Bennet Zondo was born in Lesotho. When he was old enough, he decided to go to neighbouring South Africa to seek a better life for himself, finding work as a gardener in the Champagne Valley area of KwaZulu-Natal.
In 2002 he took a clay model of a cow giving birth to show Fée Halsted at the Ardmore studio. Like most young rural Zulu and Sotho boys he had learned to model with river clay while tending to his father’s goats and cattle, and the sun-baked figurines were his toys.
Fée immediately recognised his talent and he was quickly accepted into the Ardmore family, with his pieces included in the collections sent to the Christie’s Auction in 2003 and 2004 and again in 2007.
Since then his work has been included in every major international show and is prized across the world.
Over the years, Bennet’s skill has evolved to the level of “creative genius”, says Fée.
His close observation of nature has given him an understanding of both human and animal anatomy and he has a magical ability to bring clay to life.
He expertly captures the nuances of an animal’s movements – the way baboons preen their babies for mites or scratch at an itch or warily taunt a prowling leopard.
The realist painters, Mickey Chonco and Virginia Xaba, often choose to paint his sculptures, resulting in highly collectible artworks that find their homes abroad.
In 2011 at the ‘African Travellers’ exhibition Bennet’s animal-filled makoros were inspired by Operation Noah, launched to rescue wildlife trapped by the rising waters of Lake Kariba when the dam was built in 1950.
He also produced riders alongside fellow-sculptor Alex Sibanda.
In 2012 Bennet excelled with his Endangered Riders series – in particular his wattled and crowned cranes, saddle-billed storks and secretary bird rider series.
His riders were also selected to narrate the vices and virtues of life in South Africa in a major commission called ‘The South African Formula’.
In 2013 Bennet created monkey riders for the ‘Monkeys and Magnolia’ show at Patrick Mavros in London and large crocodile riders for the ‘Just so Crocodile and other Curiosities’ show held at Charles Grieg the Jewellers in Hyde Park, Johannesburg.
In 2014 Bennet worked on new subject matter, antelope, for the ‘Great Herds of Africa’ series, which featured sable and eland riders.
His red Masai elephants were created for Patrick Mavros in Nairobi, Kenya and his leopard and figurative candlesticks were selected for the Korean Biennale, ‘Africa Forms’ in Seoul, South Korea, and by the Southern Guild for the Objects Biennale in New York.
In 2015 Ardmore celebrated 30 years. Alongside sculptor, Petros Gumbi, Bennet produced a limited edition of 30 figurative sculptures of Zulu men and women (storytellers) honouring the works of Ardmore legends, Bonnie Ntshalintshali and Wonderboy Nxumalo.