Jenna Clifford is one of the Lowveld’s gems, and visiting her is quite an experience. We chat to her about turning 60 and her life’s passions.
Jenna’s exquisitely designed jewellery pieces are a feast for the eyes and provide for a mesmerising look into a world of colour, style and glamour. The precious gemstones she uses are renowned for their quality and you cannot help but ponder on the fact that this may also apply to Jenna herself… The word “diamond” is derived from the Greek “adámas”, which means “unbreakable” and the high dispersion of light gives the gemstone it’s characteristic “fire”. Jenna certainly seems to be invincible and she shines with a fire for life that will not easily be extinguished. And just like a diamond is born from exposure to immense pressure, this stunning woman has not been crushed by circumstances but has rather emerged victorious.
Jenna was born in the 1950s into a world where patriarchy ruled and women were deemed second best to men. Her father was a strong male figure and she grew up under his strict authoritarian rule. As a child, she was under constant pressure to excel in sport and she spent many hours training. “My father’s high demands could have made or broken me,” she says. “But I have not until now and never shall go down without putting up a tremendous fight.” This is exactly what Jenna is known for – not only in the world of business but also in her personal life and her ceaseless battle for women’s empowerment. Over the years she has made a huge difference in the plights of many a woman and parity is one of her passions. Jenna herself has experienced disparity because of her gender many times over the years. “In order to be heard as a woman, I had to be louder than men,” she says. “And I did not only have to develop a loud voice for myself, but also for other females.”
She is adamant that women are not inferior to men and that they should be treated equally. “Nurses and teachers, for instance, are underpaid and overworked, because it is usually women who are teachers and nurses. The whole perception of women’s inferiority was born from a patriarchal system and they were literally written out of the law.”
Jenna turns 60 this month and six decades have brought on a renewed consciousness of the fact that it is far more gratifying to give than to receive. “Many people realise with a shock that they have matured and that things should start happening when they turn 30,” Jenna says. “Sixty is double that, and I must say that it is a sensible, wholesome age to be.”
She has raised three beautiful, strong daughters, Chanelle, Shayna and Summer, who bring her immense joy. “The girls did not grow up in Johannesburg, but just outside White River on a farm. I was a strict mother and never allowed them to become ‘mall rats’. I have always been of the opinion that malls are not safe for children and that many a disagreeable teen trick is born in shopping centres.” Motherhood and the role mothers could and should play in their children’s upbringing, especially in that of their daughters, is another of Jenna’s passions. She believes that mothers who are strong of mind, soul and intellect send high-quality human beings into the world. This is no easy feat, as kids demand love, energy and money and people who are not willing to make these sacrifices should rather not have them.
On a lighter note, Jenna speaks of her granddaughter, Savannah. She lives with her parents in the UK, but visits frequently. “Being a grandmother really is wonderful. I can now enjoy motherhood without the huge responsibility that goes with raising a daughter.”
Jenna has always loved the Lowveld and commutes between Johannesburg and White River, where she lives on a farm close to Longmere Dam. The property boasts stunning views of one of the most picturesque parts of the area. Her love of nature is apparent in the way the farm is run. Numerous animals and birds, both tame and wild, roam the property and Jenna and a team of dedicated workers, without whom it would not have been possible, have planted thousands of indigenous trees in order to restore the land to its former beauty. “Everyone in the Lowveld should do their part to save the environment,” she says. “Only a very small patch is needed to bring about some form of change.”
Jenna loves animals – visitors are greeted by her beloved poodle and Belgian Malinoises, and the house is entered through the stables. She jokes that her place has become sort of a rescue centre for abused animals and many horses and donkeys happily occupy the property, living the good life. She is not only drawn to the Lowveld by its natural beauty, but also by the local people. “Lowvelders tend to be more natural,” Jenna says. “They are not as masked as many city dwellers and do not usually parade around like supermodels on high heels.” Well, we certainly agree. The Lowveld is not known as the Slowveld for nothing. The area is more relaxed and easy-going than the city.
When her success is mentioned, Jenna ponders on the fact that the meaning of the word “success” is skewed. “People measure success against things and things are nice and sometimes necessary, except when it comes at a cost. We should remember that the most important things are the feel, the emotion, which is, after all, the reality. Love, caring and sharing are omnipotent things and should be the axis around which success revolves.
“Ambition, accumulation and wantonness are sometimes seen as bad, but it is handy to remember that they are part of the human experience and could be employed in a positive way.”