Khehla Chepape Makgato attended the Motho, Botho, Batho exhibition by fellow artist Nelson Makamo and is taken on a nostalgic trip back to his home village

A walk through the Botho Project Space at 160 Eloff, Village Deep in Johannesburg navigates you into a sense of belonging, a great promise of liberated creativity and hope for black success.

Both the gentlemen running this space, Makamo and Laduma Ngxokolo are below 40 years and already are changing the complexion of the creative industry both locally and internationally.

The sense of pride I felt in my entire body was unfathomable as I walked into the space. I always believed that the greatest joys of contribution to the humankind is to create an employment for the self and the next person.

Seeing how these two men went on to create employments for themselves and extend that to employing others fills me with a great pride. As a county reeling on unemployment tallying towards 40% which mostly affects the youth of the black populace, it is important to acknowledge the tiny percentage of black people challenging the unemployment stats and making the difference.

I choose to see Nelson Makamo as someone who is leading the call for transformation in the visual arts sector, living the dreams of the likes of the late Thami Mnyele’s visions and aspirations.

In the early 1980s Mnyele while exiled in Botswana wrote: “It is my contention that the strife and struggle that manifests itself in the arts is subject to, and linked with, the broad socio-political struggle at home, and indeed in the world internationally. What it means is that whatever artistic indulgence we engage ourselves in must not be blind to the river of life within and around us, that social stream from which art feeds and is nourished: the community.”

As successful as Makamo is, he could live and build project spaces anywhere in the world but he chose to do that in his home country. This is highly commendable to see the son of the soil using his talents and generosity of spirit to become an agent of change that is needed in transformation of the local arts landscape.

Some of the pieces at the Motho, Batho, Botho exhibition by Nelson Makamo

Starting a much needed project space like Botho promises ‘a vision of limitless future’ as one of his portrait pieces is titled. I personally don’t take lightly the contributions Makamo is making to the arts.

During his time Mnyele was worried about the artists he deemed successful on the basis that they seemed to be popular in the only white suburb circles, they did not seem to have any material means, house or decent home, and seemed to take pleasure in heavy drinking.

This is different with Makamo, who established a decent community for a positive change for black successful artists.

Back to the exhibition entitled Botho, Motho, Batho…

The title isn’t just rhetoric for the same reason UBUNTU ideology has become in the lips of many people especially in the private and public sector.

Most of the time UBUNTU is used as a token of manipulation. Those who preach publicly, in private there may be racism (disrespect based on color), discrimination (where black people have to constantly explain themselves to the white supremacyestablishment); or inequality (where women are not paid equal to their male colleagues for the same work specification) hidden.

Yes Motho means a person, Botho means humility, Batho means people this is what I felt whilst meandering the exhibition.

I particularly enjoyed a 51 panel piece in the exhibition for various reasons. The pieces journeys me back to my childhood nostalgia in the streets of my village of Makotopong.

There exists in the pieces: playfulness, movement, dance, simplicity of gestures; crack of dawn and the sun setting in a distance, kids walking to school or playground, a boy fiddling with a smart phone, the maize fields, a winding road, a goat with a bell on its neck, a dog, woman minding their own business as they walk to church on Sunday and a baby in the arms of its big sister.

The medium used here is watercolor or ink on paper. Miniature in scale and some you can see they may have been studies of Makamo’s large scaled paintings on canvas. He takes you to the villages, nudging you to meditate whilst at it.

Makamo has a subtle way to mimic haters. This is done using a text in the work, sometimes in Northern Sotho (his home language) or English. Take for an example, a portrait titled Kere Batho Ba Mona Never Ba Loke, which means jealous people will never win.

In this Makamo’s signature piece with suggestive shades, we see a young beautiful black woman who looks joyful and disses the haters with her bright smile and eyes.

Her smile dispose her gold tooth, which many people turn to judge those who erected gold tooth in their own mouths. In Makamo’s oeuvre of large scaled portrait figures, there is a sense of the material density of human essence counter-posed against the spacial vastness of all that transcends individual human existence.

Also what is felt is a comprehensive construction which attempts the translation of the three dimensions of the picture plane. In painting such as Epitome of Simplicity, equivalency is created between object and language, such that the stare of this little boy journeys you back to when you were little.

His paintings are simply relatable and yet distinctively amazing work on various mediums of charcoal, watercolor, oil and acrylic on canvas. Some walls in the gallery space are not commonly white as many galleries but as flanked with splashes and drippings of colorful abstractions.

Having followed Makamo’s work since 2010 through solo and group exhibitions, I observed that he is an accomplished portraitist. With a casual diarist’s style, he paints vivid pictures of the people and places he encounters.

The enthusiasm of his tale, the enthusiasm of of questions he asks and the anecdotes he recounts, is infectious. The viewer of his work cannot help but be captivated by this endearing, nostalgic record of the human spirit and natural beauty.

This exhibition Botho, Motho, Batho opened between the 14th and 15th of November 2020 at 160 Eloff Street, Village Deep, Johannesburg.

Dr. Lwazi Lushaba was the keynote speaker with panel discussion that included Matsela Alexandra, Theresho Selesho, Nelson Makamo, Anna Reverdy and Musa N. Nxumalo with Lerato Motshwarakgole as a moderator of the panel with a live performance by Bongezizwe Mabandla and poetry by Puno Selesho.

This exhibition runs through to January 2021 and can be viewed by appointed between Tuesday and for more information visit their website on

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