by Zama Shange
On August 22, 2017 at 12h30, I received a WhatsApp text from Zanele Muholi: “Would you consider joining us for the Cape Town show to open on 31/08/17”. Needless to say I was stunned, and for a good ten minutes I did not know how to respond. My personal invitation from Muholi: not just any visual activist but THE worldwide excelling, breaking-all-barriers Visual Activist. As she would say nonchalantly, “Google me”.
I had only just met Muholi one week earlier, though I have been following her work for years, at Victory Ministries Church International (VMCI) church in Durban, South Africa. Who would have thought I made such an impression that I would receive the honour of being invited to be part of her crew for the ‘Brave Beauties’ Cape Town Chapter. Beyond blessed and humbled, I did not hesitate and submitted my leave at work immediately.
August 27, Cape Town Airport: the doors open, and I am greeted by a very cheerful Thembela ‘Terra’ Dick – a filmmaker who works closely with Muholi for for Inkanyiso. Terra’s welcoming attitude makes me even more excited. Terra is not alone: Malibongwe Swane, and three gorgeous ladies, dressed to kill with faces so perfect, you would swear they were done by a make-up artist… ! The two ladies are participants in Brave Beauties, Kim Monoto, Miss Tee Menu and Mellisa Mbambo. A few minutes later the arrival doors open again, and then the Brave Beauties from Johannesburg appear. Again, you could swear they just walked out of a Vogue magazine shoot, and the airport floor was their runways.
Dimpho Tsotetsi, Katlego Kat Serame, Progress Seloate, Roxy Msizi Dlamini, Katiso Kat Kgope and Yaya Mavundla: nine in total, beautiful, confident – and loud, mind I say – super models, all participanting in Brave Beauties’ Cape Town Chapter. Whilst waiting for the Uber to Gardens Holiday Apartment where we will be staying, a visual party took place, from Malibongwe video documenting anything and everything the ladies did, to Terra’s airport photo shoot, it surely was going to be a productive and fun week.
Soon we arrived at the Gardens Holiday Apartment, where Lerato Dumse of Inkanyiso efficiently had already checked us all in. The entire 3rd floor belonged to Brave Beauties and the Inkanyiso crew; later on I would learn that this was a rather great idea to have all of us on the same floor…
After settling in and unpacking, I attended a brief meeting with the crew members in Room 408, which was specifically reserved for us as a dedicated meeting space. Crew Members as follow:
- Muholi – Brave Beauties Director
- Lerato Dumse – Du Love Media Director
- Yaya Mavundla – Publicist and Brave Beauties Participant
- Thembela ‘Terra’ Dick – Photographer
Malibongwe documented the first meeting. I must admit, I felt rather intimidated… things just became ‘real’, with the discussion unfolding across the table, tasks being allocated, itinerary planning and formal introductions on-camera. All of this was a first for me, but I was more excited that nervous. I got to understand how Muholi works, and likes things to be handled, with the help of the other long-term crew members very familiar with Muholi’s way of working.
Our first day one ended with a trip to Mzoli’s Place in Gugulethu, a township on the outskirts of Cape Town. Terra and myself went with the Brave Beauties; Mozli’s is definitely not my scene, but the ladies had a blast. We closed off our first evening in Cape Town with a wonderful visit to Rowan Pybus home, who runs an ethical media company called Makhulu productions and, together with his wife Sydelle Willow Smith, is a founding partner in Sunshine Cinema, a mobile solar cinema that turns solar energy into social impact. What an honour to meet such an inspiring and humble man: we were invited into his home with open arms, served refreshments and engaged in empowering conversations accompanied by lot of laughter. Cape Town was definitely looking good.
The day started very early, as Dimpo and I decided to prepare a lovely breakfast for everyone. Thereafter the whole team went the Roodebloem Studios in Woodstock to record the Life Stories Interviews. The Brave Beauties got themselves ‘dolled up’ for the occasion – what they do best. On this day we were joined by Mam’ Lindeka Qampi, a self-taught photographer specialized in the genre of Street Photography. Lindeka is a humble, strong black woman, with a very welcoming and calm approach. Rowan Pybus of Sunshine Cinema and Makhulu Productions was kind enough to join the crew and film the shoot, working closely with Inkanyiso’s own film producer and editor Ima Masitha, whom I was excited to meet. We got along very well from the start, and worked hard together making sure the production and logistics were on par. Although most of the time I found myself having to be a ‘mother’ or ‘minder’ to the Brave Beauties; I was overwhelmed at first, as the ladies are rather ‘different’: I am not too sure if it was their excitement, but to have them calm down was rather difficult, let alone take instructions or focus on the project… !
And as if that was not enough, we were rather rudely interrupted by Lindiwe Dhlamini, the founder of a fantastic initiative called Injabulo Anti-Bullying project, who decided to just budge in – no introduction – and exhibited a marked lack of respect for the crew, before demanding to start her bullying dialogue. But luckily Ima Masitha, Rowan and myself were able to keep the situation calm, be professional her and let her do ‘her thing’ … and the situation was defused.
Muholi and Lerato joined us later and the ball started rolling, beautiful images were captured, and the opening video successfully captured. Magic was created at the studio. The day was closed off with Rowan conducting a rather a series of very emotional, draining, raw individual interviews with the Brave Beauties.
From the outside one might think that all this work could be done in just a couple of hours, but on this day I learnt that perfection is hard work, and pays off when you see the end result: the ladies were flawlessly beautiful, the production crew was dedicated and truly professional; this is was serious work. History was made on this day.
What is Cape Town without Long Street? Later that night we got a treat from Muholi: dinner and a walk on Long street to complete the day – even though there were small glitches. I mean, how could there not be any when you are accompanying nine extraordinary and over-the-top dramatic transwomen. Little did they know there was a surprise birthday celebration back at the hotel for Katlego Kat Serame: the big 30. Very emotional and rather special, Muholi made sure she was celebrated on this day, and she couldn’t be happier. A productive day it turned out to be.
We started our day by visiting Stevenson Gallery. The gallery has an international exhibition programme with a particular focus on the region, representing a group of exhibiting gallery artists – including our very own Muholi. It was my very first time ever being at an art gallery. I was blown away by the beauty, the space, the pure white walls, the welcoming staff – when you look at them, you see art. This was a dream to me: as soon as you enter the gallery, you are greeted by a large book shelf filled with treasures, books by internationally celebrated artists and activists, and right at the front several of Muholi’s books are the centre of attention. Immediately I felt so proud and humbled, to be part of history in the making.
Once the introductions were out of the way, the Brave Beauties were given the task to express themselves on the wall, and write what they wished to share with the world – not only about transwomen, but to personalise and dig deep inside, conveying to the audience what it means to be a transwoman. To tell the world who they were. Unfortunately I was rather disappointed by the Brave Beauties, as in my view they did not go all out and respect the craft and rawness of the activity: to me, the writings on the wall were not up to scratch, in terms of being true and honest. There were a lot of grammatical mistakes, and words spelt wrong. I suggested the ladies write in their own language if they wish to add originality and dignity to the craft, but as this was not considered, I had to remind myself it was not about me, but about the Brave Beauties. I can only do so much, offer my assistance and advise; it is up to them to decide if wish to take it, or not. A couple of hours later we departed back to the hotel, to get ready to attend Odi Diva’s The Come Back event, where Muholi was the guest speaker.
Odidi “OdiDiva” Mfenyana, also known as “The only Diva with a Degree”: not only is Odidiva well educated, she is also an actor and an amazing performer. Her vaudeville-style cabaret is highly entertaining and gets everybody up on their feet, clapping their hands and singing along. For the first time I met a drag queen who actually sings for real…! I was blown away by Odidiva’s style and her strong beautiful voice. The event started slowly and calmly at first, with red candles lit as a remembrance ceremony. Thereafter it turned out to be a hell of a party, everyone was on their feet, dancing and celebrating.. The Brave Beauties got down for real, in their high heeled stilettos and short mini dresses: the dance floor was on fire. I had to call it a night early as I was exhausted. And so whilst the Inkanyiso crew went back to the hotel, the Brave Beauties went to the after-party at Club Zer021 in Cape Town’s Green Point.
Muholi decided to spoil us a little and help us relax, and each one of us was given R1000 to go shopping. The Brave Beauties, Mam’ Lindeka, and myself went to V&A Waterfront. Due to everyone wanting different things to buy, we decided to split and meet at the Food Court at 4pm, as we had planned a photoshoot by the beautiful view. I have to admit that on this day, I was struggling with exhaustion. I bought two souvenirs and walked around for a little while, just admiring this beautiful mall. Come 4pm, none of the Brave Beauties were at the meeting bay, and so yet another chasing of adults was required, again.
Eventually we all got together, and Mam’Lindeka and Mam’ Lizzie began with the photoshoot. By this time everyone was equally exhausted; we had a quick drink and went to the hotel to rest.
Day 5 / Last Day
The last day had finally come: the reason we were all here. It was unfortunate I was ‘man down’; I had caught the flu bug and I stayed in bed the entire day.
By18:00, we went to Stevenson Gallery. History will be made tonight: a solo exhibition by visual activist and photographer Muholi, her first in Cape Town gallery since 2012.
Brave Beauties, a photo-essay featuring transwomen, to be shown alongside Somnyama Ngonyama (‘Hail, the Dark Lioness’), her on-going body of work confronting the politics of race and pigment in the photographic archive through self-portraiture.
The opening was a huge success, from large images of the Brave Beauties up on the gallery walls, to the video room, and a range of random images pasted across the gallery rooms. Everything came together beautifully, the gallery was packed, people came out in large numbers to support and enjoy this endeavour. At one point I found myself looking at Muholi as she was delivering her speech and thinking to myself, “God has truly blessed Muholi, with not just a talent, but wisdom and a passion”… I couldn’t be more humbled by the opportunity to not only work with Inkanyiso but to also witness such beauty and perfection. I was overwhelmed. The Brave Beauties looked absolutely gorgeous, true models who carried themselves with such elegance and grace. The gallery was filled with great spirits, congratulations were in order all round. It all came together in the end.
Muholi is an icon, the person is a legacy, and I feel deeply honoured to be given the opportunity to contribute and work with the amazing Inkanyiso crew. I learnt a lot, and I evolved as an individual on this trip. Finally everything made sense.
About the author
Zama Shange was born in Durban, Inanda South Africa, 1987 July 17. Her mother’s name was Ntombifuthi “Mafutha” Shange and father Gugu Cele, who both passed away when she was a baby. She was raised by her grandfather, David Shange.
She attended S.M.J Primary school in Durban, Sydenham public school. She then completed her High School years in 2005 at Avonford Secondary School, which is in Phoenix. She went on to study at Varsity College, where she received her Diploma in Hospitality Management.
Career and professional activities
Zama Shange started her career path at the InterContinental Hotel O.R Tambo.
Where she worked as a Front Desk assistance until 2010. She then moved to Tracker in 2011, she started as a call centre agent. Upon giving excellent customer service skills, she was then promoted to Product Support Agent.
In 2012 she received a transfer upon request to Tracker office in Durban, where she also through hard work was again promoted to Dealer Sales Executive in 2015. She is currently based in Durban, working for Tracker. In 2016 she started freelancing for UniQ Magazine SA, an LGBTI online magazine.
She has since been promoted to Operations Manager for the magazine. Based on her disadvantaged childhood, Zama decided that since she can not go back and change her childhood, she will focus on making a difference in young girl’s lives, who grow up in disadvantaged backgrounds.
On educating, protecting and inspiring young girls to be the best they can be.
Zama founded Mafutha Foundation in 2017, an organization that focuses on youth of where she comes from. Choosing to contribute to the Community, Zama realized that there was more she could offer. She than became an activist and Feminist, specifically in the LGBTI community which she belongs to. She is currently volunteering as a Logistics event co-ordinator for Inkanyiso.
Zama Shange got to have part of her life story published on Uniq Magazine SA in June 2017 where she was the cover story. She shared her journey with the readers as a way to inspire, growth and being proud of ‘who you are’. In July 2017 Zama joined a movement of powerful, inspiring and motivating women called Esigodlweni seziNdlovukazi founded by Queen Indlovukazi Mapule, who is also her mentor.
Zama immediately became a leader of the youth’s project called The Inheritors.
On the 12th of August 2017, she was invited as a Programme Director for Young women’s Luncheon, hosted by FourW Foundation. In August 2017, she joined Inkanyiso.org team in Cape Town, where Brave Beauties project exhibited by the visual activist Zanele Muholi.
Zama Shange is currently working on growing Mafutha Foundation and breaking all barriers to ensure that no girl child within her reach is drops out of school because of issues young people face in schools.