Do it now or never

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Making sure your dreams come true isn’t always easy, but that is exactly what poet, playwright, fashion designer, and activist Sfeziwe Mkhabela lives to do.

Mother to an ‘exceptionally handsome young boy’, Owami (14), Sfeziwe is the eldest in a family of three siblings. Despite coming from a broken home, she strongly believes that we are the creators of our own lives. “I have never had the opportunity of living with both of my parents, because they separated when my siblings, Kentelane and Ntsako, and I were very young. But I have never used that as an excuse to not pursue my dreams,” she says. “I am ambitious, strong, and a go-getter, I love my space and enjoy spending time alone, but I am also a people person. I pay attention to energies, and I love peace because as an artist, I draw a lot from the environments in which I find myself.”

Growing up, Sfeziwe aspired to be an economist, and in retrospect, she says what she really loved was the idea of looking professional in a smart suit. “I would find myself creating and recreating images of people’s outfits in my head,” she laughs. “I also found myself writing and telling stories most of the time, which is when I realised I was a creator, an artist. So I decided to explore and advance my creativity in storytelling, acting, and writing by enrolling part-time at the Youth in Trust State Theatre in Pretoria.”

 

At the time, Sfeziwe, a graduate in clothing production, was doing a full-time internship in fashion design. Getting into the industry wasn’t easy, because almost everyone in her maternal family, in which she grew up, were academics. “They believed I had to have something I could always ‘fall back on,’” she says. “I was staying in Johannesburg and I needed all the financial support I could get. My uncle, Sandile Arthur Sukati, was the one who assisted me financially by paying my rent, and I used the NSFAS for my studies. The other challenge was that I missed my son, who had stayed behind in Mpumalanga. His paternal family had no contact with him whatsoever, so my aunt and sister were caring for him, something for which I will be forever grateful to them.”

Along with being a born artist, Sfeziwe sees herself as a healer, using the visual medium of poetry and plays to heal through the soul. “My late uncle was a father figure to me,” she says. “He taught me how to recite poems, helping me to rehearse for my school performances. He was passionate and well-spoken, strengths he instilled in me. He led a community drama and he owned a soccer club. He always took the initiative to care for young people in the community, even taking them to school. I would like to believe that my passion for young people comes from me watching him in his element. After matric, I took a gap year, and worked as an assistant teacher for grade R, gradually moving to grade one. I’ll always be grateful for this; it gave me the chance to find myself.”

Using poetry and stage productions to get her message across to the community is the ideal platform for this bold and flamboyant young woman. Sfeziwe’s stage production, titled Malume, is a theatrical work that aims to tell the untold stories of many South African girls who are being abused on a daily basis by those who should keep them safe. The play shows how easily dreams are shattered and educates young males and females to speak out and to never tolerate abuse. The show aims at encouraging schools to place more emphasis on this menace in our society.

As a gender-based violence (GBV) activist, she believes in giving a voice to the voiceless, going to schools to give GBV campaign talks, and hosting events to motivate through mentorship. “Our aim is to have Malume give opportunities to the unemployed youth and to raise awareness against GBV. Some of the stories of molestation I deal with are so horrific, and many times these men walk free. That is why I believe women need to be educated so that they educate their children, and send them for counselling and therapy if needs be. So many men believe ‘indoda ayikhali ikhalela ngaphakatsi…’ (a man should not cry openly, but cry inside) I believe this mindset is killing our men, who today are turning abusive because they are intimidated.”

“Look at it this way,” she continues, “I am a single mother and the father of my child has never been involved in his life. I’m raising an angry child, who feels rejected. The question is how many young people are growing up in such an environment? This is the generation we are raising. It touches on teenage pregnancy, on young girls who enter into relationships for money, relationships that may lead them to settle because they cannot provide for themselves. I hope that with my talents, be it as a fashion designer or GBV orator/activist, I’m helping to fight gender-based violence and unemployment through skills development.”

It’s not easy to rise up out of negative circumstances and succeed in the world, the way things are now. A big part of the problem, Sfeziwe explains, is that our girls are growing up with the mindset that exchanging your body for money or even marrying for money is the answer. “You have got to develop a thick skin, especially because you could so easily be sabotaged for being true to yourself. But don’t get me wrong, it is very possible for our girls to stand up for themselves in both education and skills. They just need the confidence and the opportunity.”

Sfeziwe also does some of her plays and poetry via Emerald Stories, an organisation that aims to motivate the youth to participate in programs designed to address challenges. These could be social issues or traumatic experiences they have been through or are currently going through. The platform not only allows them to address their challenges but also creates mentorship opportunities and provides professional counseling. “Emerald aims to tell untold stories that are influential, inspiring, life-changing, and ultimately healing, helping you to become your highest, truest self, bringing awareness not only through the media but also by having face-to-face interactions and through outreach programs that have a lasting positive impact on society.”

Sfeziwe is also the director of Project Artour, her clothing production company. After completing her internship, she started making garments as a side hustle. “Project Artour is a designer, pattern making, manufacturing and style consulting company that ignites your personality through apparel,” Sfeziwe says proudly. “What I love most about my work is that I get to reinvent myself every day, depending on the mood I choose. The nice thing about being an artist is you can get away with anything. Every day is a fun day for me, but then again, I’ve also started to realise that I get frustrated sitting on the machine. I’m more of a stylist! I love meeting clients and styling their dream dress. As for my clothing line, keep your ears and eyes open!”

Balancing all of her projects and being a single mum means Sfeziwe is kept on her toes. “I don’t believe life can ever really be 100% balanced, merely because if you are excelling in one part of your life, another part suffers. But we try to get things done. To be honest, sometimes I don’t know how I do it. God gives me wisdom, especially as a single mother who must provide for a 14-year-old. Owami and I have come to an agreement: this year that he attends boarding school so that mum can spread her wings. But I make sure I pick him up every Friday. We are very close. I have created and nurtured that bond so he knows he can talk to me any time.”

All of this is quite a mouthful for a woman whose name means ‘a dream come true’. A woman who believes you can ignite your personality through the clothing you wear, who heals through poetry, loves to create, is ambitious, strong and, above all, believes that we can change the world through the wonderful art of storytelling.

Make-up: Elsabé Steyn – Elsabé Steyn Styling Studio.
Photographer: Tanya Erasmus – Something Timeless Photography.
Venue: Christie’s at 32 on Russell, Mbombela.

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