Born in KwaZulu Natal, South Africa, Alex Shabalala showed signs of his immense artistic talents from a young age, often spending time drawing animals and plants in the dirt with sticks.

Immersed in a lush landscape and with an abundance of nature to inspire him, his talents were soon recognised and at 13 his school headmaster enrolled him to help teach art classes to fellow students.

Later, Alex spent time training in various artistic media before finally concentrating on his main passion ceramics.  Once advanced, Alex moved to Egoli (the Zulu word for Johannesburg, “the place of gold”) where he looked to establish himself as an accomplished artist. 

KwaZulu Natal 

In 2015 he established SHABALALA DESIGNS with the desire to create and run a high-quality ceramic studio that would reflect his love of the flora and fauna of South Africa. This would aim to incorporate the intricate colours and designs found in the natural environment of his birth nation.  Initially, the studio resided in his residence in the densely populated township of Diepsloot in Gauteng.

 Diepsloot Township, Gauteng

The small studio, in this severely disadvantaged community in Johannesburg, thrived under his guidance and he soon managed to create exceptional works and steadily expand the portfolio of high quality products. However, its cramped space, limited protection from the elements and the inability to upgrade both equipment and processes meant that a new location was urgently needed.

The Diepsloot Studio - Open to the Elements

Diepsloot Studio - cramped interior

In December 2020, SHABALALA DESIGNS joined the CAPITALWORKS FOUNDATION as a pilot project and in doing so, Alex found a partner with the same instilled values of creativity, patience and discipline to provide the business support to grow and develop. This allowed him to move to a spacious new studio in the Riversands Incubation Hub.  Here, the increased space, protection from the elements, a safe and secure work environment and the capability for both safe storage and expansion have all contributed to an increase in quality and output.  The new location also allows greater scope to experiment and test processes and procedures to enhance and improve the quality and artistry of each piece.

Most importantly, this move has allowed for the full-time employment of three other artists that work with Alex and have allowed all their talents to flourish under his guidance.

The artists, all from similar disadvantaged communities and mentored by Alex, specialise in their unique fields such as throwing a piece of work on a potter’s wheel, sculpting animals and flowers from clay or painting the intricate designs and colours onto unique pieces. 

The artists at work in the Riversands Studio 

SHABALALA DESIGNS strives to make a positive difference in the surrounding community with sustainable skills development empowering self-sufficiency and entrepreneurship.  This is achieved by running local workshops demonstrating the skills required and through constantly seeking skilled personnel to join the team where they will receive comprehensive training and mentoring, enable aspiring artists to develop as skilled workers, gain employment and support their families.

Workshops and seminars run in the local communities. A chance to both teach and show the skills needed and to identify the next artists for the studio.

The SHABALALA DESIGNS studio resonates with an abundance of creativity.   There is  tremendous pride in each and every piece as the artists showcase all that the natural world has to offer.  The pieces, all unique and to the highest quality, will grow in value as the collections develop and are distributed around the world. 

The online store is the next step in fostering a relationship with the art collector that recognises quality and artistry while being conscious of the significant impact that their purchase makes not only to the artist but also to the community which they support.

Visitors to the studio are welcome and appointments can be made by contacting us. Special commissions and projects can also be considered.

Who are the artisans?

Xolile Hadebe is a very talented painter with an eye for detail.  She loves flowers and plants and her patterns and choice of colours reflect the grace and elegance she sees in nature.  She is intrigued by the different nuances and rhythms found in nature and thrives on the beauty of wild animals but does not enjoy being too close to them, preferring to admire from a distance.

Milo Dlamini is a highly skilled painter with a deep feeling for painting both the Nguni and Ankole cattle.  Milo has tremendous patience when she paints and loves the ability to be creative.  Her favourite colour is blue because it reminds her of open skies on a hot African day.  She enjoys painting simple yet sophisticated pieces. 


The Capitalworks Foundation is a Not-for-Profit Company founded by the Capitalworks Group with the objective of providing direct and positive impact to the communities in which it operates.  It continues to embody the core values of partnership, patience and discipline by identifying and fostering relationships with like-minded entrepreneurs in order to develop sustainable businesses that grow and support previously disadvantaged communities.

The Capitalworks Foundation focuses on sustainable job creation.  We do this by supporting projects that concentrate on skills development and the empowerment for self-sufficiency.  Our aim is to prevent and relieve poverty in disadvantaged areas through partnership, entrepreneurial development and business funding to individual local businesses to ensure real and long-lasting social and economic upliftment to these communities.

We are primarily, but not exclusively, concentrating on the arts & crafts environment.  We believe that the best support for a community is to develop businesses within it by providing commercial skills and leadership along with investment and training.  As a workforce multiplies, even in a small business, the positive socio-economic impact over time is exponential.  Instead of a few families being supported, a whole community is involved and provided for.

Currently, the main business that the Foundation has partnered with is SHABALALA DESIGNS.  Since joining with the Foundation we have moved the ceramics studio the business runs from Diepsloot, an informal settlement, to the Riversands Incubation Hub. The Foundation provides capital, business direction and marketing support to nurture the business.  In due course, we aim to expand his workforce by taking on more apprentices and craftsmen from disadvantaged backgrounds to train, develop and become part of the team.

Longer term, we aim to replicate this self-sustaining and long-lasting model, as we see this as our chosen responsibility to support disadvantaged communities wherever the Group will operate.

Our Team