Coming home to roost


Famous for its quirky creations, the Lowveld’s annual Chicken Challenge really does put the funky into “funky chicken”. Hip, trendy and wonderfully creative, these chickens are works of art.

Clothed in Splendour – Carol Strydom

The initiative is now in its sixth year and is part of the fundraising effort in support of Hands at Work in Africa, a non-profit organisation based in Mbombela, that assists orphaned and vulnerable children in southern Africa. “In its founding year, 2014, the Chicken Challenge had 67 chickens on display, generating around R30 000. Since then, it has gone from strength to strength, with 101 chickens auctioned last year, raising R83 126 for Hands at Work in Africa,” says Reinette Fourie, Chicken Challenge founder and Mbombela-based artist.

Reinette, who developed the challenge with Karin Daymond and Marlize Meyer, says its defining moment is its professional online auction of the uniquely decorated chickens. All the proceeds are donated to Hands at Work in Africa. The 3D stylised chicken-shaped canvas was inspired by Polish sculptor, Dariusz J Nowak, and provides the perfect vehicle for artistic expression and interpretation.

The blank canvasses scream for some TLC

The only people involved in the Chicken Challenge who are paid are the two crafters who make the canvases, Thembi Nkosi and Nhlanhla Mabunda. Other than that, it is organised and facilitated by volunteers and expenses are carried by donors and corporate sponsors. Both of these crafters were trained by Reinette, who studied graphic design but worked mostly in puppeteering and developing craft products. Nhlanhla started making chickens in 2014 and Thembi joined him soon after. They have made about 800 canvases to date.

Thembi Nkosi and Nhlanhla Mabunda

“Thembi excels as a master crafter and is now responsible for creating most of the canvases,” says Reinette. “She lives in Mpakeni, near Mbombela, and works for Siphamandla, a home-based care organisation, in the mornings. She creates the chicken canvases in the afternoons. She is skilled, meticulous and efficient – her creations now take her less than an hour to make, from start (tearing up egg boxes) to completion. Her equipment is modest – a table, wooden mortar and pestle (usually for maize) and a handful of ordinary kitchen utensils. She uses a coffee tin on an open fire to boil the Maizena corn flour glue.” Thembi has honed her skills over the years and has chicken canvas-making down to a fine art. “They are exquisite works in themselves – perfectly executed every time,” Reinette smiles.

Chick on the Wire – Len Verdorn

Hands at Work in Africa

The organisation is active across eight African countries, in more than 60 communities, serving villages and slums and helping the poorest of the poor.

“Burdened by the effects of HIV and Aids, as well as extreme poverty and low or non-existent infrastructure, orphans and vulnerable children in these communities are in dire need of help,” says Reinette, whose focus for the past six years has been on raising funds for charity through artwork. “Hands at Work in Africa mobilises and equips local men and women in these communities to care for the most vulnerable children around them,” she adds. The organisation’s goal is to create locally owned life centres in these communities – places of refuge that leave a community strengthened and sustained for the future.

The Lord’s Sunshine – Rachel Guthrie

How to participate

Purchase your chicken canvas for R180 from Mopani Pharmacy (White River or Crossing Centre, Mbombela) or online at
Transform it into a work of art and drop it off at either of the participating Mopani pharmacies by the submission date of May 15.

Visit The Chicken Challenge and Lowveld Chicken Challenge on Facebook.

Hope Springs Eternal – Karen Krumm

Make sure that when this year’s online auction comes around, you are ready to bid on the perfect chicken to take home. It takes place from June 26 to July 26, so pen the dates in your diary now. A select number of chickens will also be exhibited at White River Gallery, from July 11 to 26, and members of the public are invited to visit the gallery to see which chicken they want to bring home to roost.