A New Jerusalem: Jackson Hlungwani

Polokwane Art Gallery

University of Johannesburg Art Gallery


View of installation at the University of Johannesburg Art Gallery featuring the following works (from left to right): 'Last work made' ; Crucifix; Self portrait. Behind is an enlarged photographic image of the New Jerusalem site at Mbhokoto Village.

A NEW JERUSALEM – JACKSON HLUNGWANI was a celebration of the life and work of Jackson Xidonkani Hlungwani. Admired and revered by many, Hlungwani was a sculptor but he was much more than that – he was a healer, a preacher and a visionary.  Although his exact birth date is uncertain, Hlungwani was probably born around 1923 in Nkanyani, Limpopo Province (then the homeland of Gazankulu, in the northern Transvaal). As a child in a rural area he herded cattle with his brothers. His father, Mundunwazi, taught his son to carve household objects and to work with iron – skills most likely passed down through family generations.


When Hlungwani was about 18 years old he went to Johannesburg to find work. There he had an accident, lost a finger, and was retrenched. He returned to Limpopo where he continued to work in the industrial sector. But he also had a strong religious calling and, in 1946, he was ordained into the African Zionist Church.


Hlungwani tells of a revelatory experience that changed his life: one night in 1978 the devil shot arrows through his legs. He managed to get rid of one but the other stuck fast. He became so ill that he decided to kill himself. Fortunately, before he could, Jesus appeared before him and told him three things: he would be healed; he must serve God all his life and he would see God. Later he founded his own church that he called ‘Yesu Galeliya One Aposto in Sayoni Alt and Omega.’


Throughout his career as a sculptor Hlungwani received much attention. Most notably, he was included in the groundbreaking 1984 Tributaries exhibition in Johannesburg, followed by a 1989 retrospective show of his work. His sculptures have been showcased internationally and are in many private and national collections.


 A NEW JERUSALEM showcased many of Hlungwani’s wood carvings, three prints that he made and a slide show that took visitors on a journey through the New Jerusalem site that Hlungwani built and where he lived, taught and preached until the early 1990s.

View of installation at the University of Johannesburg Art Gallery featuring the following works (from left to right): Christ – ‘Right foot forward’' iand Self Portrait (in the background); Dog; God's leg with eggs (in the background); window with photographic images of the New Jerusalem site at Mbhokoto Village; Baboon.

View of installation at the Unversity of Johannesburg Art Gallery including the following works: Long School of Fish; Fat Fish; Six fish frieze; Tiger Fish; Little Fish

View of installation at the University of Johannesburg Art Gallery showing the following works in the foreground (from left to right: Dizimamakulu the Giant cannibal and his Wife; Michael Star; Baboon.

View of installation at the University of Johannesburg Art Gallery showing the following works in the foreground (from left to right): Leaping Fish; Fish; Antique Fish; Double Fish



Overlooking Mbhokota Village, 38 kilometers from Makhado (previously Louis Trichardt), Hlungwani found a hill with remains of old rock-wall structures left behind by people who had lived there many years before. On this site, with the help of close family members, he built an ‘acropolis’ called New Jerusalem – the new country home of God and Christ which was perhaps his most significant artwork. Until the early 1990s this was where he carved, instructed his followers about the Gospel, and healed the sick. He also taught sculpture to those who came to learn from him.


Hlungwani marked out a route up the hill, along which visitors would walk. Near the top of the hill stood the Altar to Christ and the Altar to God - stone platforms with sculptures of God, Christ, Mary, angels such as Gabriel, and a ‘Map for God’. Architect Peter Rich discussed the site with Hlungwani on his many visits to Mbhokota. He explains how Hlungwani conceived New Jerusalem ‘as a pilgrimage route – where mortal life is viewed as a journey’ – a route with an entrance and an exit. These places are religious metaphors for first and last, beginning and end, life and death.


Hungwani drew his inspiration for the site from sources as wide as the City of Heaven illustrated in religious books, the Zimbabwe Ruins, cliff dweller sites in New Mexico, the Globe Theater in London, as well as Greek and modern American theaters.


Since Hlungwani’s passing the site has fallen into disrepair and there are no longer any sculptures there to see. As a way of reconstructing the route through the site, as it was when Jackson was alive, the exhibition had on display a site plan of New Jerusalem with numbers that corresponded to the important places on the route as well as an explanation of what these places were.


On the monitor screen was a slide show featuring over 45 images of the site taken by Peter Rich in the early 1980s. The images reconstructed the journey of the site - up the stone ramp, through the many sacred spaces on the hill and then down again to the start.