Our dear friend, Wonga Mancoba passed away in Paris on 12 February 2015.

MEDIA RELEASE                                               27 February 2015


Artist Wonga Mancoba, has passed away  in Paris after a long battle with his health. Wonga in his late 60s, was born to painter, sculptor and thinker Ernest Mancoba and his wife Danish sculptor, Sonja Ferlov, in Paris in the attic of famous Swiss sculptor Giacometti. He would follow in his parents footsteps and become a refined painter whose body of work is  inspired by the African paradigm, nuance, and idiom.

Wonga, although the son of a South African painter and intellectual, was not able to visit South Africa for the first 50 years of his life. He visited with his father, Ernest, for the first time in 1994. This and subsequent visits had a remarkable impact on his artistic expression. He had already tackled the theme of slavery in black and white but now his themes were visibly anchored on indigenous knowledge and alive with colour. His subject matter, Sophiatown; ‘Ghost’ Areas Act and Taxis was inspired by his trips to the continent before his illness.

Before leaving South Africa in 1938, Ernest had won significant prizes for his art. He went to Paris to expand his knowledge, there he met a Danish sculptor Sonja Ferlov, married her and she birth to their only child, Wonga. Ernest was interned by the Nazis during the second world war which he survived.

The small family tried to come back to South Africa after the war but the Smuts government refused to allow Mancoba to bring his European wife to South Africa. He became stateless and so did she.They eked out a living for a few years in Denmark, and were active in the significant art movement CoBrA but their small son – Wonga – was the subject of racism there. They returned to France where a friend, Ms Penso, lent them a small rural cottage.

Ernest often did farm labouring work to help them survive but they both managed to continue to produce remarkable art. In 1961 they were given French citizenship, moved to Paris to a small shop/studio where they continued to produce remarkable art. In 1984 Sonja passed away.

Shortly after a South African art historian, Elza Miles, saw a work of Ernest’s on a CoBrA exhibition in Paris and identified the name as South African, traced Mancoba, found him and managed to bring him back to South Africa in 1994 for a retrospective exhibition. It was his first visit in 56 years. He was 90 years old and was accompanied by Wonga. Ernest passed away at the age of 98 in 2002.  Wonga was then active in supporting efforts in South Africa to understand his fathers significant artistic and intellectual legacy.

Over a year ago, Wonga, now in his 60s, had a series of small strokes and  was hospitalized in Paris for many months. He was cared for by long standing friends of the family,  Alain Spielmann, Charley Chevalier, Corinne Penso and Elske Miles Elza’s daughter amongst others. Sadly on February 12th he passed away. Wonga was single and had no children. He is survived by his cousins, Zodwa Mkalipe and Ntando Mancoba, who live in Soweto and Matatiele, respectively.

Penny Mkalipe, the family representative and Wonga’s niece said: “It was with sadness to hear about our uncle and brother’s passing. We wish to thank all the support people have shown during this time of our bereavement. Two family representatives will be traveling to Paris, France to participate in funeral arrangements. The funeral and memorial service will be held in Paris to honour his life, at 2pm on Monday at Pere Lachaise. Thereafter, the family representatives will bring his ashes to South Africa, where he will be laid to rest with his father, Ernest Mancoba, and grandparents, in  Benoni,”

Prepared by:  Phindile Xaba on behalf of Arts and Ubuntu Trust