Warns the president of the Guptas in Durban’s version of Madame Tussauds
THE only thing that Lungelo Gumede’s life-size figure sculptures can’t do is blink. On the other hand, nobody would be surprised if they did, so eerily lifelike are they. This week Gumede’s waxwork “family” of famous people, permanently housed at Durban’s BAT Centre, lined up to welcome South Africa’s most famous white woman, Evita Bezuidenhout, to their sanctuary of make-believe.
“Couldn’t believe my eyes,” an ebullient Evita said, when we asked how she came to be centre stage in a wax collection.
“There I was visiting the BAT Centre for an interview on Durban Youth Radio, when I looked through a window next door into a room full of motionless people. Standing. Were they praying? I didn’t want to disturb them by staring. Then I saw a ghost! Nelson Mandela dancing, laughing.
“I recognised our president – I mean who wouldn’t. King Goodwill was there next to Morgan Freeman, and not far away, the Terminator and Angelina Jolie. Was this a weird sort of coup d’état, I asked my friend Illa Thompson.”
“‘No, it is one of Durban’s bestkept secrets,” she explained. “It is a unique treasure house of characters created in wax.” “Of course I had to go inside.” Door open, it was an instant case of wit meets wax with South African satirist Pieter-Dirk Uys’s alter ego, Tannie Evita, grabbing the chance to take centre stage. She even dressed up for the occasion in a range of ANC-inspired designs, from a green and yellow floral frock to leopard prints.
“If I didn’t have a show to do,” she tells a beaming Jacob Zuma. “I would love to sit down and tell you what those Guptas did to my koeksisters. They’re not doing you any good either, you know.”
What does she think of herself being carved in wax?
“As long as I don’t melt like a Brexit candle, I could do it,” she smiled, her bouffant hair standing stiffly to attention. “These people would probably need somebody like me to talk to in the middle of the night. Some of them have very big problems that need sorting out.”
With that, she spots the wax figure of a laughing Nelson Mandela in dancing mode.
“Excuse me. I have always dreamt of dancing with Madiba. Now is my chance.”
On the other hand, she is emphatic she wouldn’t be happy to share her space with the wax model of Arnold Schwarzenegger, the Terminator, gun and all. “He’s got really horrible eyes and only half a head. It would give me nightmares.”
But she was happy to give her homespun advice to other members of the wax gang. To a seated Madiba she whispers: “Careful of that one on your left (Zuma).”
To Oliver Tambo, she says: “We named an airport after you. Doesn’t that make you feel better about where we are going?”
Her parting shot to Zuma as she left for her next public engagement at the Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre was: “Who said: Being a member of ANC means never having to say I’m sorry? And by the way, Mshowerlozi, you can always retire for health reasons like Schabir Shaik.”
It was back to quiet time as I chatted to 32-year-old Lungelo Gumede, born and raised in Ndwedwe, about how he came to sculpt in wax, using the same sort of techniques that make Madame Tussauds an iconic part of the London tourist scene.
“At school I loved drawing and painting portraits. I wasn’t interested in buses or landscapes.
“It was people that really interested me. I always tried to capture the person inside and make them come to life. Maybe it was a calling. I can’t really say.”
After matriculating, the young Gumede came to Durban to experience city life. “I knew the BAT Centre was a place that promoted and helped young artists. I was so lucky. They invited me to join their visual arts and drawing residency programme.” Gumede’s artistic talents were soon recognised and he was offered a bursary to study fine art at the Durban University of Technology, where he excelled at sculpture. “It just seemed the right thing to do once I had finished my degree. “I loved portraits and I loved sculpture, so when I put the two things together, I came up with the idea of creating life-size figures of real people, famous people in South Africa and famous movie stars. “One day I hope to have my own museum. I hope people will see it as a way of recording our history.” Among his figure collection are the Shembe kings. Tall and imperious, they watch over the likes of football heroes Cristiano Ronaldo of Real Madrid and our own pocket rocket, Siphiwe Tshabalala.