The famous fine artists known only as Meshu has rubbed shoulders with the pioneers of African liberation on his journey as an artist and has sold his paintings all over the world.
Nov. 24, 2022
BY MAPAMELA KHANYELA
5 min read
My life is ‘mix-masala’, Meshu Mokitimi
At age 96, Meshu Mokitimi can still walk around and drive his own car for miles
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Mohau ‘Meshu’ Mokitimi, a father of nine children from three different wives, who possesses a great talent of fine art describes his journey as a mixture of politics, cartoons and realistic drawing. At the age of 96, Meshu has a career that spans over 70 years and is still passionate about fine art. In this wide-ranging interview with Metro Travel’s Mapamela Khanyela, Meshu shares his story and other related issues.
Mapamela Khanyela (MK): Please tell us, who is Meshu Mokitimi?
Mokitimi: I am Mohau Meshu Mokitimi. I was born on the 15th March 1926 in Qeme, Maseru. I grew up like every Mosotho boy, looking after animals and it was at that time I realized my talent of art. I attended school at St. Barnabus, Masite and completed my standard 5 there. From there I went to the South African mines to work. My stint in the mines was very short. I met the late Dr.Ntsu Mokhehle in 1948 who encouraged me to go back home and pursue my studies. I came back to Lesotho and completed my standard 6 at St. Barnabus. From there I was admitted at Lesotho High School and did form A. I was expelled from Lesotho High School together with other 11 students while doing form B in1954 because of our interaction with the late Dr. Ntsu Mokhehle who was a popular politician. I was also trained at Lerotholi Polytechnic under the Department of Draftsmanship that exposed me to the world of art. To sharpen my art skills, I attended a series of workshops in Africa and the world and more people appreciated my work. It was through my artwork that I disseminated some messages. I used to make cartoons for a local newspaper. I remember one of my cartoons works in 1969 when I drew Dr. Ntsu Mokhehle and Dr. Leabua Jonathan portraying political changes at that time.
MK: Tell us about the name Meshu
Mokitimi: Meshu is a Hebrew name meaning Moses. My father was in World War I, digging trenches for smooth movement of the train where he became friends with a Palestinian man by the name of Meshu. They vowed to name their first-born children with both Sesotho and Palestinian names respectively because of their friendship. When I was born in 1926, I was named Mohau, but my grandfather insisted that I should be named Meshu because of the promise my father made. The name Meshu became popular and dominated my Sesotho name.
MK: You have been an artist for more than seven decades, tell us more about you as an artist
Mokitimi: I realized from the early age that I am talented in art. I remember drawing my teacher while at primary level. Teachers and students loved my artwork because they saw it as a true image of our teacher. I first sold my artwork in 1946 to my friend Lira Matsau Kaka. He paid me 50 cents; it was a good money at that time. Dr. Ntsu Mokhehle also bought some of my cartoons in 1948. My exposure was still at amateur level. In 1969, I cartooned Dr. Ntsu Mokhehle and Dr. Leabua Jonathan who were political leaders. The cartoons were loved by many people. I was trained for three months in Kumasi School of Drawing in Ghana. In my journey as an artist, I interacted with people like Kwame Nkrumah, the first president of Ghana. My artwork has been sold throughout the world. I remember one American woman who bought most of my artwork for US$15,000, and it was the highest amount of my sales. The series of trainings I attended helped me to perfect my craft. I use pencil, oils and charcoal for the artwork. I am not a realistic artist. My artwork is more into cartoons because that is where I perfected my work. I describe my artwork as African expressionism because Africans have always had their own way of showing art. Women usually show their art through litema, our traditional decoration on houses.
MK: You have been an artist for many years, what are your greatest achievements?
One of Meshu Mokitimi’s fine arts displayed at several public places such as hotels
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Meshu Mokitimi taking it to the dance while celebrating his 93rd birthday three years ago
Mokitimi: Receiving an award from King Letsie III - I received Ramatšeatsana Award, a sign that our King recognizes my efforts. I received this award with the former president of Zambia, Dr. Kenneth Kaunda. The National University of Lesotho also rewarded me for my contribution in arts. I have been invited to Universities to share with students my knowledge, this is achievement to me because I was never a university student. Even though I started paintings some decades ago, I am still relevant today as demand for my paintings has never ceased. My artwork is well-known in the world. Hundreds of my artwork pieces is in the homes of famous people in the world, people like Bill Clinton. I have been a very productive person in the world of fine art.
MK: you mentioned earlier that Dr. Mokhehle encouraged you to pursue your studies, how did it go?
Mokitimi: Dr. Mokhehle played a very important role in my life. He was the first person to buy me painting instruments while at Lesotho High School. He helped me to attend trainings in Nigeria, Ghana and to visit exhibitions where I interacted with seasoned artists. It was through Dr. Mokhehle that I interacted with the former president of Ghana, Kwame Nkrumah. Dr. Mokhehle was passionate to see me sharpening my knowledge as he was a teacher. His interest was on diagrams while doing some of his assignments at the university. I do not have university qualifications because of my association with Dr. Mokhehle as I had to spend some months in prison, and this negatively affected my formal education. I therefore had to focus on my art because it was a gift from God.
MK: How do you see the future of fine art in Lesotho?
Mokitimi: The future is bright. The establishment of the National Museum and Art Gallery will be the best platform for local artists to showcase their work. We have many fine artists who are from Lesotho but are all over the world for greener pastures. I am hopeful that they will one day come back home to share their successful stories as well.
MK: In summary, how do you describe your health? You are 96 years old and still driving your own car!
Mokitimi: I command a very healthy lifestyle. I neither smoke nor drink beer. I have always taken care of my health. I was also a boxer and that physical activity has also played important role in my life. Some weeks back, I was driving to Johannesburg and was stopped by the traffic police who were wondering how come at my age I can still drive a car.