So the internet can be super overwhelming, and sometimes I feel like it serves to distract me with shocking stories, pictures and meaningless updates. However, I am happy to say that it also opens up channels of communication and true connection with people a gazillion miles away. This is how I found Makanaka Tuwe via Facebook and Instagram. We hardly communicate in words, but more so in endless “like” support of each other shared posts. This was made easier because she is good friends with my friend, so I think that helped in her posts and face feature on my Facebook wall. Anyways, although I believe there is such a thing of oversharing, I cannot get enough of Makanaka’s updates. They are empowering and full of love and support.
The way she chooses to live her life every day is inspiring and I asked her to share bit about them with fellow readers of the blog. She’s involved in various projects that aspire to strengthen and unite people from a grassroots level. In addition, she is an entrepreneur and pursuing a Master’s degree in International Communication at the same time. This young lady is a mark of beauty that relentlessly no matter how difficult, she authentically believes in change and continuously is committed to the journey within herself and for the community around her.
So I was curious, how does such spiritedness develop and why she chose to direct it towards community outreach?
“I would attribute my interest in community outreach to many factors but the biggest influence would be my father. When I moved to New Zealand I was only ten years old and it was at that time that I realised that I was black. When I was in Zimbabwe, the community I was raised in was multicultural that I didn’t differentiate people by race or colour, people were just people. When I realised that I was black or when I was made to feel out of place because of my colour by other children, it was then that a lot of self-hate brewed. When you are ten and someone tells you that they don’t want to play with you because you are black, you don’t grasp the implications of such statements until you get older and you are in a state of reflection. The implications of such statements meant that I did not appreciate who I was instead I spent a lot of time trying to be everything that was not black or African.”
Although school had a few painful memories, it would a book that would emanicipate her from self-hating learned behaviors. ‘Things fall apart’ by Chinua Achebe was the book, given to her on her seventeenth birthday that her Dad gave her and it whole life changed. She goes on to say “As an avid reader, it was only right that a book changed my life and the way I viewed blackness and africanness. I realised that everything I had been taught in my history classes was flawed, why were we not taught about Mansa Musa, Yaa Asante Waa, and Queen Nzinga or about Kemet? Why was the history I was taught reflective of black people as slaves or individuals who were easily colonized in the pursuit to adjust and consume everything that is from the West? When I made this realization I vowed that I would dedicate my work to community outreach using the creative industries to educate myself and my people about our history, about who we are as heirs of kingdoms and as people who came from the Greats Ones who built the pyramids. There is no way I want my children to feel the way I was made to feel and I believe that through community outreach and the teaching of our roots, we are able to understand what it was we truly came from. When you know when you come from you have firm roots and a tree with firm roots can stand through the winds.”
Such a powerful and enlightening response, naturally led me to ask how people actually reacted when she decided her path and started walking the walk! For her, it came naturally like sadza nemurewo! See her upbringing was very conducive to this, as growing up she was surrounded by endless quotations from Martin Luther King Jnr, Nelson Mandela, Ghandi, Malcom X, Rosa Parks, Mbuya Nehanda and so many to mention. People weren’t surprised at all she adds, because her father is a human rights activist and his work, being and essence reflects that. She opens up saying she didn’t realize was in her quest to find herself, she already had a father who was doing community outreach work, who was fighting and advocating for different causes. She believes this is the reason her work feels so right and why being politically vocal comes as natural to her as breathing.
Although it came natural to her she highlights the importance of emotional well-being when intensely involved in social justice activism. I totally vibed with this because in a world with 24/7 news updates of crises around the world that we can’t change immediately, a narrative of helplessness and anxiety can quickly develop into pessimism, numbness and hopelessness. It can be really hard to maintain mental health, when you choose to dedicate your life to education and change. I thought it critical to share the psychological war of the mind and heart has to be won every day, for activism in the world to sustain. So I asked her how she keeps motivated and deals with emotional roller coasters of community outreach.
“In terms of motivation, I would say my spirituality keeps me motivated. For a couple of weeks and what seemed like months, my anger was towards the way in which the bodies of indigenous people continue to be brutalised and the fetishism surrounding our bodies. My anger was also towards the patriarchy system that governs the world we live in and shame women for almost everything that doesn’t serve it. It can be extremely painful and I remember sharing with a friend that this pain that I feel does not feel like it’s my pain, I am content and full of joy but in some moments I just want to crumble. Then after meditating on letting go, it hit me that the pain I have been feeling has been the anger I have been carrying, not only have I been interacting in debates against the above issues I have mentioned but the issues have consumed my personal life.”
She began to observe her emotional behaviour, and found a pattern that whenever it came to the subject of indigenous bodies and women she would get so angry and the anger sometimes resulted in headaches and tears (most times a combination). However, she realised that being angry at what was happening was self-defeating. She decided it was vital to clear her heart and mind of that anger and channel its energy in a productive form in support of human rights. She reiterated that she was proposing we stop doing the work nor putting one’s heart less into it. She says “what I am saying is I will practice mindfulness as to not let what is happening consume my thoughts and behavioural patterns. I urge everyone to do the same, that in this fight against systems that do not serve us, we must remain strong and resilient and that begins with looking after our minds. In order to win this fight we must be mindful of our emotional and mental stability approaching everything with a sound mind.”
So a lot of the projects she chooses to be involved in are super uplifting, educational, fun and supportive! So I asked her to share two, and how they all started.
“One of the most inspiring projects I worked on has to be the Kings & Queens collection in collaboration with Bianca Paulus and Tarisa Tomu. I am not kidding when I say it all started on a hot summer’s day over a jug of sangria. We wanted to work together on some designs and after Bianca had finished the designs it hit us that this would be the perfect opportunity to tell a story as well as an educational experience using fashion. Through the Kings & Queens collection we wanted to educate about the history of Africa in a manner that is accessible and easily understood by all. We also wanted to set a standard that fashion is not just about clothing but can be fused with art and history to create a timeless experience. The collection took inspiration from the Kings and Queens of Africa, men and women who made a mark in African history and was designed to encourage discussion about an aspect of African history that most people, like we, as a team did not know about.”
She shares a second project she calls her slice of heaven ‘Sesa Mathlo’. What started as a blog to share her journey to a state of enlightenment has now become an avenue where she shares her photography, uncanny and unfiltered thoughts but also what keeps her going such as the teas she self blends or the dream catchers she makes in her creative space. Apparently its humorous as she’s always been a bit on the clumsy, in fact breaking a lot of things (which her supportive brother can attest to!) but now handles a crotchet needle, the most delicate of fabrics, blend teas and puts together tiny charms to create earrings & neck pieces. Sesa Mathlo is what she refers to as what aided her coming into womanhood and the full acceptance of her soft magic.
Because a lot of her projects have her interacting with people and communicating online, unsavoury experiences on the internet come. So I asked her where she finds the courage to call people out on social networks. She responded by saying she wouldn’t call it calling people out, but that it is providing information based on facts to challenge their current thought pattern in the hopes that the truth will set them free. Her father’s favourite quote from Martin Luther King Jnr “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter” is what gives her the courage to engage with people on social networks. She uses these guidelines to help:
- Not letting emotions cloud the individual’s judgment or what one ends up saying. she always stick to factual information to the point where if need be she will refer whoever she am engaging with to a book, article, video or audio recording.
- Never swear at anyone, there is nothing as distasteful as people calling each other names and becoming personal during a debate. It should never get to that ever and she disengages when someone swears or is disrespectful.
- Remember J Cole’s line “don’t save her she don’t wanna be saved” and remember you have the option to disengage. She believes her role isn’t to force people to change or to accept my truth, her role is to share what she can share, correct what she can correct and live her truth. If someone disagrees or appears to be unwilling to be open to her truth then there is no need for further discussion.
After such inspiring clear rules to guide and protect one’s mind and soul in the internet and outside world, I asked her what ways people specifically women of colour could celebrate themselves without being egoistical and offensive. She does a great job of this with her interpretation of a traditional concept wrapped in the new term Black Woman Magic:
“Do you boo boo! Do you so unapologetically that each moment you are living you are filled with joy and contentment because you are living life on your terms. In doing you, do it with self-love, there is no such thing as too much self-love. Do it with self-compassion and my mindful that there is a difference between doing you/loving yourself and being selfish. As women of colour we need to continue building the sisterhood and bringing down the forces of jealousy, gossip and negativity that keep us in bondage. Let us love ourselves and each other with the purity of a child. Let us build each other up and continue to wake up each morning spreading the majestic power that is black woman magic.”
With this wonderful insight, I wish nothing more than for everyone (myself included) to unapologetically be themselves. I think the spirit of Black woman magic can be found in many movements and isn’t limited by race, gender or sexual orientation. Makanaka’s work ethos serves to show everyone can reflect inside themselves what they think matters most and work peacefully and passionately towards it. Big thanks to Makanaka for sharing her time and advice with me! If you want to find out what other magical projects shes involved in go to Africa on my sleeve and join her journey of self-discovery at Sesa Mathlo