I reshaped my life out of beach sand


The road from Mpumalanga to Durban was long and bumpy. The family was beginning to grow weary. Turning to his tiny daughters, Lucas Mahlangu winked reassuringly. He had a plan – to get to the coast and make a better life for his family. But at the journey’s end, Mahlangu was met by the dismal truth. Work in the big city was tough to come by. Stumped, he did what Durbanites do. He went to the beach. There, Mahlangu watched children heap sand into little plastic buckets while adults drew detailed portraits on the ground. “I became so inspired,” he says. That’s the moment Mahlangu decided to take fate into his own hands. Mixing imagination with his will to survive, he ventured into the world of sand sculpture.

“This is more than just playing with sand,” Mahlangu says. “It’s a labour of love.” Today, his work ventures beyond the flat sand art he first saw in 2006. Mahlangu’s three-dimensional creations come to life against the backdrop of the roaring Indian Ocean. New figures are made weekly, but a large rhino always rests on the sand as a nod to animal conservation. Each piece can take up to six days to complete. Rain and strong winds play a heavy factor against them. Every day, the sculptures need to be repaired and restored. “I don’t mind working hard,” Mahlangu says. “People are happy to see my work, and it feeds my family.”

His creations tower over the golden sand dunes and seaside bramble. Most are bigger than Mahlangu himself. Despite his ability to sculpt sandcastles of stupefying size and detail, he remains a man of humble heart. “Not everyone appreciates what I do, but I come back every single day,” Mahlangu says. In pursuit of a stable life, he has become a professional at reshaping his existence. “Building these sculptures has taught me that nothing is permanent,” Mahlangu says. “But it is possible to create something beautiful every day.”