Featured Artist: Nonthando Xaba, the Maid from Mafikeng

Imagine, being 16 years old and being forced to quit school and work as a maid in order to feed your younger brothers and survive. On top of that, you are overwhelmed with grief after having just lost your mother to an illness. For most of us, this is more likely a work of fiction that wouldn’t be out of place as a movie script. But for Nonthando Xaba, this is her reality.


Who is Nonthando Xaba?

Nonthando Xaba is a 29 year old extremely talented artist who was working as a domestic worker before being discovered. She hails from a small village in Mafikeng and is currently being sponsored to further develop her talents in the Chris Paulse School of Art in Durban North.

Nonthando has a special gift with pencil drawings. It’s not often that you come across a prodigious talent with no formal art training.


Forced into becoming a domestic worker as a teen


Nonthando grew up in Mafikeng. She is the eldest with 2 younger brothers. She didn’t know her father and was raised by her mother. Her mother sadly passed away when Nonthando was just 16 years old from an unknown illness.

Her mother supported the family by working as a domestic worker for 2 families in Westville. When her mother passed away, Nonthando was forced to leave school in order to take care of her younger brothers by carrying following in her mothers footsteps and working as a maid.

She had no choice. Either carry on with her schooling for a little while longer until the money ran out, or find work to put food on the table.

Nonthando ended up working for the same families that had employed her mother as a cleaning lady. She speaks of them with a deep respect as they were kind people who took it upon themselves to pay for her brothers schooling and basic needs. Unfortunately, she never returned to finish her education.

In 2015, Nonthando started working for a residential cleaning agency. She had accepted that this is what she would most likely end up doing for the rest of her life, yet deep down she always had a burning desire to draw.

Such was her love for drawing, Nonthando would grab any opportunity to express her talents. She says she would draw almost every night in her home and even during her breaks at her cleaning jobs.


Nonthando discovered her love for art and her talent for it in school. She fondly remembers art classes when she was still in primary school. But because she was from a poor family, she never had paint brushes and utensils to draw at home, so she was always excited to go to school as it was the only place where she could.


A pencil in one hand and a sandwich in the other


It was late 2015 when I discovered Nonthando.

I was looking for a maid service as my domestic worker had recently left us. And as it turned out, the cleaning company sent Nonthando out to clean my home.

When she arrived, the one thing that stood out to me was her confidence and enthusiasm. She had this contagious energy about her.

It was around 1:30 the afternoon.

Nonthando had just finished cleaning the kitchen and was having her lunch.

I went to ask her if she wanted a cup of coffee. And I was blown away by what I saw.

She had a pencil in her hand, a sandwich in the other and a piece of paper in her lap. On the paper was a pencil drawing of a bird sitting on a reed alongside a pond. The level of detail and quality left me speechless. And I found myself just standing there watching her draw.

I was standing behind her, watching over her shoulder so she had no idea that I was even there. After what must’ve been 5 minutes, she turned around and saw me.

I immediately asked her where she learned how to draw. because I believed that she must’ve had some formal training in order to draw like that. She told me her story and I was simply amazed.

We ended up chatting for the rest of the day. I didn’t care about having my house cleaned.

I was so moved by her story.


Nonthando’s big break


I then contacted my colleague Claire, and told her about Nonthando. Claire agreed that we needed to do something.

We ended up getting a full sponsorship for Nonthando at the Chris Paulse School of Art so that she could finally realise her passion and further develop her natural ability.


Where is she now?


Nonthando still works for the cleaning company but now is able to dedicate a lot more of her time to developing her craft.

You can currently view her artwork at the Chris Paulse School of Art.

If you would like to get in touch with Nonthando, please contact us at karen@art-of-africa.co.za and we will be sure to forward you her details.

Talented artists like Nonthando need our support. And who knows, maybe one day her work will be featured in bigger galleries and can be appreciated by a worldwide audience.