national Arts Festival Banner

Wednesday, February 6, 2013


He made history at the Durban University of Technology last year when he became the first student in the Jewellery Design Programme to score 100% for his portfolio.

This week, he made history yet again after becoming part of the Emma Smith Scholarship Award’s 82 year old legacy. Songezo Baleni, who hails from a rural village in UMzimkhulu on the KZN south coast, was announced as the 2012 Emma Smith Scholarship Award winner at a ceremony held at the DUT City Campus - walking away with a R40,000 cash prize.

“The judging panel looks at four things (when evaluating the contestants’ work),” said DUT Arts and Design Faculty Deputy Dean Professor Graham Stewart, who was also the chairman of the judging panel. “The first is the good presentation of the work, second being how the candidate (orally) put forward the idea, third is the impact the artist’s work will have on society and last being the impact (of the prize) on the individual.”

As part of the evaluation process, the judges also asked the contestants where they see themselves in the next five years. “The most inspirational answer came from Songezo. The originality of his designs, the sense he had of his South African heritage - which shows through the designs and are themselves the best of local and global - are what made him tonight’s winner,” said Prof Stewart who nevertheless stressed that all nominees are winners. “The judges faced an extraordinarily difficult decision; all candidates did well.”

Baleni completed his BTech degree in Jewellery Design last year where he performed exceptionally well. He is currently lecturing Computer-aided Design (CAD) and Setting on a part time basis to second-year Jewellery Design students.

The 27 year applies traditional weaving techniques using precious metals in creating and manufacturing his designs, a skill he says he developed using his heritage. He describes his style as high-end commercial but distinctive, saying he draws his inspiration from his passion to create as well as his heritage. His work is also on show in Johannesburg art galleries.

“The competition was tough; I didn’t think I’d win. I developed something using my heritage which has become a distinctive piece of jewellery,” said Baleni. Creating his unique pieces using his signature weaving technique is however not easy. “Precious metal isn’t like grass which is soft. It (precious metal) gives you blisters (on your fingers) during the weaving process so you often have to take breaks in-between. For example, it took a month to weave the necklace,” he said pointing to the centrepiece of his exhibition.

Chris de Beer, Associate Director in the Jewellery Design Programme said Baleni did not work towards winning the Emma Smith Scholarship, but won because he is constantly learning. De Beer said Baleni spends the majority of his time, including Saturdays on campus. “When he comes across new things he just dives in, he’s eager to learn. With talented people like Songezo, you don’t feel like you’re teaching them something, all you do is give them space to do it, that’s what I feel I’m doing as his lecturer.”

Professor Nomthandazo Gwele, the DUT DVC Academic, congratulated Baleni, saying his parents deserve gratitude for raising “such a talented young man”. “This (Baleni) is the one we must never lose as a nation. We must create space for him to grow. I congratulate him.”

An exhibition of the nominee works will be up at the DUT City Campus Interior Design Department (Room 24) until February 8, 2013

A video profiling Songezo Baleni is available on Youtube. Titled Songezo Baleni is DUT's master jeweller, it was produced by the DUT Faculty of Arts and Design and its Journalism Programme.