Richard Molefe was an Artist

Richard Molefe was an artist.

I am glad I opened the door for him. I am glad I made time for him whenever he came to the Polokwane Art Museum to greet me and to show me what he had done. I felt my appreciation for his art bought out the artist in him. He was like a child - each time he finished an art piece (a wooden carved sculpture) he would come to straight to my office from his shack with the finished work. To many members of the community, he was regarded as just a mad man.

Molefe was one of the first artists that I encountered when I started working as curator at the Polokwane Art Museum in 2007. He looked very filthy and hungry like people who live on the streets. He lived alone in a shack. He called himself a prophet, like Jackson Hlungwani. He had a couple of sticks that he had carved and I immediately recognized Jackson Hlungwani’s technique in them. Hlungwani was, in fact, his uncle and Molefe told me that he helped Hlungwani with some of his landmark pieces that had made him (Hlungwani) famous. He had helped to build the New Jerusalem and was one of Hlungwani’s disciples.

He asked me to organize some big pieces of wood for him because he wanted to do large sculptures to exhibit in the Art Museum. I promised to do so. But he was more than an artist… Sometime last year, he told me about a young soccer team of orphans which he managed and asked if I could help him organize soccer gear for them. I typed a letter asking for a sponsorship from the local mayor. Later in the year he came to my office - all smiles - to announce that the Mayor had called him to a meeting and promised him soccer gear for his team.

One morning I received a call from a police sergeant from a local police station in Polokwane asking me if I knew who Richard Molefe was and informed me that he had been found dead in his shack. The police were searching for his relatives. The police had only managed to find my cell number on his phone. As sad as I was, I was happy to have been part of the last three years of his life.

He was a really wonderful somebody.