Both his cell numbers have been disconnected and the controversial artist hasn’t responded to emails in several weeks.
Staff at the studio only reveal that Mabulu, best known for his paintings of former President Jacob Zuma, has relocated. They have been told not to hand out Mabulu’s new contact details.
Eventually, Mabulu is tracked down through his brother Bongani, with whom he now works in studios hidden in a newly-built complex a few kilometres outside of the Joburg CBD. The building is covered with burglar bars and several security guards patrol the complex.
Mabulu tells how he was forced to leave his studios in Newtown. “A lot has happened since we last spoke. I’ve lost a lot of weight. I’ve been threatened. I have been to hell and back. I even almost lost my kids.”
He was almost killed four months ago at his Newtown studios. “I was forced to move because someone tried to kill my brother and I.
“Two guys came in to the studios with guns and threatened to kill us. I thought to myself; ‘if this is what I’m going to die for, then let it be, just make it as quick as possible.’
“I showed no fear, because I know as soon as you show fear then you really are f****d. I had a long conversation with the gunmen and then they just left me alone and walked out the studios.”
The 37-year-old has received several threats in the past few years from his controversial paintings of Zuma.
But even though the Eastern Cape-born artist fears for his life, he will never put down his paintbrush. “I’ve said this many times: no one will ever be able to stop me from expressing my feelings through my art.”
Mabulu is working on a new project, which documents South Africa’s journey from 1993 until now. “It documents the triumphs and tragedies that we have faced as a country over the last 24 years. I have to get it done as its getting shipped off to London soon. It will be auctioned off at one of the galleries.”
Mabulu is well-known for his dislike of the ANC and Zuma in particular.
“I will only be happy when I see him being charged and arrested. I want to see him as a prisoner. I want to see him pay for all the crimes he has committed.
“It’s going to take the country a very long time to recuperate from all the sh*t he has caused for us. He needs to be dealt with accordingly by a court of law.”
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In the middle of his studios, Mabulu displays one of his latest installations, which features a baboon sitting on a throne.
The baboon is wearing a navy blue blazer, with the ANC logo printed on the back and the name Zuma and Rape printed in bold colours.
The baboon is holding a leash. Attached to the leash are three baby bulldogs, meant to be his two sons and his nephew, wearing white T-shirts with the names Edward, Duduzane and Khulubuse printed on them.
“I’m sure you didn’t even have to look at the name on the back to know who that baboon is,” Mabulu says as he laughs.
“I did the installation a month or two ago, and took it to Sandton Square the day Zuma resigned. I placed it in the middle of Sandton Square so that people could see real art. I was chased away by security guards but I fought to stay there and show off.”
Mabulu plans to continue his “provocative” artwork, despite Zuma’s resignation.
“My paintings weren’t only about Zuma. It was about the ANC and all the people who he represented. He was just a portion of the problem. As much as it was about him, he was just the face of the beast.”
Asked his thoughts on the country’s new president, Cyril Ramaphosa, Mabulu is optimistic, though not overjoyed.
“We can only be optimistic, but we know power corrupts. And Ramaphosa isn’t clean himself. Look what he’s done with Bathabile (Dlamini). That’s another f*** up.
“The Gwedes of the party are still there. All those people who supported Zuma and backed him up are still there, so you never know what can happen.
“We could find ourselves in the same predicament as before. It may not be on the same scale as when Zuma was in charge, but we could have plenty of problems still.”
Mabulu has also pleaded with artists to play their part in producing artwork that examines the challenges the country faces.
“Art has become a thing for the wealthy and elite. It’s losing its creed, its value and momentum.
“Have you seen art taking part in the dethroning of Zuma? It didn’t by any stretch. Our artists are too busy painting stuff that doesn’t really matter to the people of this country.”