“The future for me is already a thing of the past-you were my first love and you will be my last,” said Bob Dylan. These words were echoed by the French government as they honoured Dr. Esther Mahlangu with the Officier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres award during the Bastille Day celebrations.
The French were the first to show love for Mahlangu’s beautiful works back in 1986, long before her own beloved South Africa saw her as a national treasure. A group of French art lovers were in Dr. Mahlangu’s neighbourhood Kwa Ndebele over 30 years ago, viewing a slew of Ndebele artworks but it was Mahlangu’s work that caught their eye- so much so, that they came back for her to exhibit in France.
“I feel very happy, I thank the French a lot. They found me in Middleburg, at a gallery in Botshabelo and asked that I go to France to show my work. This after they had taken photos of the different works in Kwa Ndebele, not mine but everybody’s there…when they got to France my work was selected as the best among the photographed works,” she said speaking to news channel eNCA.
“Young artists shouldn’t let go of their heritage. I started long time ago and I keep teaching the young ones, some of them have been overseas already because of the artworks,” said the 83 year-old Dr. Sitting adjacent to Dr Mahlangu was Ndebele legendary musician Dr. Nothembi Mkhwebane. “We are very proud of our Ndebele culture, and to be able to even do the kind of work we do at our age. We are very proud of uGogo Esther as the French honour her- we currently have two doctors in the Ndebele culture who’ve been honoured, may this encourage the youngsters too,” the singer said.
The award, Officer in the French Order of Arts and Letters, was given to the Dr Mahlangu artist last Friday at the Bastille Day celebrations at the Residence of France in Pretoria, by French Ambassador to Mzansi Christophe Farnaud.
“This award is all the more deserved for the efforts you have made during your life to share with the world your heritage,” said the outgoing French ambassador Farnaud.