On Durban’s North Beach, a make-shift art gallery lines the promenade with loveable art pieces sculpted from the sand. Lately the strip of sand has become a prime advertising spot for business owners and the sand artists’ skilled hand carves out uncanny logos of local restaurants and businesses. What better way to get ahead in business, than with a customised sand sculpture to capture the colourful promenade’s patrons as they glide by in high spirits at the seaside?

Skhumbuzo Ngcobo, Sanele Magcaba and Dumisane Shandu working on a special piece for Tabloid.

Sanele Magcaba (31) and Skhumbuzo Ngcobo (26) have been based at North Beach for over a decade. Magcaba who has been sculpting the Durban sand for 15 years took Ngcobo under his wing and taught him the art of sand sculpting. “It is a gift from God. There is no school for this kind of art. God gave Sanele the gift and he shared it with me,” said Ngcobo.

Now the pair work under one permit and split their earnings. The sand artists started to sculpt advertising seven years ago when the Soccer World Cup brought extra foot traffic to the Durban promenade. “We got the idea in 2010, we wanted a better way of making money, so we started telling people who stopped to take pictures that they
could advertise their business with us,” said Ngcobo.

The adverts are sold at a monthly fee, although the sand artists are currently selling out for half the price they hoped for. While the pair need to sell 10 adverts at R600 each per month to make a meagre living, they are currently running three adverts that have been featured along the busy promenade for a few months at a lower price. “They say the price is too high, they heard us taking donations for photos of our artwork and now they think they can just give us a donation for the adverts,” said Ngcobo.

The artists pay a fee for their permit said Vumi Mchunu, the Area Manager for Durban’s Business Support, Tourism and Markets
Unit. “They operate under section 9 of the eThekwini Municipality informal trading By- Laws,” said Mchunu. Despite this, many pass by and stop to take photographs without leaving donations. “We feel bad, we get angry, but we can’t harass them, so we control out feelings,” said Ngcobo.

When the pair go home at the end of the day, they leave their sand sculptures in the care of friends who are allowed to collect donations during their time guarding the artworks. Dumisane Shandu who visits the pair sometimes to lend a hand also battles when people passing by take photos without supporting the artists. “I feel so sad, but I can’t fight with them, we are here because we need money- it’s our job,” said Shandu.

Lauren Snailham who was passing by with daughter Abbey said that the artists are overlooked. “The artwork is stunning, you can see how much effort goes into it. It’s underappreciated,” said Snailman. The Sand artists form part of the beach front vibe and add to Durban’s tourism value. “Sand artist provide a unique talent that becomes an eye draw to our city tourist as well as the beach goers. In that way tourist love their unique and creative talent,” said Mchunu.