Mbongeni Fongoqa uses graphic design to uplift township businesses

Beauty and function merge to create a new kind of public space.

HuemanBeingDesign Community Services is the brainchild of Design Indaba Emerging Creative alumnus Mbongeni Fongoqa. The graphic design artist aims to give the township of Khayelitsha, South Africa, a visual energy in an effort to combat underrepresentation in public spaces. “This is professionally crafted, visual language to assist our public spaces to evolve,” he adds.

Working between South Africa’s vibrant cities, Cape Town and Johannesburg, we spoke to the creative about being misunderstood in the township.

How did the community project begin?

The community project began when I started noticing the difference between businesses in the city and businesses in the townships. I wanted to uplift my community so that it had a real visual energy and was more inviting to visitors. The project also prompts informal businesses to jump into social media platforms as a means of expanding their consumer range.

Who is involved? Who does it benefit?

I work alongside my photographer partner who has been documenting almost everything I do in terms of art. The business owners are the primary focus because I have to understand which area of growth they would like their businesses to move towards.

Another idea is to create pop-up information points next to some of the businesses I work with. The information points will make available information such as finding a job, how to craft a cv, how to apply for a bursary, books to read, and community interviews that highlight community needs.

HuemanBeingDesign Community Services

HuemanBeingDesign Community Services

Why Khayelitsha?

I moved in Khayelitsha around 2006 and completed my grade 12 in 2007. When I started my first year in Graphic Design in 2009, I spent most of my time within the beautifully designed city landscapes and visually appealing businesses. The difference in aesthetic really hit me when I was forced to spend all my time in Khayelitsha after I had completed university. I noticed that the two worlds were not inviting in the same way.

Why the move to Johannesburg?

My coming to Johannesburg was to learn from various organisations in the art sector such as Assemblage and The Coloured Cube and take all the information back home. The plan is to keep doing this back and forth and establish business relationships that can allow my students to have solid platforms when the time comes.

What’s your biggest challenge?

Making enough income to sustain my travels between Cape Town and Johannesburg and finding enough funding to establish my own art and design academic school to help improve the whole of Khayelitsha.

My other challenge is exhibiting most of my work while sustaining a full-time job. I have way too much unshown artwork. I’m also trying to build a well-equipped studio.

What five tips would you give an emerging graphic artist who is just starting to work commercially?

1. Nothing will be handed to you if you are not willing to learn it yourself and ask when you are not sure.
2. Working hard never stops.
3. Strive to be the better you every day and remain a student even when you are being seen as a pro.
4. Work at developing your brand constantly.
5. Be you.

HuemanBeingDesign Community Services

Does beauty matter more than function when redoing a space in a disadvantaged area that might not be very easy on the eyes?

The two go hand in hand to me they are one and the same thing. Function and beauty are to be looked at on the same scale when dealing with a project.

What inspires you?

I'm inspired by the need to improve the world around me. I'm inspired by poverty, victims of crime and underrepresentation. I am also inspired by the need to use the talent and what I have to make a new world.

What’s your favourite design tool?

A black gel pen.

HuemanBeingDesign Community Services

What’s your dream project?

The Community Services-Art Academy NGO. The tourism sector can learn a lot about Khayelitsha. Instead of having taxi ranks, parks and public space flooded by adverts from Disney and KFC maybe we can upskill our community members to tell their own stories in their own communities. In that way, we can be proud of our new homes.