Nkoali Nawa‘s Visual Aesthetics of Social Reportage and Dialogues with Being-Black-in-the-World

by Kolodi Senong

Bonang banna ba rona (see our husbands)
Ba tjheka taemane, gauta (digging for diamonds, gold)
Majwe ruo la heso (precious stones our wealth)
Bonang tjhaba sa heso (see our nation)
Makgoba re fetotswe (were turned into slaves)
Bonang fatshe la bo ntata rona (see the land of our fathers)
Madi a rona a phalla (our blood spilling)
Matla a rona a hodisa ba ditjhabeng (our energy spent nurturing foreigners)
Ba mose (from abroad)


Caiphus Katse Semenya, “Hauteng”

Born in 1965, Nkoali Nawa’s life and work brings to mind the mournful “Hauteng (Gauteng),” written by Caiphus Semenya and sung by Miriam Makeba. Released in 1974, the song laments how, since the colonial-apartheid era, black people have worked in the mines while being accommodated in gloomy and overcrowded compounds. [2] Interestingly, Nawa asserts that “listening to Hugh Masekela’s song, ‘Stimela,’ provided the ideas for most of my work, which explores the harsh realities of life in the mines,” [3] where certain people used to live like dogs in the barracks. [4] Many of these migrant workers perished in the hazardous process of enriching foreigners, leaving behind broken families, orphans and widows. Laws made leaving such contracted work for any reason whatsoever a punishable offence deserving of a jail term. [5] Nawa himself underwent the controversial and humiliating mine medical examinations [6] as a rite of passage into Goldfields’ mankalanyana (rail-mounted locomotives) section. [7] During his two years toiling in the belly of the earth, Nawa also taught adult literacy classes in order to supplement his meagre remuneration. He then spent a further two years working as a mine security guard. Unsatisfied with his career prospects, Nawa resolved to save money to study the visual arts. 

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