The University of Johannesburg is proud to announce the opening of the long-term showcase of the Nimrod Ndebele-Gerard Sekoto Collection at the UJ Art Gallery, kindly on loan from University’s Chancellor, Professor Njabulo Ndebele. From the 22nd of September 2022, visitors to the gallery can view this unique collection of art that “resonate(s) with biographical, educational, social, economic, and political meanings which are not only encoded within them, but also resonate beyond them”.
Originally purchased by Nimrod Ndebele from Gerard Sekoto just before the artist left for Paris, France in 1947, the three artworks have hung together on the living room walls of all Ndebele’s abodes from Pietersburg, Sophiatown and Western Native Township to Charterston and Duduza (both satellite Locations of the town of Nigel). For at least 70 years they have been on private, home display, only once featuring in a major exhibition: “Song for Sekoto” at the Wits Art Museum, 24th April – 2nd June 2013. The collection has earned the family name: The Inseparable Three.
In a letter written in 2021 Professor Njabulo S Ndebele describes the friendship between Nimrod Ndebele (teacher and playwright); Sekoto (teacher and artist); Ernest Mancoba (teacher and artist); and Louis P Makenna (teacher) as an “unlikely, marvellous convergence of talent”. These four remarkable young African men met in the 1930s when they were in their 20s and teaching at Khaiso Secondary School, Pietersburg (Polokwane).
Professor Ndebele relays his father’s memories of the friendship, drawn from a letter written by Nimrod dated 07-07-1983.
In his letter, Nimrod details their intellectual camaraderie stating that while Sekoto painted, and Mancoba sculpted, he wrote and produced plays in some of which Makenna, Sekoto, and Mancoba performed. He remembers in this regard that “we discovered our artists to be good actors in drama”. Nimrod expresses “a debt of gratitude” to Ernest Mancoba “in that he improved our way of thinking about life in general. He held definite and strong views on social and political matters. He was an unflinching Marxist and he made no apologies for that. In those days, the mid- thirties, when life appeared less worldly than now (1983) he gave us the shock of our lives when he bluntly flung this at us: that he did not believe in the existence of God.”
Similarly, he recalls Sekoto’s assertion that there were only three people whom he allowed to peep into his work as he was painting: Louis Makenna, Nimrod Ndebele and Ernest Mancoba. He had confidence that these three “looked with interest, not merely out of curiosity.”
Nimrod was born on October 12, 1913 in Senyotong, in the Leribe district of Lesotho. His father, Reverend Walter Mbalekwa Ndebele had at the time been sent to Lesotho to do missionary work on behalf of the Christian Catholic Church of Zion. Growing up in Sophiatown, Johannesburg, he attended St. Peter’s Secondary School in Rosettenville, Johannesburg and Amanzimtoti (Adams’) College, where he earned a teaching certificate and began teaching at Khaiso Secondary School. He went on to write the first published play in isiZulu. The play is listed No.6 on the Bantu Treasury Publication list of the University of the Witwatersrand.
Both Mancoba and Sekoto won scholarships to develop their art in France, where they garnered international repute.
“Embedded in these three artworks is a wonderful sense of a historical moment, and a special relationship among friends that was as emotionally mutual as it was supportive, professional, intellectual, and artistic. They are a significant national asset,” states Professor Njabulo Ndebele, University of Johannesburg Chancellor and son of Nimrod Ndebele.
NOTES TO THE EDITOR
About Professor Njabulo S Ndebele
Professor Njabulo Ndebele is currently Chancellor of the University of Johannesburg. His leadership in South African higher education has seen him serve as Deputy Vice-Chancellor at the University of the Western Cape, Vice-Chancellor of the University of the North (now Limpopo) and two terms as Vice-Chancellor of the University of Cape Town. He also served as Chair of the South African Universities Vice-Chancellors Association; President of the Association of African Universities; and founding Chair of the Southern African Regional Universities Association.
He holds an MA from Cambridge University and a PhD in Creative Writing from the University of Denver.
He chaired three South African government commissions: on broadcasting, the teaching of history in schools, and the use of African languages as media of instruction in South African universities. He is Chairman of the Nelson Mandela Foundation, and of the Mandela Rhodes Foundation.
He has received honorary doctorates from universities in South Africa, the United States, Japan, Europe and the United Kingdom. An award-winning author, he has published fiction and essays to critical acclaim.
About UJ Arts & Culture
UJ Arts & Culture, a division of the Faculty of Art, Design & Architecture (FADA) produces and presents world-class student and professional arts programmes aligned to the UJ vision of an international university of choice, anchored in Africa, dynamically shaping the future. A robust range of arts platforms are offered on all four UJ campuses for students, staff, alumni and the general public to experience and engage with emerging and established Pan-African and international artists drawn from the full spectrum of the arts.
In addition to UJ Arts & Culture, FADA (www.uj.ac.za/fada) offers programmes in eight creative disciplines, in Art, Design and Architecture, as well as playing home to the NRF SARChI Chair in South African Art & Visual Culture, and the Visual Identities in Art & Design Research Centre. The Faculty has a strong focus on sustainability and relevance, and engages actively with the dynamism, creativity and diversity of Johannesburg in imagining new approaches to art and design education.
 Nimrod Ndebele. Family Archives