There was a time you couldn’t drive down a Joburg street without seeing a Frances Kendall Federal Party poster. In the run-up to the 1994 elections, her fiery, determined gaze was impossible to duck. So was her book, South Africa: The Solution, which she co-authored with her Free Market Foundation husband Leon Louw. It sold in tens of thousands all over the world. President FW de Klerk was spotted reading it. A TV camera zoomed in on a Springbok cricketer reading it between the fall of wickets.
The book advocated federalism as the solution to South Africa’s political problems and Kendall launched the Federal Party with the idealistic aim of sweeping a devolved system of government into power. At one stage Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi told her that his Inkatha party might throw its weight behind her. But, she didn’t crack a parliamentary seat and today the country has a highly centralised form of government.
Kendall meanwhile has come full circle, doing best what her Wits university art teachers said she could not – paint. When Mark Read, director of the Everard Read Art Gallery, saw one of her portraits last year he said it was the best he’d seen in a long time. He went further. He told Kendall her work was up there with acclaimed portraitists John Meyer and Neil Rodger.
Internationally renowned South African artist Karel Nel, whose work hangs in galleries all over the world, is opening her solo exhibition of Kenyan paintings this month. He’s doing so because, “her work is vividly crafted in a detailed way that makes her paintings very engaging”. That’s the kind of praise others would die for. Kendall has arrived.