Imagination Extraordinaire

We are celebrating local crafters and making March marvellous with a few wonderful local giveaways and I am normally on the back-foot, doing things as they happen rather than planning months ahead. I prefer a little bit of chaos and at times I wonder if this is what I attract… but, normally things do work out. So it was quite strange really that I was thinking about getting hold of Punch, when, out of the blue, the phone rang yesterday afternoon and he was enquiring about whether we needed stock for our shop or not. I bellowed across to Sindi and said, please ask Punch to pop around for a visit, to which he replied, he’d be with us by 10 in the morning but only if the weather was good.

It’s March and not only are giveaways marvellous in March but the weather is too. Punch arrived, punctually. He was here before 8am! He’s a soft spoken man and comes across as someone with a gentle spirit. He grew up in Zwelisha and his full name is Sibusiso Linda Mbhele. He says that when he was young there was a washing powder called “Punch” and his uncle called him this and the name stuck. I have always only known him as Punch.

Punch went to school at Nsukangihlale Primary and says he was first in craft class. This would have been the early 80s in the rural parts of the Drakensberg and creative subjects like Art just weren’t on offer. I always wonder how different things might have been if he’d had other opportunities but by the time he knew of the Art School in Johannesburg, he says he was too old.

But passion and interest mean creativity cannot be stilled. One day Punch saw an aeroplane fly low over the greater amaZizi village. It fascinated him so much that he decided to build one. He made it with wires and his older brother helped him attach the wings. It was 1986 and he was 17 years old. His first plane was covered with a plastic sheet… but pictures in books were smaller than his finger and it was only after seeing a REAL plane that he could manufacture them more accurately and realistically.

This opportunity arose when some people from ESKOM noticed his work. They arranged a trip to Harrismith and a flight over and around the town in a light aircraft which Punch then built. People liked his work so much that they asked him to sell it. Initially he wasn’t wanting to, but he’d found a market and he could get new materials and so he did.

People from the hotels then approached him to make bicycles. I remember our first MTB Race’s floating trophy was a beautiful bike handcrafted by Punch. It now sits proudly at our Reception. The wheels turned and even the chain operated. Nowadays he makes smaller bikes for curio stores but he says the wheels are tricky because they wobble a bit.

Punch’s other challenge is getting the right metal to build his planes. We have become a plastic generation and the old oil cans are no-longer. It’s a challenge. But, he’s found that he can flatten a doom can or a furniture spray can and use these. I suggested Olive Oil tins… I’m going to have to look out for some. I got the sense that he’d like to make bigger planes again but it’s hard because he can’t source the right resources…

Sometimes he also makes cars. Today he left with a picture of a car. Someone from our staff had asked him to make it. He says he doesn’t know different makes or names of vehicles but if he sees one and he likes it, he can create it from his imagination. And when you visit his home you are in awe of this imagination. His fish helicopter home in Zwelisha is a true form of art. Today he ascended the steps, opened the combi door (with key and lock) and went to find a prized book. A book put together by a French visitor who too was fascinated with his story and amazed at his craft and who sold his goods over the ocean.

Times are certainly tough but he seems to take the days in his stride; quietly, reflectively and creatively. I wonder who will be the winner of a gorgeous little plane, handcrafted by a man that once flew in one?

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