Tailoring multiculturalism: weaving through the fashion “melting pot”

On the outskirts of the Johannesburg CBD lies a pulsating colourful melting pot that stretches for about 350 stores. Tailored in the vibrant cloth of multiculturalism, a distinct pulse and a rich history, Oriental Plaza reflects the cultural diversity of South Africa.

Formerly an apartheid-era attempt to build a distinct identity and a whites-only area in town in mid-1970, the Plaza’s oriental domes echo tales of segregation and the forced removal of disgruntled Indian merchants.

Beautifully kept, the Plaza is laid in gold tiles and stands out against the dirt-riddled, pungent and busy CBD setting. As its palm trees and Delhi-Middle Eastern inspired deco suggest, the Plaza was an attempt to tightly hem in Indian shop owners to a part of the city designated for “Indians”.

Walking through the Plaza a mystique fills the air, scarlet in colour with a spicy overlay. Yards of golden fabric hang loosely on dusty windows. Rolls of material are carefully arranged on top of tables and behind doors while loosely cut pieces spill into the corridors.

Pulled together by the three Grand Bazaar stairs, the plaza’s cultural diversity makes it a very interesting tale.

An Indian merchant in a dimly lit, congested store with weary-looking drapes carefully studies his curtains trying to negotiate a price for a customer.

“How much do you have my friend?” he asks, studying the customer carefully.

“I have R200, will that be fine?”

“That’s good,” he says quickly, carefully wrapping a shiny-metallic curtain in a black plastic bag.

Fabrics, fabrics, fabrics

The Oriental Plaza is known for its fabrics that are sold at discount prices. There is rarely a fixed price – it’s an Eastern market where bargaining is part of the experience.

The Plaza is known for its richness and multiculturalism, “a fashion melting pot” as many term it.

Weaving your way around, your eyes are treated to gracefully draped golden-brown saris from Leela’scarefully beaded shweshwe print khetshemiyas (a head-doek worn by Xhosa brides) at KwaNtu Afrocentric designs and sharply pressed, Italian imported tailored men’s suits from Khaliques.

Kishore Desai, a 67-year-old who has owned Leela’s for 35 years, says he takes pride in his sari business and expresses gratitude for his multiracial clientele.

“People of all races come into my shop and that’s what makes this place unique,” he says.

Situated in the pearl of the Oriental Plaza, Leela’s, shop no. C87, stands in the Grand Bazaar. Enhanced by bright lighting, it holds an untouched elegance displaying sunset-burnt sari drapes with golden embroidered borders, long-tunic silky metallic kurtas and golden Indian jewels.

Lakshmi Desai wearing an Indian kurti at the Eastern-wear boutique, Leela’s. The boutique has many multiracial customers who love to buy Desai’s saris. Photo: Litaletu Zidepa

Leela’s, meaning playful, has been in the Desai family business for 35 years. Named after his great-grandmother, Desai says he takes pride in his store that has been passed through generations.

“It is very special to me. It has seen many generations and that is very important. It is a family owned business and we have been here since the beginning,” says Desai.

Walking around his store, Desai says his garments, which he terms “Eastern wear”, are part of an unbroken tradition.

“These clothes have been sold by my family for many years. They are an important part of our identity. It is great that we can share what makes us unique with other people in South Africa.”

A poised woman, Desai’s wife stands next to him, her expression slightly guarded.

The long, burnt-orange trail of her sari hugs her figure. The six-and-a-half metre cloth is humbly draped around her, embroidered with what she calls zardosi embroidery, a golden-metallic thread used for embellishment.

Daksha Desai smiles carefully and interjects her husband’s conversation: “Our saris are the best in the business.”

Desai agrees his saris are the top-selling garments in the store.

“My saris play a great part in my business. They are very seasonal, the different colours, the different parts of the year and things of that nature,” he says.

“Saris are worn the same and the blouses are made to customise the customer’s request. Some customers want a long blouse, some want a fancy blouse with lots of beads and things like that.”

But while saris are associated with Indians, Desai says it is his multicultural South African clientele who have kept his business thriving over the years.

“Our Eastern garments are not only worn by Indians. I have a very big African community and European community, in fact my business basically relies on the African and European community, very little of the Indian.”

The Oriental Plaza cultural mix opens an insight into how culturally diverse South Africa is. Khajara Firoz, a 29-year-old who was born in Pakistan, says his business has taught him an appreciation of other cultures.

Pakistani-born Khajara Firoz at his sewing studio in the Oriental Plaza. Firoz makes African traditional men’s suits using African fabrics and he says he appreciates African cultures and fabrics.  Photo: Litaletu Zidepa

At the opposite end of the Oriental Plaza from Leela’snext to a store heavily crammed with Eastern garments and assorted jewellery, Firoz sits at his sewing machine.

He is stitching a champagne-gold, plain-weave sheer material over an ivory coloured lace fabric. It’s for a girl who is attending her matric dance farewell.

Firoz has been a women’s wear designer for the past nine years.  He says he deals with matric dances, wedding gowns and African traditional men’s suits – “anything”.

Sitting in his dimly lit 50 square metres store in the Grand Bazaar corner, Firoz says he taught himself to sew.

“I taught myself everything because I believe I can do anything I want. I needed a job and things were bad back in Pakistan so I decided to come to South Africa and start my own business.”

His store has two other designers from Pakistan, one who deals with leather garments and the other Eastern-wear garments.

Asked about the reception of his business in South Africa, Firoz’s eyebrows shift together slightly as he expresses his pain.

“Since I moved to South Africa in 2007, my business has gone through a lot of things,” he says.

Foreign customers chased away

Firoz says his business has faced many challenges. His voice breaks underneath his words, a shift from the light, cheerful person he was 20 minutes ago. The most recent blow to his business was this year’s xenophobic attacks that chased away his foreign customers.

“Most of my customers are from Mozambique and Malawi, now those customers I am certain are scared to come to South Africa. I often go to Mozambique and supply my stuff because they are scared to come this side,” Firoz says.

He says spending money on travels to Mozambique and Malawi for his customers, importing his fabrics and the weakening rand have led to a decline in his business.  This has led to him being open to using South African fabrics supplied by customers.

“Most of my materials come from Pakistan and India but the dollar price affects my imports.”

He has worked with many local fabrics for his African suits, such as the shweshwe fabric, a classic, indigo printed and dyed cotton fabric used by many African cultures in South Africa, and also the kente cloth fabric used by Ashanti people in Ghana.

Firoz says he always wants to try something new for his business to make it timeless and isn’t afraid to play around with fabrics.

“I like the African prints, they are pretty and colourful. I make Western-style African male suits,” he laughs.

“These suits are your normal suits but I use African prints, it all depends on the customer. They can be very hard to make but I only strive for the best,” he says.

Firoz says he appreciates African cultures and wants to learn more about the fabrics.

“I am learning every day and I try to improve every day,” he says with a smile.

The colourful resonance of the Grand Bazaar gives character to the plaza. Many spaces in South Africa under apartheid were used as tools in an attempt to define people’s heritage.  In the case of the Oriental Plaza this had a mixed result.

Developing its distinct urban character, the Plaza has managed to create a cultural fusion, a South African reflection of its distinct ethnicities and cultures.

The manager of KwanNtu Afrocentric Designs, Vicky Ginya, wearing traditional Xhosa attire (isikhakha), a red, white and yellow beaded black head-doek (isikhetshemiya), complemented with  vibrant and colourful beadwork (uvelibhoyi) and a beaded smoking pipe (inqawa) at the  store in Oriental Plaza. Photo: Litaletu Zidepa

African inspiration at the Oriental Plaza

One of the distinctive stores at the Plaza is KwaNtu Afrocentric Designs.

KwaNtu, meaning “a place of gathering”, is where “everyone is welcomed, no matter the race,” says Vicky Ginya, store manager.

The floor of the store is sprinkled with cuts of colourful pieces of African-printed fabric.

Known as “Afrocentric” in the fashion industry, KwaNtu has managed to emphasise the African, shweshwe and Ghanaian presence in an Eastern-Indian neighbourhood.

Ginya – “Sis’ Vicky” to her customers – carefully places red and yellow beads on a black cloth.

She refers to this black cloth embroidered with white thread as isikhetshemiya.

“This is worn by Xhosa brides. It gives her dignity; it makes you a beautiful, dignified Xhosa woman.”

Ginya says the beads, which she refers to as intsimbi, are symbolic.

“Beads are an African style. These are the colours of Isintu sa kwa Xhosa (Xhosa nation). The red means ukuthandana (physical love), the yellow beads mean ubutyebi (wealth) and the black cloth symbolises marriage and regeneration.”

She adds that these beads all add up to the idea of marriage as a symbol of the abundance of love and rebirth as you are entering a new chapter.

Started in 2013, Ginya says the idea to place the store at Oriental Plaza was “to mix ourselves as we are in Mzansi Africa”.

“We tried to break the mentality that this place is only for Indians. So we are based here because we are all Africans and there will be people who will come here looking for saris but people become so happy when they see or find Mzansi traditional outfits.”

Ginya adds that many shop owners at the plaza send their customers to KwaNtu.

“Many people, from tourists, white people and even Indian people come here. Most of the time they say they have to go to a traditional wedding and others say they have black husbands or wives but what I know is that they love our merchandise, especially our beads.”

Pointing to a white and black dress complemented with scarlet red and white beads, Ginya says they take pride in making everyone beautiful.

Ginya says white South Africans and European tourists have taken a liking to the beadwork sold at KwaNtu, saying she wants them to see themselves as Africans and get the African experience.

“White people, they also like the beads. We want oMama (women/mothers) and oTata (fathers) to wear our clothes with pride; we want them to see themselves as umAfrika (Africans).”

“We respect all people here, all cultures and we want everyone to feel at home. We practise uBuntu here.”

While many shop owners says businesses at the Plaza are declining, many Mayfair business owners can only dream of reaching the golden Plaza.

Along 8th Avenue and bordered by Bird and Hanover streets lies a less colourful,  crammed Amal Centre in Mayfair, which some describe as “Little Mogadishu”.

Held tightly together by the smell of sabayad (flatbread) and baasto (pasta), “Little Somali” is a refuge for many and a home for the homeless.

Ethiopian coffee makers, Pakistani shop owners and Somali restaurants can be found in the area. On Fridays, an owner hurries to close his shop as prayer emanates from different mosques and engulfs the “little” town.

This hub is home for the working class. Somali refugees own many businesses in Little Mogadishu, most notably textile shops.

Many Somalis who occupy this space silently hope one day they will reach the Oriental Plaza.

Walking through the Amal Centre, which was once a BMW showroom, many rolled-up fabrics can be seen peeping through small square stores, much like the setting at the plaza.

Somalis in South Africa have experienced violence and discrimination, an exclusion that has driven many of them to Little Mogadishu, much like the forced removals at Fietas under apartheid in the 1970s.

22-year-old Mohamud Mohamed is a South African born-Somali and hopes one day he will have his own store at the ‘thriving’ Oriental Plaza. Photo: Litaletu Zidepa

For people like 22-year-old Mohamud Mohamed, the Oriental Plaza is where he wants to be. “These are imported legally, nothing here is illegal,” says Mohamed.

Mohamed works at Al-Haramayn, a shop owned by his mother since 2006.

His mother, reluctant to be interviewed, waves her reddish-brown stained henna patterned hands and points to her son: “Talk to him, not me.”

“The things we sell here are mostly traditional women Islamic clothes. We also sell cosmetics and perfumes,” he says.

Mohamed says money is scarce in the area and his mom is thinking of closing her store.

“I heard my mom say things are worse now. She has been here for 20 years now, and that time there were not many Islamic people around.”

Mohamed complains about the overcrowding of the shops in the centre. He says he wishes that his mother had a “much better” store at the Plaza.

“Back then, she was one of the people that owned a shop here. But now there are more people,” he says.

“All the shops here are selling the same stuff, same things exactly.”

Mohamed says it is hard to make money at the centre and one day hopes to join shop owners at the Plaza.

“Everything is hard this side, my only hopes are to take this business to the Plaza and maybe make a living that side,” he says.

Mohamed’s friend Abdul Naser, a Somali dressmaker, sits on a once-white plastic chair, now smeared with brown paint, and sighs heavily.

The small room with chipped, lime green paint has seen better days.

Naser, sweating in the scorching sun, stands up from his sewing machine to get a customer’s garment from a yellow and red plastic bag riddled with holes hanging on a wire string.

Naser says he is closing down his shop soon.

Abdul Naser, a Somali dressmaker in Little Mogadishu, has been in business for nine years. He has hopes of becoming a dressmaker at Oriental Plaza but does not have the papers or money to do so. Photo: Litaletu Zidepa

Abdul Naser, a Somali dressmaker in Little Mogadishu, has been in business for nine years. He has hopes of becoming a dressmaker at Oriental Plaza but does not have the papers or money to do so. Photo: Litaletu Zidepa

“The business is going down, it’s not like before. Everything is going up and the women don’t come anymore.”

When asked why he doesn’t go to Oriental Plaza, Naser says: “I don’t have the papers and the money is too much there.”

A woman wearing a navy abaya complemented with a faded blue hijab interrupts Naser as he is about to speak.

He looks at the R200 note she presents him with hunger and desperation in his eyes.

“I am sorry, business needs to go on now. Interview over, you can go now,” he says, dismissively waving his hands.

FEATURED IMAGE: Pakistani-born Khajara Firoz at his sewing studio in the Oriental Plaza. Firoz makes African traditional men’s suits using African fabrics and he says he appreciates African cultures and fabrics.  Photo: Litaletu Zidepa


Umswenko: Celebrating Spring Boho-Chic

“In order to be irreplaceable one must always be different.”- Coco Chanel 

Boho-Chic is back for Spring 2015. The style is inspired by Bohemianism and the Hippie movement that took charge in late 60’s and early 70’s. It brings out the flavour of the 60’s and 70’s unconventional ‘artiste’ lifestyle.

The style is infused with bell sleeves, embroidered detailing, fringe, all shades of brown, tunics and wooden jewellery.


Lubabalo Qoboshiyana, left, is wearing a cut-out sleeve tunic patterned dress and black strap sandals. She has complemented her outfit with a trendy classic washed out denim jacket and a brown fringe statement bag. Qoboshiyana says spring is her favourite season, “I love colour and I try to infuse that with my love for vintage style”. She completed her outfit with big curls and cat-eye glasses to bring out the chic.



Sampa Nakamba, rightis rocking the chic flower-crown trend and a floral print skater skirt. “I just threw it on. I buy my clothes at the thrift shop and sometimes I get them made like this skirt.”


Cool Kid on campus: Homo Naledi

The discovery and existence of Homo Naledi has shed light on the origins and diversity of the human lineage. Initially discovered in 2013 in the ‘Rising Star’ cave located in the Cradle of Human World Heritage site, the official reveal was held at Maropeng Centre by the team led by Wits Professor Lee Berger.

Wits Vuvuzela sat down with Homo Naledi to catch up on some of the history of the last 2.5 million years.  

Photo: File

                                                                                                                                   Photo: File


Many people are fascinated by your name. Can you tell us the meaning behind it?

The name ‘Naledi’ means ‘star’ in Sesotho. The scientists are saying that my bones were ‘found’ in a chamber cave (my lofty home) named ‘Dinaledi’ at the Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site. Also, seeing that I am causing many talks in the media, I consider myself a ‘rising star’.

It must be really great to be found after a 2.5 million year hiatus. What’s it like mingling with all your grandchildren?

My long sleep was so peaceful. So much has changed now. I mean what’s this wheel thing that everyone has been using for the last 10 000 years? Other than that it’s good to be getting all this media attention, and it’s been good giving humans something to talk about, other than themselves.

Speaking of the media, #HomoNaledi was trending on twitter. How was that experience?

To grab such attention from humans was nothing short of amazing. Although I knew I always had it in me, I mean have you seen me? But grabbing such attention after a marathon 2.5 million year game of hide and seek is really fun. I am warming up to the reception.

You have been described as the most primitive member of our kind. Any thoughts on that?

First of all, have you seen my slender body? I am 1.5 metres tall and I weigh about 45 kilograms. I am said to have ‘human-like features’, my carved fingers, my teeth and my small feet, and my legs are to die for. All I’m saying is that I am flawless, like Beyoncé would say.

Your facial expression has been used for quite a lot of memes on social media, your thoughts about that?

I think it’s hilarious, as long as I am giving humans something to laugh about.

Wits Students react to Luister

The Critical Thinking Reading Group (CTRG) held its weekly meeting at the CALS Seminar room on Monday.  However instead of adhering to the group’s regular program a screening of the documentary, Lusiter and a discussion around it occurred instead.

Photo: YouTube

Photo: YouTube


While many students expressed their heartbreak and disgust with what they saw, Anele Nzimande, fourth-year LLB student highlighted how it is hard to be black and to be a black student in South Africa because some of the things you go through don’t have vocabulary to articulate.

Nzimande also emphasized how it is problematic to demonise Stellenbosch and the language policy, pointing out that we are dealing with white people, whether they are British or Afrikaans.

“I think sometimes we get lost in the demonization of Afrikaans because we think 1976 and the Afrikaans policy, but, I think being at Wits is as violent.”

One of the points highlighted at the screening was how there is a lack of cultural adaptation at Universities.

She added that, “Wits’ vision is a global one, what does that even mean for a university that is in Africa. I think that we really need to interrogate [that idea] because as black people we have become very sensitized to Afrikaans dominance and the Wits, UCT kind of dominance always slips through the cracks because it’s much more subtle and gentle. It strokes us as opposed to the very harsh brutality of Afrikaans.”

CRITICAL THINKER: PhD Constitutional Law student Sanele Sibanda highlighted that we are living in a confounding time in South Africa, especially as black people. Photo: Sibongile Machika

CRITICAL THINKER: PhD Constitutional Law student Sanele Sibanda highlighted that we are living in a confounding time in South Africa, especially as black people. Photo: Sibongile Machika


PhD Constitutional Law student Sanele Sibanda highlighted that we are living in a confounding time in South Africa. “Different places have different issues but have similarities especially if you are a black person living in these spaces.”

Sibanda critiques how TranformWits as a movement has not gelled. “Why is that in this particular time at UCT a movement  managed to form, and why OpenStellenbosch has managed to grow some feet and continue? What is it about Wits that makes  it different?”

Sibanada told the reading group that is made up largely of black students that “This is not a black critical thinking group. This  is an open group for everybody on this campus. But you look around this room and what do you see?”

One of the highlighted questions was the issue of ‘intellectualizing’ suffering. Sibanda notes there are talks about institutional  culture that is oppressive what does this mean?

“The idea that there is no vocabulary to articulate this space we’re in, the suffering we feel, the victimization- what does this  ultimately mean for struggle because I identify with this notion, but what does it mean for struggle at wits?”

With the burning issues of transformation at hand, Anele Nzimande pointed out how university education does not deal with  black issues.

“I think the problem with many of the Vice Chancellors and students have been produced in the past twenty years, it hasn’t  produced the kind of Vice Chancellors, Alumni’s and students that can deal or speak directly to black issues,”

Nzimande also said that she has wasted four years of her life on education that has done nothing for her. “For me, the fact  that I cannot explain some of the things I know to my father is problematic and highlights how this education is not very useful.”

The Lusiter documentary was created in collaboration with Open Stellenbosch. The documentary shares the lived experiences  of black students at Stellenbosch. It highlights the white violence, discrimination, exclusion and racism black students go through at the university.

Stellenbosch has recently been in hot water for their language policy, a policy described as “a clear intention not to transform and a way for Stellenbosch to maintain the status quo while pretending to change,” by CTRG speaker Nomonde Nyembe.

CTRG at the Wits Law School was formed in 2013 as a desire to establish a platform for intellectual stimulation that extends beyond the lecture and tutorial domains.

The CTRG members hold weekly meetings to discuss and critique thought provoking materials that will stimulate intellectual conversations among Wits students.

Umswenko: Celebrating Parisian chic

By Litaletu Zidepa and Queenin Masuabi 

“Elegance is elimination.” – Cristóbal Balenciaga

Parisian Chic style or “chic Parisiennes” originated in France, a wardrobe filled with not-so-basic statement pieces, perfectly tailored blazers and classic coloured crisp pants is the way forward for this style. The style encompasses very simple but polished combinations, elegantly down-to-earth neutrals tailored with stripes or statement patterns. This style is not about fitting into clothes, it is about the clothes fitting you.

Same Mdluli: PhD History of Art


Art historian Same Mdluli is wearing a crisp white shirt, complemented with classic timeless pearl necklace and a black Barret, a statement piece for the outfit. She describes her style as ‘Parisian classic’.  Mdluli added a beige pressed straight leg pants with brown brogues. Her statement piece for this outfit is her structured brown bag, a complement for her stylish chic brogues.

Cool kid on campus: Travis Hornsby

Nineteen year old actor, film and television student Travis Hornsby is young but no rookie. He has already rubbed shoulders with A-list actor John Cleese. A pole fitness enthusiast and dance instructor, Hornsby says he “wakes up like Beyoncé and falls asleep like Buscemi”. The Spud actor sat down with Wits Vuvuzela and this is what he had to say.

RISING FILM STAR: Travis Hornsby aka 'Boggo' is a rising star. Hornsby has featured in and 'Spud' the movie and rubbed shoulders with A -list actor John Cleese. Photo: Litaletu Zidepa

RISING STAR: Travis Hornsby aka ‘Boggo’ is a rising star. Hornsby has featured in ‘Spud’ the movie and has rubbed shoulders with A-list actor John Cleese. Photo: Litaletu Zidepa


Did you read the book (Spud) before auditioning?

Indeed, I read the series, and had to re-read the first book to get a grip on the character. Reading the fourth book was a surreal experience for us all, though. John Van Der Ruit wrote it with us in mind, so it was disconcerting at times to discover what he truly thought of us.

You auditioned on Youtube, why?

I only got wind of the auditions several weeks into the casting process, when call-backs had already been held. I messaged the producer directly and requested a late entry, and he suggested I write and upload a Spud-inspired monologue to YouTube. The result was a campy blend of the Rocky Horror Picture Show, Spud and Mean Girls. In retrospect, it was absurd.

When you first got the news about getting the part, what did you do?

Forged an ID and burn my Afrikaans essay due the next day.

How was the experience of playing the character ‘Boggo’?

I found the character difficult to reach at first. Boggo represents a lot of things I strive to avoid. He is crass, arrogant and stylish. Eventually I grew to love him. Even if he smuggles poor-quality pornography under his mattress and swindles schoolchildren.

How was filming with the Crazy 8 members?

We became a second family to one another. We are all still in regular contact with one another, even though we’re so far apart – separated by a continent, with regards to Troye (Spud). We’ve seen each other grow and mature, as professionals and individuals. Having lived together for so many months, there are no secrets amongst us, regardless of our different backgrounds, ages and disciplines.

How was the experience of working with legendary actor John Cleese?

John is phenomenal, both professionally and socially. He holds himself with an unbreakable charisma while still boasting a familiar modesty that is, in a word, inspiring. He went out of his way to mingle with everyone on set, no matter their role, and readily shared his witty, often dark humour. A crew member bore an uncanny resemblance to Hugh Laurie – one day Mr Cleese took a selfie with him, sent it to Hugh on twitter and captioned it ‘Posing with a fan :)”.

It must be hard to memorise lines as an actor. Any tricks for aspiring actors?

On film it’s incredibly easy. We learnt our lines for the day every morning while in the makeup and wardrobe trucks. One rarely gets an opportunity to say much before a shot is cut, and the camera angle is changed. In theatre I find that lines are only learnt through repetition and a genuine

Is there space for young actors in South Africa?

Yes, yes, yes. The industry is as competitive as the Hunger Games, but passion never fails to benefit. The beauty of the art is in the sacrifice. Actors sacrifice their financial security, they sacrifice relationships, their petrol, driving to and from castings, and ultimately themselves.

What are some of the lessons you’ve learnt from John Van Der Ruit’s Spud books?

Everyone is insecure. Don’t miss an opportunity to place yourself amongst people you know nothing about, and open up. Therapy is free. And if you want to get away with murder at an all boys’ boarding school, don’t keep a diary detailing your exploits under your bed. Amateur.


Q&A with Panashe Chigumadzi

NARRATIVES OF A YOUNG BLACK WOMAN: Editor and founder of Vanguard Magazine and Ruth First Fellow, Panashe  is shaping the African women’s narrative one step at a time. This Zimbabwean born recently explored   the concept of 'Coconuts, Consciousness & Cecil John Rhodes'. Photo: Reuven Blignault

NARRATIVES OF A YOUNG BLACK WOMAN: Editor and founder of Vanguard Magazine and Ruth First Fellow, Panashe Chigumadzi  is shaping the African women’s narrative one step at a time. The Zimbabwean born recently explored the concept of ‘Coconuts, Consciousness & Cecil John Rhodes’. Photo: Reuven Blignault


A young visionary from Zimbabwe, Panashe Chigumadzi is the founder and editor of Vanguard Magazine, a platform that aims to speak life to young black women. Chigumadzi is shaping the African women’s narrative one step at a time. The Ruth First fellow recently reflected on the dialogue around the theme: “Race: Lived Experiences and Contemporary Conversations” by exploring the concept of ‘coconuts’ in post-apartheid South Africa.

Vanguard has become a critical voice for many young black women. What was the inspiration behind it?

The inspiration was to not seeing myself represented in media, on the covers, on the mastheads, and on the way stories were told. If they were stories about black women they were often anthropological in the way in which we talk about things, the full nuance was never there. And if you find a black women represented it was either Lupita, Beyoncé or Bonang, so for us it was really to say we want a space where we can celebrate black womanhood in all of its manifestations. So we wanted to have a space where we can have our joy, our tears, fears and our anger everything there in a way where we don’t have to censor, italicise or explain ourselves.

You are part of the Feminist Stokvel. Why is the subject of hair important?

The subject of hair for me is a gateway to a whole range of issues within Black Consciousness, Womanisms and Intersectional Feminism because it speaks to the way which the black female body is ‘humanised/institutionalised’. In the way in which it is meant to conform to a very white supremacist and patriarchal view and the way we have an idea of straight shiny long hair and not hair in the way it grows out of our heads. That’s not just purely a self-esteem issue for black people, it’s specifically because the structures of the South African economy, the fact that we still don’t own spaces that we inhabit. It’s the institutions that we’re in, the schools that are still predominantly white run that will say ‘no Afro’s for example, no dreadlocks, and those are the schools code of conduct.

In the work space where you’ll see some women are forced to have a specific hairstyle because that is what is seen as presentable in those spaces so it’s not specifically I speak about hair, but as a way of making a commentary about just the way blackness is coerced in South Africa because we’re still so very white dominated in many of our institutions and that’s why I don’t like to victim blame and critique people who wear weaves. I am more interested in critiquing the structures that say women cannot have natural hair, that’s a very important part of the discussion that we have to be having, as opposed to having the silly Afro versus weave conversation.

What are some of the issues your radical approach to being a pro-black young woman brought you?

The first thing people say is by being ‘pro-black’ it automatically means being racist and people shy away from that, people will say that being pro-black is anti-white. I’m not interested in trying to make white people feel better about my politics because whiteness is premised on the expense of black people, it is built on the backs of black people and obviously you make a whole lot of people uncomfortable by saying that I want to have a full life as a black person and I don’t want to be apologetic. It makes a lot of people feel uncomfortable.

There are many people that will want to silence you, it’s important to continue to work on creating these spaces that we do. One of the spaces that we support the amazing initiative by ‘The Black Love Sessions’ which is done by an amazing young woman by the name of Sivu Siwisa. They have and event called For Black Girls Only and that’s specifically because they want to have a space where black women can find support and find creative ways to heal and create a movement around themselves but they get a lot of slack because you’re not allowed- in a very white society- to have black only spaces, we’re not allowed to have spaces where we are allowed to speak about our pain outside the gaze of whiteness. And if so people will continue to have problems with that it means that we are doing the right things if people are angry or upset with what we are doing.  It means we are really challenging the structures within- a way it hasn’t been challenged before.

Do you think radical feminists or radical feminism is celebrated in Africa?

I don’t want to make statements for the continent but what I can say is that there are many amazing African feminists that aren’t celebrated enough and there are so many just beyond individual feminisms, because there are different ways which people express and define their feminisms. But you have a lot of these great movements, for example the African Feminist Forum that is really great and we’ve also got HOLAA Africa, they are a great feminist organisation and. There are so many incredible feminist organisations there but we do not hear nearly enough but definitely there are women who are doing great things whether its writing, activism, sex workers drives, campaigns against female genital mutilation and speak about the experiences of black women.  It’s just a matter of they don’t get enough praise and spotlight they should be getting.

Do you see a danger in the glorification and fetishism of black feminists?  

There is a danger in individuals being celebrated. I think it’s important to highlight peoples work because I think people take a lot of risks, it’s difficult to put themselves out there but at the same time I think we have an individualistic culture, that’s also as a result of what we would call Neoliberalism, a sort of economic order. Making it to the top of the corporate ladder by yourself as opposed to speaking about how we create movements.

It is important for us to bring a movement otherwise we can decide that we praise Panashe today and we don’t like what she says we simply put her down but if we have an entire movement it doesn’t stop because of one person, the message continues and I think that’s really important. To create a movement as opposed to a culture of glorifying individuals. We need to find ways of creating a solidarity and that’s why I’m interested in Vanguard as being a space where we can create a movement of black writers and new black voices. We want to develop new voices within this space because there is a culture of wanting to individualise as opposed to creating a movement.

Mainstream media views black women as bodies of subjects of fetishism opposed to white women being paragons of virtue and desire. What are your thoughts about this? 

I almost don’t have anything to say because it’s tiring. That is why I am interested in how do we create spaces and reclaim spaces such that we can have agency to create ourselves in our image and see ourselves in our image, that’s where I am.  I just get tired of talking about it because we all know it’s a problem. I am interested in saying how do we create the new spaces and create those new images of black women because we are not a homogeneous body of people, there are so many different sexualities and body types. There are so many different ways of being as black people that’s why we want to create more spaces.

What would you say to young black women who are constantly told they are not enough?

I would want them to know that they are enough, they don’t need to embellish their story, you don’t need all kinds of things to make your story valid or your perspective valid and that’s the important lesson. It’s difficult in an anti-black, anti-woman, anti-poor world where your wounds are constantly needing to be legitimised all the time and constantly being silenced but I think that’s what we are trying to do. We want to let young black women know that they are enough and we are going to fight to create the spaces that are going to continue to affirm you.


Wits Vuvuzela, A racy topic for Ruth First, August 14 2015.

Wits Vuvuzela, Ruth First remembered through race talk, August 17 2015.

Wits’ Karate kid joins ‘Young South Africans’ list

KARATE KID: Simba Tevera is one of five Witsies featured on the Mail & Guardian Top 200 Young South Africans list. Tevera hopes his nomination will allow him to impact and inspire the youth. Photo: Zimasa Mpemnyama

KARATE KID: Simba Tevera is one of five Witsies featured on the Mail & Guardian Top 200 Young South Africans list. Tevera hopes his nomination will allow him to impact and inspire the youth. Photo: Zimasa Mpemnyama


Wits Vuvuzela sat down with Simba Tevera who is featured on the Mail & Guardian Top 200 Young South Africans list. This list features young achievers who are making an impact in civil society, education and sports, to name a few. Simba is an Honours student majoring in Psychology. He describes himself as a hard working person who will stop at nothing to get what he wants.  

The Mandela Rhodes Scholar is nominated in the sports category and tells Wits Vuvuzela that he feels quite privileged to be among amazing individuals that are shaping the country.

“I think for me it reaffirms that everything is possible if you set your mind to it, but you’ve got to believe in yourself. I think for me it’s important to be associated with these people, some of these people are doing phenomenal things, so I think for me it’s a call to responsibility.”

When asked about why he started Karate, Tevera gloated and said “It’s a funny story because when I was young I was so overweight and sport wasn’t my thing.”

It was this that led his mother to push Simba to take Karate, a decision he thanks his mother for.

“When I got to Wits I fell in love with their karate society. The instructors are amazing, the team is strong and Wits is one of the best Karate teams in South Africa.”

With three years under his belt, Tevera has been a recipient of many Karate awards.

He holds 11 gold medals, six silver and three bronze.  He has also received his Half and Full Colours in Karate, USSA University Sport Karate Champion and has been the Japanese Karate Associate National Champion for South Africa for three years.

While holding many awards, Simba has been selected for the South African National team and is set to compete in the Africa Cup in September this year, an experience he describes as ‘overwhelming’.

“I’m putting in the training and the effort, my team believes in me and I’ve got an amazing instructor Sensei JP. He pushes me and the team pushes me, so I’m privileged. I can’t believe it.” he said.

Tevera hopes his nomination will make a positive impact and influence the youth to go for everything they set their minds to.

“I believe sport plays a great role in the youth. In Karate for example, we learn morals around character, etiquette, effort, sincerity, self-control and respect. So I really think sports can help develop the youth and get people believing in themselves.”

Umswenko: Celebrating women in fashion

by Litaletu Zidepa and Queenin Masuabi

“You can never be overdressed or overeducated”- Oscar Wilde

It is Women’s Month, Vuvu Styles is focusing on stylish young women and how they empower themselves through the clothes they wear. Fashion is largely a male-dominated career, and women are constantly shamed for what they wear. Vuvu Styles embraces every women and how they express themselves through the clothes and their style.

IMG_8020LEFT: Yollande Tshimbombo: Third-year BA Law

Yollande is rocking the street style trend with an oversized denim jacket, basketball vest and crisp white sneakers. She describes her style as “Very eclectic, it usually depends on my mood. I’m a non-conformist and I sometimes dress androgynous, a twist of femininity and masculinity.


RIGHT: Jodie Maxted: Second-year LLB

Jodie is wearing faux fur black coat, trendy high-waist black jeans and Nike Roshe’s. She describes her style as very quirky, very practical and very urban. “I like being comfortable and my style fits that very well. I wear sneakers because I’m always on the run.”

Umswenko: Celebrating women in fashion

by Queenin Masuabi and Litaletu Zidepa

This week we are celebrating women and how they express themselves through their different styles. Women like pop star Rihanna, television personality Bonang Matheba and former ELLE magazine editor Jackie Burger have continued to influence for young women.

“Give a girl shoes and she can conquer the world”- Marilyn Monroe


Nandipha Patience Mangisana

Nandipha is wearing a black crop top, leggings and a kimono to keep her warm from the nippy Autumn breeze. Her main accessory is her black hat which has been a popular trend for both men and women. To add some colour she is wearing red and black platform shoes.

She explains her style as “sexy with a click of vintage”. When asked about going bra-less, she says that she is “embracing her nipples”


Takalani Mawela

Takalani is sporting a grey woollen dress paired with a black corduroy jacket. Her olive Nike Roshe sneakers compliment her colourful socks perfectly. She accessorises with a light brown scarf and a yellow bag. Although purple braids are in trend, in her case it was simply an honest mistake (she bought the wrong colour).

This second-year BA student describes her style as “street, punky and easy-going.”

Financial Aid thanks students

The Wits financial aid and scholarships office held a prize giving to reward students who have signed their lease forms in time. A lucky draw with student names was used to select the winners of the voucher.


The South Point and NSFAS team gathered quickly inside Senate House after the students name to pose for a picture. From the Left: Luthando Falakahla (From South Point), Khodani Ramukumba (winner), Zahraa Badrodin (winner), Nombini Nteyi (NSFAS) and Lehlohonolo Bhulane (winner). Photo: Anelisa Tuswa

Financial Aid Office Manager, Ennie Kubeka said that students don’t sign their lease forms on time and this creates a problem with them getting their allowance, registration fees and accommodation payment.

According to Kubeka, 3282 students were offered loans, but only 3017 came to sign.

“The 266 students that didn’t sign on time are worth R12 million,” she said.

One of the problems she raised is that students get funding somewhere else and this leads to them not signing their forms. “Now the problem with that is that we’ve got students that do qualify for the loans but we couldn’t give them anything because the funds were depleted.”

This Prize giving was to thank the 92 percent who have signed their lease forms on time and to motivate other students to do the same.

The winners were given South Point sponsored Pick n Pay vouchers valued at R1 000.

South Point Bursary Administrator, Luthando Falakahla told Wits Vuvuzela that “As South Point we thought we should contribute and make sure that the students are signing leases on time just to smooth up the progress and make sure that they get what they are actually looking for in funding.”

When asked about why they were giving students food vouchers, Falakahla said “we as South Point need to guide the students. If we give them food vouchers they will actually get food and you cannot study very well if you are hungry. So getting that voucher will actually help.”

The winners include first-year Biological Sciences student Lehlohonolo Bhulane, Accounting Sciences student, Khodani Ramukumba and first-year BA Law student, Zahraa Badrodin.

The winners expressed their excitement and joy on winning the vouchers. BA Law student, Zahraa Badrodin said “I feel very lucky because I don’t really win anything, so it’s my first time winning, so it’s quite cool. I was told to buy healthy things so I think I’m going to do that.”