Meet Lucas Mahlangu, one of the ten registered sand sculptors on Durban’s Golden Mile.
Lucas was born and grew up in Kwa-Ndebele in Mpumalanga. As a young man he worked as a cattle herd, but in 2006 he decided to bring his wife and two daughters to KwaZulu-Natal in the hope of finding a better job. Lucas and his family now live in Marianhill, 25km outside of Durban.
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When Lucas first came to Durban he saw other sand artists and was inspired by their work.
Most of them were doing flat pictures in the sand. Lucas watched some children playing with buckets, filling them with sand, upending them and making the shapes that were moulded into the bucket.
'Creative three-dimensional sculptures'
This got his creative juices flowing and he knew then that he was going to make big three dimensional sculptures.
His first sculptures were of Zulu huts as they were what he knew. Years of experimentation and practice have refined his craft and now Lucas creates the elaborate designs that are in his head.
When I visited Lucas he has a welcome to Durban sculpture, an elaborate castle and a beautiful rhino on his little patch of sand.
I asked him if he used pictures to get ideas and to copy from but he tells me that his art is inside of him.
The castle was dreamed up in his imagination, and the rhino, he smiles and tells me “I know rhino very well, I can make him big or small, exactly how he looks”
'Stop poaching our rhinos'
His rhino has a sand board next to it that reads “stop poaching our rhinos” I ask him if he is a conservationist and he tells me simply that he wants his children’s children to be able to see real rhinos. Not just hear stories about them.
His other sculptures change every three or four weeks, but the rhino is always there. He says it is an important message that everyone must see.
PICS: iSimangaliso takes bold steps to safeguard its rhino
A sculpture like his large fanciful castle can take up to six days to complete.
He has to collect the sand, and starting at the base make sure the consistency is just the right mix of sand and sea water. Each section has to be compacted for stability and left for a bit to solidify a little.
The sculptures are continuously sprayed with water so that they do not crumble. They are repaired and restored daily.
'Jealous rivals destroy the sculptures during the night'
I ask Lucas what his biggest challenges are and he tells me that sometimes the sculptures are destroyed during the night. It could be jealous rivals, but usually it is angry or drunk people he tells me.
The other challenge is the weather. Strong winds and heavy rains can totally destroy his work.
Lucas loves the creativity of his job but tells me sometimes it is difficult to earn enough money.
He gives sand sculpting lessons to adults and kids, charging about R50 per hour. This is not advertised so he has to inform each person that it is offered.
Lucas makes his money by people giving him a donation to be allowed to take photographs of his work. Sadly many people just take a photo and leave no money.
The registered sand artists pay a fee of R150 for three months to the municipality. Lucas’s travel expenses are about R30 per day, and he pays his helper Boy Boy Xhosana a daily rate for his assistance. Lucas is teaching Boy Boy all the skills and tricks of sand sculpture.
'Not much money but loves the creative aspect of his craft'
It is a long day, as Lucas is on the beach from 7am until 6 pm every day. He says he does not really mind as he likes people and loves the creative aspect of his craft.
Lucas can be commissioned to do anything you can dream of. He can make personalised sculptures with messages for an engagement, a birthday or special occasion.
MTV commissioned Lucas to create a sculpture of the Moses Mabhida Stadium. He says he really enjoyed doing that huge project.
In 2012 he travelled to Port Elizabeth, Johannesburg, Cape Town and East London creating sculptures of a big company’s logo. This was difficult as the sand in each area is different and his techniques have to be adapted to the different sand textures.
Lucas would love to get more commissioned work as this enables him to make a better living for himself and his family.
So next time you're in Durban go pay Lucas and his sand art a visit North Beach opposite mini town or even take a lesson.
Di Brown is a travel writer mad about South Africa, maps, people, places, vast open spaces, Africa, giraffes, and Cape Town. Find her on twitter as Roaming Giraffe. To get in touch with Lucas, call 071 443 9195
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