Zwelethu Mthethwa

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Zwelethu Mthethwa
Nationality South African
EducationMichaelis School of Fine Art
Known forPainter and Photographer

Zwelethu Mthethwa (born 1960) is a South African painter and photographer.


Mthethwa, a native of Durban, graduated from the Michaelis School of Fine Art, University of Cape Town. He received a Fulbright Scholarship to the Rochester Institute of Technology, where he received his master's degree in imaging arts in 1989. Upon returning home, he worked for some years in business, and then became a lecturer on photography and drawing at the Michaelis School in 1994. He left the post in 1999 to devote himself full-time to his art. Mthethwa is known for his large format color photographs, but also works in paint and pastel; he has had over 50 solo exhibitions in galleries around the world. His work was included in the 2005 Venice Biennale[1] and the 2004 Gwangju Biennale.

Murder conviction[edit]

In 2014, Mthethwa was charged with the murder of a 23-year-old woman named Nokuphila Kumalo. According to Jillian Steinhauer, "The murder took place on April 13, 2013 when a man brutally hit and kicked Kumalo, who’s believed to have been a sex worker, to death on a street in Woodstock, a suburb of Cape Town. Closed-circuit cameras captured the assault and led police to Mthethwa. There is also reportedly an eye witness. The artist denies the charges and claims innocence."[2] The trial was postponed several times, after the initial allegations.

Mthethwa's trial was postponed again on 1 June 2015. The postponement was approved so additional evidence could be collected. Apparently, Mthethwa's lawyer William Booth had trouble gaining access to private properties to gather verbal evidence. The trial continued on 2 June 2015. Mthethwa plead not guilty, and the court was set to continue on 8 June 2015.

According to Ashley Furlong, as of 3 February 2016, Mthethwa's case was again delayed. Furlong stated, "The reason for [the] delay was twofold--the Shona interpreter for a Zimbabwean man who was set to take the stand was very sick, and there was a need to compile a 'working document' of the papers that forensic pathologist Dr Linda Liebenberg might refer to."[3]

As of 16 March 2017 (almost 4 years after Nokuphila Kumalo's murder and 3 years since the beginning of the trial), Mthethwa was found guilty of murder. "According to ArtThrob, who reported from inside the courtroom, Mthethwa’s bail has been withdrawn. His sentencing will be delivered on March 29, 2017...The verdict was met with jubilation, on site and on social media channels. Outside the courthouse, activists from Sex Workers Education and Advocacy Taskforce (SWEAT) and Sonke Gender Justice were celebrating the guilty verdict."[4]

Mthethwa is currently imprisoned at the Pollsmoor Prison. On 29 March 2017, he requested bail. According to Jenna Ethridge, Mthethwa requested bail in order to be with his family and make arrangements for his art. She went on to state, "Mthethwa wanted to personally inform his 15-year-old daughter in England of his conviction. He [also intends] to sort out her tertiary education and funding for the next few years...The court [will] rule on Mthethwa’s bail on Friday [31 March 2017]. Sentencing arguments [were] postponed until April 20."[5] As expected, Mthethwa's bail was denied on 31 March 2017. Yet another delay, as of 20 April 2017, Mthethwa's sentencing was postponed by Judge Patricia Goliath until 24 May 2017.

Sentencing proceedings began as expected on 24 May 2014. According to Ashleigh Furlong, "The defence’s two witnesses, clinical psychologist Martin Yodaiken and social worker Anne Cawood, testified today in the Western Cape High Court on the first day of sentencing proceedings. Both emphasised that if sent to prison, Mthethwa would be unable to support family members and would not be able to contribute to society." She goes on to state, "The maximum non-custodial sentence is five years. The minimum sentence for murder with intent, in the form of dolus eventualis, which Mthethwa was convicted of, is 15 years. However, this can be reduced if there are mitigating circumstances."[6] The witnesses brought up previous explanations of memory loss due to intoxication from alcohol as mitigating factors. However, Xolani Koyana, explained that the "prosecutor Christenus van der Vijver put it to Yodaiken that the court had rejected Mthethwa’s memory loss argument as fabrication. He told him he found it strange that someone could stomp another person 62 times and not recall such a violent act. The prosecutor told the court a non-custodial sentence would be a slap on the wrist and send the wrong message to the public."[7] Sentencing proceedings were slated to resume on Wednesday 31 May 2017 at 9am. On June 7, 2017 he was sentenced to 18 years behind bars for the murder of Nokuphiwa Kumalo.[8] As stated in the Daily Maverick, "The accused's standing as an international acclaimed artist does not earn him a special sentence," said Western Cape High Court Judge Patricia Goliath.[9]

Selected solo exhibitions[edit]

  • 2009: Zwelethu Mthethwa: New Works, Jack Shainman Gallery, New York
  • 2010: Zwelethu Mthethwa, iArt Gallery, Cape Town
  • 2010: Zwelethu Mthethwa: Is it our goal…? And Other Related Issues, Circa on Jellicoe, Johannesburg, South Africa
  • 2010: Zwelethu Mthethwa: Brick workers & Contemporary Gladiators, Galeria Oliva Arauna, Madrid, Spain
  • 2010: Zwelethu Mthethwa: Inner Views, Studio Museum in Harlem, New York
  • 2011: New Works, iArt Gallery (now Brundyn + Gonsalves), Cape Town
  • 2012: Zwelethu Mthethwa: Sugar Cane (2003–2007), curated by Diego Cortez. John Hope Franklin Center, Duke University, Durham, North Carolina.
  • 2012: Zwelethu Mthethwa, curated by Kirsten Hileman, The Baltimore Museum of Art, Maryland
  • 2013: Zwelethu Mthethwa: New Works, Jack Shainman Gallery

Further reading[edit]

  • Michael Godby, Zwelethu Mthethwa, Octavio Zaya. Zwelethu Mthethwa, Torino, Marco Noire Editore, 1999. ISBN 88-900202-2-9
  • Njami Simon, Lucy Durán. Africa Remix: Contemporary Art of a Continent, Johannesburg, Jacana Media, 2007. ISBN 978-1-77009-363-8
  • Zwelethu Mthethwa, Isolde Brielmaier, Okwui Enwezor. Zwelethu Mthethwa, New York, Aperture, 2010. ISBN 978-1-59711-113-3


  1. ^ Gerhard Haupt; Pat Binder (2005-11-06). "The Experience of Art, Photos - Overview, 51st Venice Biennial 2005". Retrieved 2017-03-01.
  2. ^ Steinhauer, Jillian. "Artist Zwelethu Mthethwa's Murder Trial Postponed Amid Protests". HyperAllegenic. Retrieved 13 April 2015.
  3. ^ Furlong, Ashleigh (2016-02-03). "South Africa: New Delay in Sex Worker Murder Trial". Retrieved 2017-03-01.
  4. ^ "Zwelethu Mthethwa Found Guilty of Sex Worker Murder | artnet News". artnet News. 2017-03-17. Retrieved 2018-01-03.
  5. ^ Etheridge, Jenna. "Convicted killer, Zwelethu Mthethwa wants bail to sort life out before sentencing". The M&G Online. Retrieved 2017-03-29.
  6. ^ Furlong, Ashleigh. "Psychologist recommends against prison for guilty artist". The M&G Online. Retrieved 2017-05-25.
  7. ^ "NPA rejects claims of memory loss in Mthethwa case". Retrieved 2017-05-25.
  8. ^ "Artist sentenced to 18 years in prison for murder of sex worker". Retrieved 2017-06-08.
  9. ^ "Artist Zwelethu Mthethwa gets 18 years in jail for brutally kicking sex worker to death | Daily Maverick". Retrieved 2017-06-12.

External links[edit]