Ntsiki Mazwai - No Taboos and Sacred Cows
Ntsiki Mazwai is a talented and versatile artist, whose interests span across an impressive creative spectrum of poetry, drama, bead work, music and social activism.
At this years Grahamstown Arts Festival (2016), Ntsiki Mazwai displayed commendable dexterity in the articulation of her one-woman poetry play based on her popular poem”Hey black girl”, performed under the Ntsiki Speaks experience. Her use of costume and lighting together with her dramatic human movement skills, discharged deep emotions centred on the plight and aspirations of the girl child, transporting the audience through a range of spellbinding emotions.
Ntsiki has demonstrated a genuine interest in the development of the girl child and her works are centred on femininity, black consciousness and racial politics. Ntsiki has appeared in many public spaces reaching out to adolescent girls in particular. Ntsiki has generally demonstrated a sincere ability to connect with ordinary people without pretension.
The artist’s discography includes two spoken word albums Mamiya and Ndigubani. In 2010 Ntsiki authored WENA, a book of poems. Ntsiki Mazwai also exhibits and models her fashionable bead work on her blog The house of Mobu.
Miss Mazwai is known for her bespectacled photo appearances, radiant smile, free spirited adventures in her interaction with nature and also for the nasty sting in her tweets. Politicians, fellow musicians and other famous individuals who have been on the sharp end of her twitter account (Imbongikazi yeSizwe @ntsikimazwai) will attest to the discomfort of having been audaciously confronted on social media.
Ntsiki Mazwai’s latest twitter storm involved down playing the role of founding post-apartheid South African President and struggle hero Nelson Mandela. Mazwai in early 2016 defiantly tweeted that Nelson Mandela was not her hero, and according to several main stream publications followed it up recently by praising former Cuban leader Fidel Castro’s achievements over those of Nelson Mandela’s. According to Mazwai Nelson Mandela was a “good black” whose role was that of maintaining white privilege. Admittedly that position has become a popular one among many young black South Africans.
Asked for comment, political commentator Thato ‘Stix’ Maisela (not his real name) expressed concern over the wanton dismissal of Nelson Mandela’s role in the South African struggle. According to Maisela it was highly unrealistic to assume that Nelson Mandela could in his five years as South African president have comprehensively transform the adverse socio economic realities that were three centuries in the making. He went on further to argue that a lot of work has been done by the ANC government to lesson the plight of those classified as previously disadvantaged. Maisela cited the large-scale provision of formal housing, piped water and electricity to the previously marginalised. He however stressed that there was still more that could be done. Maisela maintained that newly independent /post-apartheid South Africa would have required a critical mass of home grown professionals in order to effect a comprehensive and seamless take over of such a complex African economy, which was not possible in 1994. He added that most conflicts in Africa, ended up at the negotiation table where an outright take over by the weakened and formerly marginalised was impossible. He reiterated that most of those formerly oppressive colonial governments held most of the cards at the negotiating table thus in terms of professional strategic expertise, capital and in many cases geopolitical leverage.
What this then would ultimately translate would be that those who were to come into power would come in with very little administrative and professional experience as these skills had been effectively denied of the greater majority, while the new and inexperienced government would be forced to cater not just for the previously disadvantaged but the nation as a whole.
Again Maisela spoke of the complexities of globalisation and how ones government’s policies are impacted on by macro economics and global politics. Maisela pointed out that there was a need by government to involve itself in rehabilitating societal problems at community level and formulating relevant educational programmes which would better help the previously marginalised to adapt to the demands and pitfalls of what he termed as “blindly existing” in a modern world fraught with its socio economic traps and obstacles. He also suggested that the corporations needed to ensure their own sustainability by sustainably investing in the well being of communities.
To Mazwai’s credit however Maisela stated that the larger than life image of Mandela was being exploited by some quarters to bury the past and therefore such sharp and shocking criticisms of Mandela were being made to sober up the conscience of South Africans to enable the realisation of a better future having dealt decisively with the hauntings of the past. Asked for further comment Mazwai differed with the angle of the mainstream media and maintained that it was historically and factually incorrect as well as mischievous to recognise the role played by Nelson Mandela whilst down playing the roles played by many others who fought in the struggle.
Ntsiki Mazwai has also been known to celebrate traits of black identity and is famous for denouncing weaves which she regards as a demeaning appropriation of European aesthetic features. Asked by this reporter whether weaves were a more convenient method of hair grooming among black women, Mazwai dismissed the position as a popular myth. Ntsiki Mazwai stressed the need for the black female to be comfortable and proud of her natural features.
There has been quite a lot however that has been written about the politics of colourism and how lighter kin and other more European feminine features (narrower nose, thinner lips, long straight hair etc) have impacted on the wellbeing of black females. Nahomie Julien in her publication Skin Bleaching in South Africa: A Result of Colonialism and Apartheid? delves into the colonial and Apartheid politics of fair skin and European features, and how that has impacted on the self esteem and well-being of those black women who do not naturally possess those features.
According to Julien in 2014, 35% of black South Africans thus mainly women went through various and often-dangerous processes of skin lightening. Fairer skin has also be associated with better job opportunities, the attraction of a more financially able male spouse and generally a better perception of personal humanity. Again Ntsiki Mazwai may be often be considered as a social media menace but these matters have actually proved to be very serious societal matters.
Lastly Ntsiki Mazwai speaks of the entertainment industry as a very ugly place. A place of gender bias, bullying, unbridled greed and what she termed as “boys clubs”. This again stands as a very serious issue were uniting women for collective progression is a challenge. The stark divisions of race, class, age , qualification, tribe, colourism, religion and personal ideology may be stumbling blocks that may need to be interrogated and challenged in order for women in general and black women in particular to overcome in order to achieve collective advancement.
Ntsiki Mazwai currently completed her Masters degree in Creative writing and looks forward to embarking upon several interesting new projects in the future.
Words and Photography by Tamuka Mtengwa