied; they actually thought I was dreaming. When Nelson Mandela cut the ribbon to open the mall, that was the highlight of my life,” Maponya said years later.

It was a mile on a road less travelled by Maponya in a long journey from the tiny township of Lenyenye in Limpopo in northern South Africa where he was born. He moved across the province to Polokwane to train as a teacher and then, like many young men of his generation, moved south to Johannesburg in search of his fortune.

In those days, the gold mining city was booming, but only the few saw the fruits. Maponya was blocked at every turn as he tried to make his way in business; he won through making a fortune from property, horse racing, retail, cars and liquor.

Maponya mentored many black entrepreneurs and inspired many millions more he had never met. One of them was Herman Mashaba, the former mayor of Johannesburg, who made his own fortune with hair care products.

“To myself and the people I grew up with he was an inspiration to all of us to get into business…If he had started out in business in a normal world there is no doubt he would have been even bigger than he was,” Mashaba told CNBC Africa.

Maponya will be mourned by the millions who were inspired to follow him and by a business world that is richer, in more ways than one, for his nearly a century of hard work in which retirement was never an option.

“People who retire are lazy people. You retire and do what? Bask in the sun?  I am not that type of man,” he said in 2017 at the age of 96.

He could never be.

By Chris Bishop  

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