Blessing Ngobeni, Nthato Mokgata (also known as Spoek Mathambo), Lulu Mlangeni, Jefferson Tshabalala, and Sisonke Xonti join the ranks of the Standard Bank Young Artists

This November sees five of South Africa’s most innovative and talented artistic individuals being awarded one of the country’s most sought-after arts prizes. 

Since its inception in 1981, the Standard Bank Young Artist Awards (SBYAA) have served as a marker for the artistic work that’s being created, and aspired towards, across the country. This year’s batch of winners prove that the SBYAA still seek to reward passion, dedication, and a desire to carve out new ways of creating and engaging with art and the world around us. 

At a ceremony in Johannesburg on Tuesday 5 November, the 2020 SBYAA winners were announced. The winners are Blessing Ngobeni (Visual Art), Nthato Mokgata (Music), Lulu Mlangeni (Dance), Jefferson Tshabalala (Theatre), and Sisonke Xonti (Jazz). 

This year marks 36 years of Standard Bank’s sponsorship of the SBYAA and sees each of these young artists receiving a cash incentive, as well as a commission to premier a new work or exhibit on the Main Programme of the 46th National Arts Festival, taking place in Makhanda (formerly Grahamstown) from 25 June to 5 July 2020

About the artists: 

MUSIC – Nthato Mokgata is a musician, artist, producer, rapper, and singer-songwriter. Through his solo career and projects such as Batuk and Fantasma, he has toured the globe extensively. He is also the director of Future Sounds of Mzansi, a documentary exploring South Africa’s cultural landscape, 20 years into democracy.

VISUAL ART – Blessing Ngobeni is a fine artist who strives to simultaneously uplift others, while challenging the status quo through his art. Using painting, sculpture, video, audio installations and live performance Ngobeni speaks truth to power, continually highlighting and questioning corrupted systems of power in South Africa. Ngobeni also mentors and provides support for young artists. 

Download this picture of Blessing here

JAZZ – Sisonke Xonti is a jazz saxophonist, composer, and bandleader. A passionate collaborator, Xonti has worked with, and performed alongside, artists such as Hugh Masekela, Lira, Bokani Dyer, and Simphiwe Dana to name a few. His full-length album, Iyonde, was released in 2017.

Download this pic of Sisonke here 

DANCE – Lulu Mlangeni is a dancer, teacher, and choreographer. Mlangeni’s practice incorporates a strong element of texture to the art of movement and has seen her perform on stages across the world. Her recent dance piece, CONFINED, is inspired by the political stalwart, Winnie Madikizela Mandela.

Download this picture of Lulu here

THEATRE – Jefferson Tshabalala is a writer, director, performer, and the founder and owner of the live arts production house, Kiri Pink Nob Arts (Pty) Ltd. Tshabalala merges poetry, hip-hop, comedy, and traditional dramatic arts to communicate nuanced and far-reaching stories. His recent work Ekasi Lam – An Ode to Kwaito premiered at the 2019 National Arts Festival. 

Download this picture of Jefferson here

BELOW: The 2020 Standard Bank Young Artists L-R Jefferson Tshabalala (Theatre), Sisonke Xonti (Jazz), Lulu Mlangeni (Dance), Blessing Ngobeni (Visual Art) and Nthatho Mokgata (Music) – download this image here 


Speaking to the status quo

Executive Producer of the National Arts Festival Nobesuthu Rayi explains that in addition to the high calibre of production, each young artist speaks to the status quo of the industry through their work. 

“On behalf of the Festival we congratulate the 2020 SBYA’s, they are all deserving artists whose body of work speaks for itself,” says Rayi. “I have noticed with interest that all these artists are aware of the status quo of our arts industry in SA and they have strong opinions on the matter. To all the 2020 SBYAs, gqamani njengeenkwenkwezi enizizo. Shine like the stars you are.” 

Chairperson of the Festival Artistic Committee, Brett Bailey adds that awards like this give public validation to artists, providing them with the opportunity and confidence to spread their artistic wings. “They give a highly visible platform to the winners to showcase their work and to lift them from their crowded field and provide the funding to generate something new,” says Bailey. 

Giving rise to SA’s creative economy

For Standard Bank, who have sponsored the awards since 1984, the awards present an opportunity to continue nurturing platforms and artists who give rise to the creative economy of South Africa.  

Desiree Pooe, Head of Group Sponsorships at Standard Bank, says: “The curatorial committee looks for artists who have already proven themselves with a track record of work of high artistic quality; artists who have a strong vision and who are not constrained to the commercial mainstream. 

It is a great honour for us to be associated with nurturing the careers of these brilliant young minds, as we strive to support South Africa’s creative economy by helping them build sustainable livelihoods while staying true to their artistic muses.’




The National Arts Festival, celebrates 46 years in 2020, has grown to be one of the leading arts festivals in Africa. Its objectives are to deliver excellence; encourage innovation and development in the arts by providing a platform for both established and emerging South African artists; create opportunities for collaboration with international artists; and build new audiences.


The National Arts Festival established the Young Artist Awards in 1981 to acknowledge emerging young South African artists who demonstrate an outstanding artistic talent. These prestigious awards are presented annually to deserving artists in different disciplines – dance, jazz, music, theatre, visual art, performance art and film – affording them national exposure and acclaim. Standard Bank took over the sponsorship of the awards in 1984 and has presented Young Artist Awards in all the major arts disciplines over their 36-year sponsorship, as well as posthumous and special recognition awards. The winners feature on the Main Programme of the National Arts Festival in Mkahanda and receive financial support for their Festival participation, as well as a cash prize. 


Looking to NAF2020

The 2020 National Arts Festival will take place from 25 June to 5 July. The Call for Proposals for 2020 National Arts Festival Main programme are closed but the 2020 Fringe applications open on 6 November 2019. 


Follow the National Arts Festival:



Twitter: @artsfestival

Instagram: @nationalartsfestival


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Released for the National Arts Festival by 

Sascha Polkey

Rabbit in a Hat Communications

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