Nothing, even cancer, can stop this artist's African dream
Despite a huge setback artist Reggie Khumalo was able to buy a motorcycle and trek across Africa
Cape Town artist Reggie Khumalo had everything worked out. He had saved up enough money to buy a motorcycle, and was going to trek across the continent to raise funds to assist needy students.
And in the end it was the one thing he could not control that almost slammed the brakes on his plans. Shortly before he was to set off, the 31-year-old was diagnosed with stomach cancer, and was strongly advised against doing the trip.
He considered it, weighed up his options – but decided to go on his epic trip anyway. So with only R700 in his pocket, the sometimes unbearable pain his constant companion, Khumalo got on his bike to ride through 10 countries in Africa to make good on his promise to help students.
The idea already started in December 2016, but it wasn’t until the following year that he managed to raise enough money – by selling his artwork – to buy the right bike for the trip.Then in August 2017, he was diagnosed with a bacterial infection, which doctors initially suspected was stomach cancer.
The self-proclaimed nomad was returning from Johannesburg to Cape Town to begin his tour when he fell ill on his stop at the halfway mark in Hanover, in the Karoo. After a series of tests, doctors confirmed what they initially suspected – stomach cancer. He was advised that his impending trip was potentially life-threatening.
Speaking from his temporary studio flat in Maboneng, Johannesburg, Khumalo said: “The doctor said I must go back to Cape Town and do more tests. I said no, I’m not going for further tests. I just didn’t tell anyone about the whole thing. After two weeks I decided it’s either now or never.”Defying doctors’ recommendations to cancel the trip, he started his journey in September 2017 with no more than R700 to his name.
He spent six months riding through Africa, where he met up with artists and collaborated with some of them to produce artworks, which will be auctioned next month.
The idea to raise funds for education first came through a mentorship programme with the African Women Charted Accountants Association. The irony is that Khumalo is self-taught and never had the opportunity to study.“I would like to study at some point. Right now I’m not in that space. After this trip I want to see a bit of Africa as a more educated man.
“I really think we need education. That’s my cause for the next five years. This is why I’m traveling the world, raising money through art, to see kids educated. This was an eye-opening trip for me in so many ways,” Khumalo said.
He will donate 60% of the proceeds and keep 40%. Of the portion Khumalo keeps, he plans to contribute to the education of some of the kids he met on his journey.
Khumalo clocked 20,000km with his BMW F650GS adventure bike and trekked through 10 countries – South Africa, Lesotho, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Mozambique, Malawi, Tanzania, Kenya and Botswana.With stretched finances, Khumalo had to be quite inventive to keep the wheels turning. One of them was to sell leather wrist bands at R100 a piece.
“If I sold two wrist bands, it was my full tank. If I sold three then I’d have food and a bit extra,” he said.
After Namibia, he went to Botswana and then Zimbabwe. At the Zimbabwean border he had no money. With only R50 and just enough fuel to get him to Victoria Falls, it was the kindness of a stranger that saw him cross the border.
“As I was riding in Zimbabwe, I was crying. I saw this as a sign to continue on the journey,” he said.Another highlight from the trip was Malawi and specifically Lake Malawi which he described as “something else”. The people, he said, were humble with a great energy.
In some countries he made a sculpture, sometimes a carving or a painting.
“I was always in pain, from the moment I started the trip. Namibia really tore me apart, it really broke me. It was very hard, it was me being broken mentally. It was just me leaving my comfort zone,” he said.
His final country was Kenya. By this stage he was so ill that he almost flew back to South Africa, but instead decided to ride back and finish what he’d started. He started treatment in April and is now almost cancer-free. He will go for one more test to confirm this.
He is based in Johannesburg for his exhibition titled The Ride and Artist Within, where his work will be auctioned. The exhibition takes place in the first week of July and in August; Khumalo will then embark on a European tour.
“I’ve become my own hero lately, not because I felt like one but because people thought I was crazy. And when I looked at it from the other side it was crazy. No one does this. Everywhere I went people were shocked that a black was doing this adventure across Africa, but they were so happy to see it too. It made people feel like they could also do it too.”
• The Ride and Artist Within auction and exhibition will be held on July 5 at Rockets, Bryanston at 6.30pm for 7pm.