Mnyaluza Pemba was born on 2 April 1912 in Korsten at the Hill’s Kraal, Port Elizabeth. Although art classes were not at the Van der Kemp Mission Primary School where he was educated, Pemba developed an early love for art which his father encouraged by buying him pencils and crayons. The young Pemba became notorious for escaping from the drudgery of schoolwork into his private world of drawing. In 1924, Pemba won a Grey Scholarship to Paterson High School, where he denvoured the art books in the school library. As a 16 year old pupil, he entered and won an art competition at a local agricultural show. Pemba began to expand his repertoire to include drawing portraits based on photographs, for which he earned pocket-money.
He continued to pursue his art
successfully over the next six decades. His exquisite paintings and drawings
Milwa Mnyaluza “George” Pemba
to attract a wider audience and led to his exhibition more widely. After his work were excepted for an exhibition of “Negro and Bantu Art” in Port Elizabeth in the late 1930’s, Pemba exhibited regularly (until shortly before his death in 2001). Pemba turned professional in the late 1940s, and entirely against the tide of the growing threat of overt racism engulfing South African society, held his first solo exhibition in East London in 1948. Pemba’s successful exhibition and the sale of his paintings, at the Eastern Province Art Association’s annual exhibition in 1965, provoked undisguised racial hostility.
Despite indifference from the mainstream art world which regarded his work at best as colloquial, and antipathy from the apartheid government which, given the pre-ordained prescriptions of the Apartheid ideology, saw his profession as inappropriate for a ‘native’, Pemba persevered with his work thanks to the support of a few patrons, and his wife Eunice who helped to supplement his income by running a ‘house shop’.
Pemba, was also a writer of note, and penned at least two plays known to have been staged. He was later awarded with an honorary Masters’ Degree from University of Fort Hare in 1979 for his contribution to South African art.The South African Government bestowed George Pemba with the Order of Ikhamanga in Gold at the National Orders awards on 19 October 2004, for his pioneering and exceptional contribution to the development of the art of painting and literature.
South African History Online. (2018). Milwa Mnyaluza “George” Pemba. [online] Available at: http://www.sahistory.org.za/people/milwa-mnyaluza-george-pemba [Accessed 29 May 2018].
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