Limpopo artists’ replica of the Calabash earned him a scholarship that changed his life forever

Stepping into his backyard feels like taking a tour of Johannesburg.

In one spot is Nelson Mandela Bridge and the Orlando Towers, in another a shopping mall and highways that lead to FNB Stadium. This astonishing backyard was created with hard work and heaps of imagination. Its creator, Mulalo Negondeni, crafted the model city to the last detail – the stadium even has tiny trees dotted around the perimeter near the parking lot.

ARCHITECT OF HIS OWN FORTUNE

Mulalo (24) was inspired by the grand arenas he saw during the Fifa World Cup in Germany. Now the replica of FNB Stadium that he made using plastics, cardboard, wires, soil and cement, secured him a scholarship to a university of his choice.

Yet the engineering student from Mukula village just outside Thohoyandou in Limpopo didn’t imagine his miniature version of the Calabash would open doors for him. “When I started out people around my neighbourhood would mock me. Some even called me crazy.” He’s having the last laugh though. Mulalo became a sensation in his small town after he and his family were flown to the stadium in February to watch an Absa Premiership match. It was his first time on a plane and he shared the experience with his mom, Nyadzanga (64), and Gudani (23), the youngest of his five siblings.

They were sponsored with flights, accommodation and transport by Stadium Management South Africa (SMSA), which manages the venue, after Mulalo’s Calabash caught their attention on social media. SMSA was so dazzled by Mulalo’s innovation and attention to detail they also offered to pay for him to study further.

MAKING HIS DREAM A REALITY

Mulalo lights up as he recalls setting foot in the stadium that he had spent six years to painstakingly build. “I went there for the first time to watch a match between Orlando Pirates and Kaizer Chiefs,” he says.

When he first started his project he had no construction knowledge. “The only skill I had was what I had learnt in arts and culture class at school.” But Mulalo was determined to make his dream a reality. He started out in his backyard, making models from mud.

“The problem with using mud and water was that every time it rained everything would get washed away.” Yet his family couldn’t understand his drive to perfect his passion project. “Every time I wanted to work on the stadium I had to wait for my parents to leave the house because to them it was a distraction from my school work.”

His family came around three years ago when he showed them his completed work of art. Mulalo recently hosted his neighbours in his backyard for the first public tour of the models he’s made from scratch. After completing his masterpiece in 2016, Mulalo added more buildings around the stadium to replicate Johannesburg.

Named Nego City, the miniature town he’s made features many famous landmarks. “I wanted to give people a chance to see and experience Nego City for free.”