Category: Academy News

Presenting an introductory workshop to isiBheqe soHlamvu at Umuzi, Pule kaJanolintshi, an artist and linguist, projects an image of what appears to be an “upside-down” map of Africa onto the wall. Someone in the audience quickly remarks that the map is facing the wrong way.  “You mean, the right way round… We’re in the South why can’t we be at the top? Whether the map is the right or the wrong way around depends on your orientation”, Pule pushes back. Decolonisation in practice, Ditema tsa Dinoko, challenges us to recondition and develop ways of understanding beyond conventional Western practices. Much like the disputed map, isiBheqe is an exercise in reimagining and reconstructing.

Developed over the past three years by a team of linguists and designers, isiBheqe soHlamvu, also known as Ditema tsa Dinoko, is a syllabic writing system, meaning the symbols are expressed as syllables as opposed to individual sounds like alphabetic letters. The system is informed by indigenous Southern African symbolic design traditions, considering Sesotho, isiNdebele and isiNguni symbols, like the beading artform ibheqe.

IsiBheqe soHlamvu makes use of triangular forms prevalent in these traditions that can create patterns as a means of communication. And while isiBheqe is a writing system the triangular symbols aren’t like conventional alphabets but, like music, representations of sound. Also known as a featural writing system, isiBheqe symbols are informed by articulation – the use of physical organs such as your lips, tongue and jaw when pronouncing the syllables of words – the way words sound.

The first featural writing system of the 21st century (featural writing systems, such as Korean Hangeul, date back to the 15th century), the developers of isiBheqe hope to encourage the use of the writing system through their website which boasts an isiBheqe keyboard, and eventually have isiBheqe recognized by the Unicode Consortium.

Bringing isiBheqe to life, Umuzi in collaboration with Afropunk, an influential community of young people of all backgrounds speaking through music, art, film, lifestyle sports, fashion, and photography, present Ringa, an exhibition exploring  the concept of language in Southern Africa as a complex singularity, rather than languages as separate entities.

On 5 October, as part of the Braamfontein’s First Thursday programme, a group of Umuzi young artists, partnering with Sandile Radebe and Pule kaJanolintshi, will use Isibheqe, an indigenous writing system for Southern African languages, as a medium to convey an everyday, pan-lingual experience.

As summer rolls into Jozi we are back at 70 Juta Street for our 5th First Thursday collaboration RINGA! Exhibition of Taal.

Umuzi are excited to be partnering with Afropunk, Sandile Radebe and Pule kaJanolintshi to offer up a thought-provoking exploration of language in Southern Africa as a complex singularity a river system in dynamic flow full of all the varied styles of speech around us, and their graphic representation in different systems of writing, not just the Roman alphabet that we learn at school, but the writing systems that are indigenous to this continent.

Language as a fundamental part of experience is actually a special kind of natural code we use in conveying thoughts between us, whether it be with the voice (spoken languages) or with the body (signed languages).  We further encode the code of language graphically through writing, which is nothing but a cultural technology that transports words across space and time. Speech, sign and writing are as much markers of identity as they are ways of expressing our beliefs, desires and history. They are the inqolobane where we store culture, through which we often unconsciously reflect and share collective memory.

This exhibition, mounted by young South African artists of Umuzi Academy, explores these relationships between the visual and oral of language in this region of the world.

It features artworks that speak to both official and non-official everyday language, from Is’Camtho and Tsotsitaal to IsiMpondro and Tshivenḓa, incorporating various writing systems, such as isiBheqe Sohlamvu (Ditema tsa Dinoko), Adinkra symbols of West Africa, the Mandombe script of Congo, the Zẖȝ n Mdw-Nṯr of ancient Egypt, or the Jawi ajami for writing Afrikaans in Arabic characters.

Ringa! brings language to the fore in a way you’ve never seen it before. So be sure to make your way to 70 Juta Street this First Thursday as we exhibit unusual reflections on taal in sound and image.

Plan of the Exhibition

We invite you to enter umuzi wethu, the walls of which extend onto the pavement of Juta Street, eGoli. On the ground you will see isibheqe characters spelling out U-MU-ZI. Inside the main spaces there an ‘oceans’ which represent the groups of structural similarity in language of this region of the continent. On two walls you will see the works of Umuzi Recruits, sharing thoughts on what language means in this country, and on the facing walls, a ‘topographical map’ depicting a river system, flowing between planes of elevation. These rivers are Language. Zwakala ublom’ emlanjeni nathi, o jaje Ringas van die plek ya rona, ma-Afrika.

A River of Language…

Mulambo wa Luambo. Umfula Wolimi. Noka ya Leleme.  Mulabho Whelilimi. Gowab di Kai! Garib. Nambu wa Ririmi. Xoaki se G!ari. Rivier van Taal

An installation on both sides of the conjoining wall that simultaneously acts as part of the isibheqe character spelling the ZI of umuzi on the floor of the space depicts language as a flowing river, made up of ways of speaking. The water is speech, as it runs it says:

khuluma, bua, thetha, bolela, vulavula, amba. But it also says: bhobha, tekela, ndrondroza, tshefula, ngangaza, yeyeza, apa, bola, and bolabola; and it even says !hoa, khom, ǂxoa, ||ãla, and tana.

These are words we use to describe how we talk. Styles of speech connected to each other in specific ways, ordered logically here in a kind of topographical map. It is a dynamic flow of language forms around the country: three kinds of river systems that run from the three sources in three mountains of linguistic heritage called: Ntu, Khoe & !Ui-Taa. They pool into lakes that are natural collections of language in a cultural context forming a specific linguistic variety with its particular features.

But they also are forced into dams, that are man-made artificially formed varieties the standardised dictionary languages that are used as official languages…

We usually only think in terms of dams. We freeze language in the walls of dictionaries. Let us begin to flow from them and hear the different sounds of the water as it runs.



If there ever was a way to bow out of Youth Month with a bang, landing a feature on Mail & Guardian’s Young 200 Leaders list would be a great attempt and that is exactly what photographer and Umuzi multimedia recruit, Tshepiso Mabula has done.

A Design Indaba Emerging Young Creative 2017 member, Tshepiso Mabula is a Soweto based photographer born in the Lephalale district of Limpopo.

An encounter with renowned photographer Santu Mofokeng’s book Bloemhof, during a family visit in 2012, ignited her passion and intrigue for photography and there has been no stopping her ever since.

After completing her course at the Market Photo Workshop in documentary and photojournalism, Tshepiso joined the Umuzi Academy in 2016. She later went on to participate in Intercambiador ACART artist residency programme in Madrid Spain, where she produced and exhibited a body of work as part of a group exhibition at the Quinta del Sordo.

Reflecting the times and spaces she occupies in various bodies of work such as Makoti Kapa Lefetwa and her ongoing series Four Room, Seven Colours, Tshepiso captures ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances while concurrently commenting on societal ills and challenging various forms of systematic oppression such as patriarchy.

From all of us at Umuzi, wishing you more prosperity and light as you continue to use your voice and photography as a tool for advocacy and resistance.

To follow Tshepiso and keep up with her latest work follow her on:


Instagram: tshepisomabula and kasinomics_ 101


Countering the exclusivity and inaccessibility of art, First Thursdays is a free cultural exploration of art galleries, live music events and reclamation of the city. Last night academy recruits, alumni and community members infiltrated Braamfontein to attend Umuzi’s very first pop up exhibition at the popular First Thursdays art walks.



Curated by american based photographer Moyo Oyelola and Umuzi creative directors Nthabiseng Lethoko and Odendaal Esterhuyse, the thought provoking exhibition presented an opportunity for new and old Umuzi community  members to come together over a glass of wine and thought provoking art.

Forming part of a host of exhibitions and activities for the first First Thursday of the year, Umuzi recruits exhibited a series of multimedia installations and artworks around the themes of spiritual deprivation, gentrification and addiction.




Following a successful showcase in December, the second showing of Lost in the World boasted a surprise performance by writer, multimedia recruit and all round creative Ramoloti Kganakga. Dressed as a vagabond, Kganaka tackled issues of gentrification and other forms of systematic oppression in a commanding spoken word piece. Caught off guard, audience members were challenged to interrogate their own prejudice towards marginalised people.

Despite a downpour of rain,the night was a great success that saw new and old community members network, share ideas and socialise in the name of art.

We would like to thank  Southpoint Central for helping us host a spectacular first First Thursday exhibition and look forward to working together and making creativity more accessible.






On the 9th of December 2016, Umuzi Academy hosted a year end exhibition titled Lost In the World.

Curated by american based photographer Moyo Oyelola and Umuzi creative directors Nthabiseng Lethoko and Odendaal Esterhuyse, Umuzi recruits created work that reflected the themes of spiritual deprivation, gentrification and addiction.

From conceptualising, producing and having their work printed and displayed, the exhibition was the first time many of the recruits had organised an exhibition, something they will surely be accustomed to in the future.

Boasting an edible social experiment and selfie station the multimedia exhibition was interactive and encouraged audience members to make their own impressions on some of the artwork.



We spoke to one of the participating multimedia recruits, Jabulile Hlanze’s whose artwork revolved around the theme of nature as a conduit of spirituality, she spoke to us about her creative process and her experience partaking in the exhibition.

What theme were you doing and why did it resonate with you? 

The overall exhibition was titled “Lost In The World”, which explored the idea of a lack of direction we all may experience. Under the theme ‘Spirituality’ – I explored the way I take in and experience the concept of spirituality. It resonated with me because spiritual presence is something that is important to me.

Rooted In SpiritRooted In SpiritRooted In SpiritCan you explain your piece to us, the name, your intentions with it and what you had hoped people would get from it.

My piece was titled Rooted in Spirit. Not only do trees provide oxygen and shade but they bring comfort as well. Whenever I need to connect and balance my energy, witnessing a person (or beings) and being under a tree to connect with self helps to rejuvenate my soul, it allows me a moment to engage with the present moment – even in the simplest of surroundings.

In the madness of the everyday, spirituality tends to be the last thought that is fully acknowledged so I hoped people would be able to take a moment and absorb the different textures, conclude what would resonate with them within the piece and grant a moment to appreciate the spiritual calmness that trees bring.

What was your creative process in putting together the piece. 

Looking at the space that was offered, I wanted to create a mixed media art piece (which is something I’ve never done except in print exhibitions) that would offer the printed image room to expand into a tangible experience. Entering the space the viewer would walk on the African mat ‘incansi’ which lead to the printed art piece framed by actual grass cuttings which were placed inside a circle of different color candles that were lit. Hanging above the grass was, ‘isimbhatho, a traditional church regalia used and worn when prayer.

How was your experience of the whole exhibition?

It was interesting to note and experience the way other people express their spirituality and addictions. It was also interesting to consciously note the different expressions of gentrification and areas going through such transactions.

The thought-provoking exhibition was rounded off with tunes, dance moves and laughter as current recruits, alumni and industry friends bid the year farewell.

Lerato Laughing

Lwando dancing

Why the matric pass rate is important

What do South Africa’s poor education outcomes mean for all of us?

Education is something that many of us take for granted. Unfortunately it isn’t for the majority of South Africans. Our education system has very poor outcomes. Few who start school leave with a good education. It’s sad to see so much wasted potential, but how does it really affect us as a society?

We know that the overall level of education in a country is an important determinant of its prosperity. I don’t just benefit from my own education, but from the education of those around me. It’s possible for most of us to empathise with individuals who fail or drop out. They often end up in dead-end jobs, or worse, unemployed. We can imagine how tough life is for them and their families. But it’s difficult to get a sense of what this means for the country overall. It’s harder to imagine, so here’s a little story to help.


Imagine you are among a class of 20 entering grade one. This class is special. It represents all the grade ones starting school in South Africa in a particular year. In your mind, keep imagining this class of 20 throughout the example, sitting behind their little desks. I’ll keep you posted on the actual numbers in brackets (there were 1,208,993 little people who started grade one in 2016, according to the Department of Basic Education).

Now fast forward to grade twelve. Unfortunately, only 58% of those entering grade one made it this far (704,533). Fortunately, you are one of only 12 in the class who started the final year of school, and one of 9 who actually wrote the final, matric exams (roughly 520,000).

It’s you and your 9 peers who eagerly anticipate their final school results. We could be in for a surprise, but based on previous years’ performances, the cards will fall something like this:

  • 7 of you will pass (roughly 400,000)
  • 2 will fail (roughly 125,000)

Of the 7 who pass, there’s a range of achievement:

  • 2 will do well enough to qualify for admission to a bachelor’s programme, at a university (roughly 150,000)
  • 3 will qualify for admission to a diploma (roughly 165,000)
  • 1 will qualify for admission to a Higher Certificate (roughly 85,000)

You’ve made it out of school and been accepted into a university. Now it’s time to focus on your degree.

Unfortunately, the culling doesn’t end here. After the first year, of the 7 of you in higher education, half drop out due to financial strain, or simply not being able to cut it as school inadequately prepared them for further study. These dropouts are in a state almost worse than those who failed matric. They have the additional burden of student debt for their failed year of higher education.


3 of you manage to stick it out and graduate. You’re the lucky 15% from the starting class of 20 who graduate. And you’re the only 1, the 5%, who managed to get a university bachelor’s degree. You’re the successful outcome from the education system.

Now some good news, although South Africa’s youth unemployment rate is very high, graduate unemployment is low. Nearly everyone with a degree gets a job (75% in July – September 2016, according to Stats SA’s Quarterly Labour Force). So you find a job and start work. Let’s say your 2 other grade one classmates, who graduated with diplomas or higher certificates, also manage to get jobs, which makes 3 of you, in total, entering the workforce.

Let’s imagine that, on average, the 3 of you get jobs paying R10,000 per month. That’s not bad for an entry-level salary. You’ll pay minimal tax on this (R675 per month). But you’re young, full of potential, and soon to be promoted. Everything will work out, right?

What does a public education cost?

You’re one of the lucky ones who succeeded in and benefited from the education system. But what did your education cost the government, and the taxpayer?

  • Primary school: seven years at just over R10,000 per year is almost R75,000
  • Secondary school: five years at just under R15,000 per year is just over R70,000
  • Higher education: three years at just under R75,000 per year is just over R220,000

Thus, in total, you are looking at a cost of around R365,000 to educate one learner from grade one to grade twelve, plus three years of higher education. That’s the government’s share. Fees come on top of this.

How long would it take you to repay the government’s cost of your education via income tax?


Public education is heavily subsidised by government through tax revenue. The justification is that if the state helps to educate you, you’ll be in a better position to earn a decent living, contribute to tax, and pay for more government services like education in the future. It’s not so much payback as it is paying-forward. Now that you have a job, it’s time to pay it forward.

Given your good starting salary, and let’s assume healthy promotion prospects (20% annual increase for the first five years, 10% after that, all above inflation), it would take about 10 years of income tax, at current rates, to payback just the cost of your own education. That’s a pretty long time.

Only things are far worse. You’re not just paying back your own education. This is where the overall outcomes of the education system come into play. Only 3 of your grade one classmates are formally employed and paying tax, the other 17 aren’t doing so well.

Half of them are unemployed, barely scraping by, and definitely not paying tax. If anything, they’re receiving support from the government through child grants, public health care costs, etc.

Of the other half, let’s assume none of them are earning much over the taxable threshold and their promotion prospects aren’t good.

So here’s the rub, as there are only 3 of you making significant income tax contributions, you’re going to have to foot the bill. The 3 of you have to pay, not just for your own education, but for the entire next generation’s. That’s fifteen years of education for 20 kids, wait, let’s make that 21, the population has grown since you started school.

How long will that take?

The total government cost of education we calculated was R365,000 for one learner, multiplied by 21 gets to R7,665,000. Divided by the 3 successful taxpayers in our example, means each of you must make an income tax contribution of R2,555,000!

Even with these very generous assumptions for salary increases, it will take over 20 years paying income tax, at current rates, to fund the costs of education. That’s just to pay for education, not to mention all the other costs your tax has to cover.

Our failing education system, with its poor education outcomes, is a fiscal time bomb. If we don’t improve the system so that more people complete school, graduate from university, get jobs, and contribute to income tax, we’re screwed. Those of us who somehow succeeded in the current system aren’t going to be able to afford to educate the next generation, or look after the many people the education system has already failed, unless education outcomes are drastically improved.



For a specific example of how to improve higher education outcomes, read on here.


Main sources:

  1.     Stats SA, Financial statistics of consolidated general government 2014/2015
  2.     Department of Basic Education, Education Statistics in South Africa 2014
  3.     Department of Basic Education, 2016 School Realities
  4.   Stats SA, Quarterly Labour Force Survey, October 2016
  5.     Old Mutual Income Tax Calculator, 2016

I made many simplifications, including:

  1.     Treating public and private education equally.
  2.     Ignoring inflation: it sounds like a big thing to ignore, but since I didn’t account for it on the salary growth or education costs, it won’t make a big difference.

Most of the calculations and links to the sources can be found here.



It’s a new day, a new year and no better time to Make It as a creative. In our latest campaign, Make It, we focus on the physicality and craftsmanship of creativity as well as the personal achievement of “making it” in the creative industry.

Making it as a creative in South Africa is no easy feat as many young creatives find themselves discouraged by a number of factors such as accessibility to resources and affordable creative education. Yet, despite these challenges the South African creative industry has never been in more need of young, black creatives than it is now.

But how do young creatives who have no access to information, equipment and finances make it in such a specialised industry? By accessing the necessary skills and resources required to enter the industry through affordable creative education.

The creative industry is full of opportunities and our department managers have compiled some amazing content to help upcoming creatives learn more about the creative industry and how their skills and talent can be turned into a sustainable career. From copywriting, and graphic design to digital marketing and multimedia we’ve got the lowdown on what it takes to Make It as a creative professional.

Try our “What Kind of Creative Are You?” quiz and find out how your creative flair can be turned into a creative career.


When Umuzi decided to host its first InstaMeet and the Cohort 4 Digital Marketing Team became the group that was officially entrusted with the brief, I don’t remember once feeling burdened with the responsibility but mostly excited to be taking determined baby steps towards making company history.

Almost immediately the team interpreted the global theme into a spirited commemoration of Food, specifically focusing on how food continues to bring us together, helping us celebrate special moments and show our loved ones that we are always thinking of them.

Umuzi was determined on putting its own personal imprint to the whole event, so we derived a hashtag that was inspired by the different kinds of foods that would aid all foodies in reminiscing the countless memories of very significant times in their lives.


The event planning consisted of innumerable meetings, purposefully driving us to our predetermined goals, there were as many frustrations in the two weeks of preparations as there were major victories. The biggest success of them all being the day of the amazing event.

The event began with our invited guests arriving, registering and being given tokens that allowed them to freely fill up their empty goodie bags with ten things from our Spaza Shop; a deliberate replica that mimicked the same invention as those we still find everyday on pavements and street corners. The only difference with our Spaza Shop is that it was stocked with items that would reawaken childhood memories, everything from Apple Munches, Drink O Pops, Fizzers, Bibos, Nik Naks and more. The reactions to our creation were all so worth it, each item inspiring our foodies to share a sentimental story relating to what they chose.

The Umuzi InstaMeet consisted of different visits to three locations; a starter at Thabo’s Chesa Nyama that was made up of Kebab Sticks and Mealies; a meal that was intended to embrace diverse memories as well as comprise of a unique and modern touch. This is where we spent most of our time, jovially enthralled in casual bursts of conversation and laughter.

The main course was enjoyed at the Downstairs Diner, where our meal options ranged between Dombolo & Beef Stew and Pap & Tripe. For some, the decision was quite difficult to make, I was pleased to observe that most of our guests refused to choose and asked to have their plates filled with both of the meat options.

As the sun began to set, we made our last walk of the day, all the way into Maboneng to Coco Bella for our dessert. The idea behind this one was motivated by the coloured ice cream cones we all ate as children. We had to unfortunately alternate that option for the sweet cones they offered, but nothing was lost as we giddily licked on the dripping caramel and enjoyed our vanilla flavoured ice cream.



The whole weekend consisted of creating new memories, unlocking and reliving memories that we hadn’t even realized had long been tucked away. Even the Umuzi Recruits that weren’t with us on the day were encouraged to share their most nostalgic food memories on our InstaMeet hashtag #DownFoodieLane, so they could join the global event by letting everyone know what they were eating. Our Instagram Influencers also did a great job of posting very beautiful pictures of the event under the same hashtag.

If you missed the event and the chance to participate, please search the hashtag #DownFoodieLane on Instagram to better understand what our day was made of. It is said after all that seeing for yourself always leads to unquestionable belief.






Written by: Sinawo Bukani

Images by: Sipho Biyam

Celebrating a body that is often othered, Nomathemba Mkhize illustrates the plus size body in her series Boomba Queen. Seeking also to embrace herself as a “boomba”, Noma is challenging the everyday stereotypes that big women aren’t good looking, sexy, smart, or even important. More than anything its about self love and celebrating the marvel and maginificence that is  the “boombas” of the world.
sexxy babe
“We are the outcasts
The misfits. The miser’s of the all famous status quo
The hidden and under praised.
The overly meatiness, I’m not sure what this means. Please help?
Izidudla zendawo, who try to shine under their own stage
because the public is “too small” for us!
We are the ones they never try to compete with, because
they see no competition.
Of course, with all this thickness, one shouldn’t try and compete
What people do not understand, is that our thunder thighs,
make pants look good.
With our curves, derriere and butts… we make naked feel good!”
Plus size me

More than just apparel, dresses for women have become somewhat symbolic and representative of the different life stages women go through. Most women wear school dresses as young girls, a wedding dress, a maternity dress, in other cultures or religion, a women even wears a dress that covers her entire body to symbolise the sacredness of her body and sometimes a mourning dress to symbolise the death of her husband. These dresses then become a language in which society can identify or classify a certain woman who wears either one of these dresses.

Susan Bordo describes the female body as the “docile” body that has become the language of the ideals and norms of a particular society. In other words what women wear or how they behave is a direct result from the ideals of her surroundings, the body tells one of the culture or society from which they belong to; the body has become the platform to express those ideals. The dresses in this series of photos speak about the ancient menstrual dresses that women used to wear to let everyone know what was happening to them. Women would be excused from their daily chores for seven days, however, years down the line this tradition has allowed men to stigmatise women during their menstruation. Shame and disgust are now tied together with menstruation.






Words and photographs by: Boitumelo Mazibuko