Luntu Vumazonke’s drawings have been featured in exhibits all around South Africa and in publications worldwide. But the life experiences he draws from are anything but glamorous.
Luntu is a cartoonist and illustrator who contributes to This Life, a comic book that aims to share the untold stories of life in South Africa’s townships—the heavy presence of gangsterism, crime, and drug use, for example, that still permeate throughout these communities. He’s a part of an artist collective called Kollektivo Illuminoso Fresco, or KIF, that publishes the comic book.
“KIF actually stands for us—we are illuminous, young, and fresh,” Luntu said. “Our work, it’s fresh. It’s never been seen before. It’s different from other artists’.”
At his house in Philippi East, a township just a few miles outside of Cape Town, Luntu told us how his personal history shaped his artistic development. Before joining KIF, he got involved in a gang, started using drugs, and got expelled from school. Now he can create art about the struggles and challenges in the townships, he said, because he’s lived them.
“I am telling the difference between the white people and the black people, how white people live and how black people live. It’s not that white people live a different way; it’s the system, how it is and how we think, you see?” he told us. “I’m in the township. I know all of the corners of the township. So I can even tell how township people and township gangsters think.”
This Life, Luntu said, has had a mostly white readership. It highlights for audiences how the stark differences in lifestyles can be for people living only a short distance from one another.
We learned from Luntu that racial divisions are a strong factor in shaping identity and belonging in the city and the townships. Though the laws no longer dictate where people can and can’t live, Capetonians still strongly associate race with geographic identity, even between black and coloured populations.
“I can go from here to Philippi. People from Philippi will know I don’t belong there. The way I walk, [what] I wear, the way I talk—they’re easy to spot,” he said. “There’s no particular walk for Philippi, but people—they will spot that you don’t belong here. And that will never change. That will never change.”
Luntu said his dream is to find a way to give back to the youth in his township so that they can escape the same patterns he fell into so early, patterns that art helped him escape.
“I want to start workshops, like art workshops, around schools here in Philippi East. I know there’s a lot of artists... but they don’t have the right connections and stuff,” he said. “I can try to help people where I can, just like the art workshops. I can try to teach young artists how to become cartoonists and stuff.”
For now, though, his vision of the future is colored by the reality of a deeply divided society that seems at times entrenched in its ways.
“So I don’t see it changing. Because everyone is racist. Because I’m black I can be racist to another black person, but if I see a coloured person, I won’t be racist to them, or I see a white person, I won’t be racist to them. I don’t know why it’s that. I really don’t know.”