In many respects Clifford Matshweni Mpai’s life is every bit as colourful as his drawings. He was born in 1937, according to his mother; in 1940, according to his grandfather. And on 6 September 1940, according to his identity document. Mother always knows best, so 1937 it will be. Near Pietersburg, now Polokwane.
Mpai was forced to leave school after Standard 6. In 1961 he was employed at the Modderfontein Dynamite Factory as a machine operator, from 1971 to 1973 he worked for a dry-cleaning concern in Sasolburg, and in 1973 he found employment as a waiter with Harry and Bridget Oppenheimer at Little Brenthurst, their Parktown home. In 1984, his talent was recognised by Strilli Oppenheimer and for two years he spent one day a week taking art classes at Bill Anslie’s Johannesburg Art Foundation.
This home is in Phoffu Village just outside Polokwane (previously Pietersburg), where Clifford Mpai is still recording the changing world around him in his rural home environment, in coloured pencil.