Prince Mthakathi of Newtown
Before Newtown became the place to see and be seen, long before the mlungus started drinking coffee at Kaldis, and Sophiatown became the place to cut deals, an eccentric artist started winning the love of people he’d meet on those inner city streets. For those who don’t know him, this is the story of Prince of Newtown. By MANDY DE WAAL “Eh… Mumzozo!” Prince of Newtown’s distinctive drawl is as instantly recognisable as his look. That clump of peroxide-yellowed dreads tied into an eccentric headpiece and those intense brown eyes looking out of a face marked by the scars of inner-city survival. Fashionable sheer T, too big trousers pinched into to his waist with a belt and a range of silver rings climbing up his hands and arms, Prince is a well-recognised style icon on Jozi’s city streets. “People know me,” says Prince. “They just know me as Prince of Newtown because I have been here for so many years. I was working first at Kippies and then at Shivava as a waiter, but I have been here for over 15 years in Newtown. I was here before all the changes, and at that time when I was worried that they were going to kill the beauty of this place.” Born and bred in Alex, Prince’s real home are the streets of that cultural hub once called Burghersdorp. Anyone who knows and loves Johannesburg’s Newtown, will know Prince – as much a living landmark as the Market Theatre where the eclectic fashion icon has spent years on the street making and selling jewellery. His new home now is off the streets at Unity Gallery, which forms part of the Bus Factory in Newtown’s cultural precinct. It’s there the spoons, forks and teaspoons Prince reshapes, and remakes into rings, necklaces and armbands are finding favour with international tourists who are beginning to take them all over the world.