The Light Bulb Moment - The Artist's Concept

By Gillian Anstey

Jazz, improvisation, collage and an enduring passion for the Bucs all contributed to Sam Nhlengethwa's Orlando Pirates memorial.

Sam Nhlengethwa says his Pirates artwork was inspired by three visual references: the exterior of Bethuel Mokgosinyana's house in Orlando East, Soweto, where the work is to be erected; a picture of Mokgosinyana himself; and several news pictures of Pirates' supporters.

He decided to do an oil painting on metal, a technique he had used in his Mine Trip exhibition at the Goodman Gallery in 1996. He placed the painting in a frame of shatterproof glass that was sandblasted with the Pirates emblem.

Nhlengethwa outsourced the making and sandblasting of the glass box exterior, which he hesitates to call a "frame" because, he says, it is so integral to the painting. The metal he painted on was primed to prevent it from rusting.

From a little boy of five years old, I've been a Pirates fan. I used to keep A3 foolscap exercise books at school, and at the end of the year make that my album of Orlando Pirates.

He did the oil painting using photographs as his inspiration. "As I paint, I listen to jazz and visualise the performance," says Nhlengethwa. "Jazz performers improvise within the conventions of their chosen styles. In an ensemble, for example, there are vocal styles that include freedom of vocal colour, call-and-response patterns and rhythmic complexities played by different members. Painting jazz allows me to literally put colour onto these vocal colours."

The figure of Mokgosinyana stands at the end of a group of posed players who were drawn without any identifiable features. The glass was then fitted onto the metal and sealed and the entire structure was given a metal border. When installing it on site, Nhlengethwa drilled tiny holes into the corners of the painting so that it "could breathe".

The 1m x 1.3m wide painting is fixed onto the outside brick wall of Mokgosinyana's home, where his family still lives.

The artwork attracts a lot of attention in the busy residential street in an area where Pirates rule. Schoolboys walking past whistle and make thumbs-up signs. Neighbours hope the memorial will attract tourists to their street.



back to the Bethuel Mokgosinyana memorial page

"Without Bethuel Mokgosinyana, there would be no Buccaneers."
Bethuel Mokgosinyana
Pirates fans, 1970s
Bailey's History Archives


Tradition as historical source

In this lesson plan, learners are asked to think about how the oral traditions that people create around their favourite sports teams can be a historical source. We use Bethuel Mokgosinyana and the story of the origins of Orlando Pirates as our example.

Lesson plan
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Archive Photo Gallery
A selection of images of Orlando Pirates players and their huge fan base
Artwork Photo Gallery
See Sam Nhlengethwa’s memorial outside the Mokgosinyana family home in Orlando, Soweto.
Audio Documentary
The formation of Orlando Pirates in the late 1930s was the defining moment in the growth of mass support for soccer in SA. This documentary explains why.
Orlando Pirates and the Struggle
Donald Dliwayo, a former chairman of Orlando Pirates, reminisces about the team’s contribution to the liberation struggle.