Tara and her art

Her room is immaculate, save for the papers and notebooks on the desk.  The chime of a dream catcher on the wall is interrupted as Tara closes the window and sits down, cross-legged, on her bed.  Some of her drawings are up on the cupboard, with a gemstone chart stuck on her door.  Looking at it, I can identify some of the stones on her windowsill. A tinge of citrus lingers in the air, and Tara moves to tidy her bed, which she thinks is less than presentable.

“Art is the only thing I focused on.”

 

Tara the Artist

Tara paintingTara Dena Jack is an artist.  She always has been.  From her days in nursery school, to high school at Hellenic, and now studying towards her Bachelor of Fine Art.  That she was meant to be an artist, Tara never doubted that.  “It (art) has always been a strong point, since I’m not really academic.” Tara points to the paintings stacked on top of her bookcase as proof.  Even when she’s meant to be studying, her fingers itch for pen and paper and Tara draws instead.  “Art is an outlet for me.”

As happy as she is with her degree and career path, art wasn’t always her  first choice.  For a time, music held sway.  “I started music when I was 4 or 5, and I started playing the clarinet when I was 14, so in Form Two,” Tara says as she adjusts her legs to get more comfortable.  “I also taught myself basic piano, so I can play a few tunes.”  When it came down to choose between art and music, the decision boiled down to what gave Tara more creative license.  Art it was.

 

“I can express myself more with art. Art is more liberating.”

2016-06-03 (2)What of her art itself?  Tara scrolls through her Instagram and flips through her book of doodles as she talks about her style and what she’s created.  I notice a lot of pencil work and inking, but not much in the form of paintings.  A slight frown on her mouth as she readjusts her seating again and ties up her hair.  “With painting, I don’t have a style that I’ve developed.  With my pencil work, it’s more detailed.  I like stuff like pencil work and pen work, stuff that you can control.”  Her pencil work is stunning. Images of skulls and candles flit across her phone screen.   Tara’s proud of her pieces, but she admits that her work is dark. “In O Level, I did kitsch, still-life, like ‘pretty pretty girly stuff’.  But I find skulls more interesting. You think about a painting of a skull more than just a painting of a flower.”

 

“I always try incorporate a hidden meaning in my art.”

 

Tara fiddles with her hairbands as she talks about her plans for the future.  She wants to get her art out there for people to see – something she hasn’t been doing.  She thinks back to her art teachers in high school and how they’ve shaped her life so far, and continue to play a role in deciding her future.  “Most of my role models are my art teachers.  They see what I’m capable of, they’re more confident in my abilities than I am.”  It was Greg Shaw, her high school art teacher and artist in Harare, who pushed Tara to develop her skills as an artist.  It was her O Level art teacher who convinced Tara to study Fine Art at Rhodes University.  Their influence has motivated Tara to pay it forward and become an art teacher and artist.

 

Tara the Zimbabwean

Would she work in Zimbabwe?  Tara pauses, and takes a breath before responding. “I’m drawn to political stuff.” She tilts her head in inference.  “Political stuff that I wouldn’t be able to do that. And I can’t do kitsch stuff either.”  I ask her the question again.  She looks up, frowns and responds, “I don’t know.”

To see more of Tara’s work, check out her Instagram.

All the art pieces in this story are property of Tara Dena Jack. 

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Godfrey: life through his lens

The camera has always fascinated Godfrey Tafadzwa Kadzere. Even though he’d studied commerce since high school, photography remained a presence in his mind, an area he’d always wanted to explore, but never got the occasion to do so.  That all changed when his aunt got him his first camera – a small BenQ digital camera, a present for his 19th birthday.

“I had a growing desire to capture special moments and cherish them, hold onto them in the form of pictures.”

From the pictures he took with this first camera (a camera he still has to this day), Godfrey’s connection with photography grew.  His camera became an extension of him, so much so that people at his university referred to him as the Camera Guy.  Seeing Godfrey without a camera of some sort felt almost unnatural, like a tortoise without its shell.  The more photos he took, the more photography became a part of his life.  “I found myself spending a lot of time carrying my camera everywhere that I would go, then going through each and every one of them, analysing and reflecting on why I took it and looking at how I could improve.”

The Creation of Liyon Media

Liyon Media

Liyon Media’s logo

Godfrey saw an opportunity to make some money off his skill. In July 2013, he started his own media company, Liyon Pictures.  The name has significant meaning for him – a way to honour his past whilst setting the foundations for the future:

“I wanted a name that identifies with my heritage and values. Ndinoera Shumba, proudly. That was key in setting it in stone. The Lion part was going to stick. At the back of my mind I recalled the significance and symbolism of a Lion – noble, respectable, presence. Lastly, I looked up any pages that has similar names. There were several. So I decided to add a twist with an ‘i’. Then it ended as Liyon.”

The venture was strictly meant to be photos only, but over time, Godfrey realised that incorporating other media would work in his favour.  So he started LOTv in 2014, which covers all types of video content: events, panel discussions, one-on-one interviews.  As it stands, Liyon Pictures and LOTv are subsidiaries of Liyon Media.  Liyon Media also has Brand Management and Design sections.

Back to Zimbabwe

Godfrey started his company when he was still a student at Rhodes University.  The campus environment provided fertile ground for his creativity to breathe and flow.  His first clients were his fellow students: they still form a solid support base for Liyon Media.  However, Godfrey finished his degree programme at the end of 2015, and it was time for him (and Liyon Media) to move back across the border. The adjustment to full-time life in Harare has not gone as easily as he’d anticipated.

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“I pretty much started from scratch as the new year rolled in. Since I was hardly in Zimbabwe due to my schooling commitment in South Africa I had a long way to go in building relationships, partnerships and networking with influential industry stakeholders. I am steadying the ship slowly but surely. I am enjoying the experience so far, learning as much as I can from as many people as I get through the year.”

Although not a seamless transition, Godfrey’s enjoyed the experience so far. Working with Zimbojam as well as establishing a name for himself has kept him very busy, and it’s also allowed him to connect with people in the same industry.  Events such as Hustler’s Market,  Unplugged, and the Allied Arts Music Festival have opened avenues for engagement and collaboration – opportunities that Godfrey is excited to explore.

The Road Ahead

From collaborating with other creatives, to maintaining ties with established contacts, and never letting his relationship with God slip or stumble, Godfrey has big plans and even bigger dreams. “So far I am still developing and learning. Soon I will expand – more partnerships, more high quality content, and my own establishment that will house all things media, which I am extremely excited about. That’s my dream – to have a renowned, sort after media house that provides high quality content timeously.”

With every photo and video, he does his own bit to contribute to Zimbabwe’s creative culture, and I’m excited to see more of his work out there.  We could use a few more Godfreys: young, daring and hardworking people who aren’t afraid to embrace their talent and live out their passion.

Godfrey b&w

All photographs and videos in this post are courtesy of Liyon Media

To see more of Liyon Media’s photography, follow them on Twitter @LiyonMedia.

Check out Godfrey’s personal Twitter account @GodfreyTafi

 

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Michelle: the scientist, the DJ

Michelle Mukonyora a.k.a Ella, has put on quite a few caps in her life so far. Both scientist and music lover, she has had experience in different spheres of life. Her story is particularly fascinating for me, because it was the first time I’d heard of an aspiring bioinformatician.

Michelle the DJ

Her journey into her first role began in 2008, after finishing her honours degree.  She decided to take a break for a few years, and during this period she got into the DJ booth for the first time.  “I’ve always had a passion for music, but I was never musical. The one day I got one of my DJ friends to teach me how to do it for fun and I got hooked.”   Michelle was fortunate enough to get a residency soon after she started.  Although this career path was wholly unintended, DJ Elle M was spinning the turntables for a few years.

Michelle the Student

Michelle got involved with biotechnology from high school.  “At the time it was being described as the ‘new frontier’ of the life sciences,” she says, and she was more than ready to launch herself into this scientific unknown.  The initial plan had been to continue her higher education in Australia, where she could do a joint degree in business and biotechnology.  Unfortunately for Michelle, life had other plans: that was the year that the Zimbabwean dollar crashed.  Australia was off the table.  South Africa was the next best option, and that’s where she got her undergraduate degree from the University of the Western Cape in Applied Biotechnology.  She graduated and after she left DJ Elle M behind, Michelle went back to her first love.

“Science is my life. I always knew I’d be back it was just a question of when.” 

Currently a student researcher at the Agricultural Research Council in Pretoria, Michelle’s main focus is drug and vaccine design in Africa, working on animal vaccines and predicting virus structures.  It’s in this team that Michelle can flex her brain muscles and push the boundaries of biotechnology. “I have been given the opportunity to drive my own research process with a wealth of resources at hand. Being exposed to the best equipment and computing power makes one better able to compete globally.”

“My biggest challenge has been not having an emotional support system as a postgraduate student.”

 Michelle has had to deal with a tough and often isolated environment: science is truly her life now. “Science is all consuming with very little reward when you are a student. Your work doesn’t stop when you leave the lab and I wasn’t prepared for that.”  It’s a break from the structures she was used to from her undergraduate studies.  To add to this list of problems, the field of science can be difficult for a young black African woman.  Michelle has been lucky enough not to have experienced any discrimination, but it’s a fact that she’s keenly aware of.  “When I look up to higher positions that I aspire to I don’t find many women, more specifically black women.  I know the ‘Black woman in science’ hurdle is coming up soon for me.”

Michelle the Biotechnologist

“Compared to the rest of Africa we have the potential to be leaders in the field.”

Despite the challenges in the past and the ones to face in the future, Michelle remains optimistic about her relationship with science.  Although studying in South Africa, she has every intention of coming back to Zimbabwe and tapping into the world of potential.  ” In terms of biotechnologists there are plenty of Zimbabweans across the world doing cutting edge research. The key would be to convince them to come back home to the right infrastructure in place.”  Invested in her work as a biotechnologist, Michelle created a website this year, Nyenyedzi Bio, whose aim is to provide a platform for all things science related in Africa.

What struck me the most about Michelle is her dedication to her craft. Although she has done other things with her life, she keeps coming back to her calling.  Zimbabwe is lucky to have people like Michelle: people always questioning the limits of our reality and pioneering the push into our country’s uncharted territory.

“The most exciting part about biology for me has always been how structure relates to function. I love the idea of predicting the structures of small molecules that we can’t see with the naked eye like proteins and DNA and predicting how they work.”

Keep pushing Michelle.

Michelle

You can follow Michelle on Twitter at @EllaBellaBleu

To find out more about Michelle’s interests and work, visit  http://nyenyedzibio.com/index.html. 

Thembiso and her road to the A-List

You can almost hear Thembiso’s voice, even over the static medium of text.  The smiley faces and exclamation points that dot her responses paint the image of  a young woman whose face that’s just as expressive as her voice.  You wouldn’t be wrong in thinking this: a recent graduate living in California, Thembiso’s planning on making full use of her social skills to propel her to an anchor spot on E! News.

“It’s (the constant moving) definitely made me really social and friendly because I was forced to put myself out there in order to make new friends with each move.”

Thembiso Mawema was used to travelling around.  “My dad was a diplomat so I travelled a  lot but moved to Malawi, Kenya and Zim.”  2007 spelled the big move across the ocean to the United States, but after moving  around so often it wasn’t anything new for her.  Schools were on winter break when Thembiso and her family arrived, but she started school almost immediately after settling into her new home.  “That was definitely the biggest change, from going to a Zimbabwean private school like Convent to an American public school! Major shock! I went from an all-girls school were discipline was a big deal to a co-ed school where kids would make out in front of their teachers like it’s  nothing.”

“I got the most ridiculous questions a lot of the time tho like ‘how did you learn how to speak English so fast’, ‘do you have cars in Africa or did you ride elephants to school’.” 

Apart from the usual comments on whether she lived in a hut or how could she speak such good English, she had no problems fitting in and finding friends.  Travelling and moving so often helped Thembiso hone her social skills and she’d learnt to adapt to new places and cultures.  She upgraded to university, where she graduated with a degree in communications this year.

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“My goal has always been to be a host on E! News, but I just love entertainment, & pop culture & fashion so as long as I’m doing that I’m golden.”

Thembiso had always been set in her career goals.  “My endgoal is to be a host/tv personality”, she says, and true to form for Zimbabweans the world over, she’s started laying the foundation for her dream.  It all started with one of the newer social media platforms, Snapchat.  “I just used it like anyone else & people always tell me how much they enjoy them & how I need my own show. I was just being myself too so it was nice to see that people enjoyed that I suppose.”  Thembiso laughs as she thinks back to where she started.   She’s continued with her Snapchat stories (hosting a #AskThembi every Sunday) and now has her own blog and Youtube lifestyle channel:

Whilst Thembiso has started the journey to create her own brand, she did meet some initial resistance from her parents, who didn’t see entertainment journalism as a legitimate profession.  They naturally had other plans. “My mum has dreams of be becoming a lawyer  which would definitely be my first choice if I didn’t want to be an entertainer.  So I would say they definitely prefer me to do something else, but they support me in what I want to do which is more than I can ask for. My mom gives anyone and everyone the link to my blog to boast.”

 

“I want young guys and girls, to live the life they want for themselves, to not be afraid to not want to be an engineer.”

Thembiso hasn’t been back to Zimbabwe since her family moved, and being away for so long has had an effect on her connection to her old home.   She arrived in California when she was 14 and Thembiso spent the all-important adolescent period in a new surrounding.  However, she never let go of who she was and what she’d learnt when she lived in Zimbabwe.  Her parents and friends (those who are still Zim based) are her touchstone.  “Being close with them and them keeping me grounded and reminding me where I came from is what keeps it (her Zimbabwean identity) going.”  Although she hesitates on whether she’d permanently move back to Zimbabwe, Thembiso’s firm in her resolve to maintain and represent her Zimbabwean roots whichever platform she’s on.AhrRisgu-Q5LU3fMBbH1YME-kOhE9tzBAGqrxhBPki0q

You can check out  Thembiso’s work at www.justthembi.com,  as well as her Youtube channel.

 

Busiso and moving to South Africa

Busiso was 14 when he moved to South Africa.  Zimbabwe’s economy had taken a spectacular nosedive, and it was decided that for him, South Africa was a better environment.  His father was already working in Pretoria as a doctor, but the rest of his family stayed back home.  Busiso was completely alone in Johannesburg.  “It wasn’t the easiest of moves”, he says, as he shifts slightly in his chair.  “It was during that time when xenophobia was a thing.”

                                               “IT WAS NOT THAT EASY AT ALL.”

Adjusting to a new school, St. Benedict’s, made things even harder. He’d left just when he was solidifying friendships – Busiso didn’t know a single person in his new high school. “To add to it, when I came here, I skipped a grade.  So I was a year younger than everyone.”  There was only one other Zimbabwean there, who was a year older than him.   He was surrounded entirely by South African students, all older than him.  It was painfully obvious that he was an outsider, and there were many times that Busiso didn’t feel like he belonged anywhere.

Busiso HS

Busiso as a high school student

 

New school, new curriculum, new environment, new country – Busiso had to adjust quickly to his new life.  “It was a bit intimidating, I felt a bit out of place.”  Eventually, he found his footing, and it was thanks to his adopted city.  “Thing is, there’s a lot of people you can meet when you’re in a place like Joburg.  It’s not the friendliest place, but you’re definitely guaranteed to make friends.”  Although there were moments in the beginning where he wanted more than anything to go home, his father encouraged him to tough it out. Now, looking back at those growing pains, Busiso’s come out of stronger, wiser, and more well-rounded.

 “I WAS STILL IN THAT COCOON THAT  ZIM PUT ME IN”

 Having experienced life in both South Africa and Zimbabwe, Busiso has to come to appreciate the similarities and differences between the two countries.  “It’s a lot more liberal here(South Africa)”, he says, in comparison to conservative Zimbabwe.  For him, people in South Africa are more open and expressive, something that took him by surprise when he first arrived.  “I was still in that little cocoon that Zim put me in, where I don’t question my elders.” It was only after the big move did Busiso start to question what was previously unquestionable, and open his mind to new ideas and ways of thinking.

                                                

Busiso goes back to Zimbabwe on a regular basis. Here he is at last year's Colour Run. Image sourced from Liyon Media

Busiso goes back to Zimbabwe on a regular basis. Here he is at last year’s Colour Run. Image sourced from Liyon Media

Fast forward to 2015, and Busiso is fully settled into life in South Africa.  He is currently in his second year at Rhodes University studying law.  “One thing that I’ve always been hardheaded.  I like being right”, a smile on his face, as he explains his degree choice.  “Having knowledge of the law is power.”  Ever since Grade 10, Busiso knew was sure of himself, what he wanted to study, and where to go.  Although the University of Pretoria was his original choice, he has no regrets about landing up in Grahamstown.  “It (Rhodes) produces a certain type of person that I’d want to be like.”   It was an added bonus that Rhodes is known for its Zimbabwean-friendly atmosphere, with Zimbabwean students making up a large percentage of the international students.

                              “IT WAS NICE TO BE ABLE TO DROP A ‘ZVIRI SEI SEI'”

Happy to be amongst fellow Zimbabweans, being able to speak and hear his own language, was a big change from Busiso’s high school experience.  He’s learnt to reconcile the boy he was when he left Zimbabwe, and the man he became in South Africa.  However, he has, and always will be a Zimbabwean.  “Growing up there (Zimbabwe), as a child, really made me Zimbabwean.”  Busiso’s heart will always be with his country, and even though he wants to start his career in South Africa, he has every intention of going back home and making a difference.  “One thing I want to do is take what I’ve learnt back home.  If every educated person is leaving Zim, how are we going to grow?”

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Let’s Talk About Mr.Rhodes

By now, I’m sure most of you have heard about the protests at University of Cape Town, and followed #RhodesSoWhite and #RhodesMustFall.  Yes, the age-old problem of colonial legacy and heritage has reared its controversial head again.   Southern Africa has come alive on this touchy topic, and judging from the reactions and debates on social media, the region is far from reconciling with its colonial past.

Cecil John Rhodes

The now infamous Cecil John Rhodes Statue at UCT. Picture sourced from the Guardian website

Cecil John Rhodes was not a nice man.  That,  I’m sure, we can all agree on.  He lied, stole, cheated, and harassed his way to become filthy rich.  For the longest time, he was presented in the history books as a progressive forward-thinker, who almost single-handedly made Southern Africa what it is today.  Yes, he did shape Southern Africa.  And this region still bears the scars of his schemes and interference.

This is the heart of the issue now:  there’s a giant statue, in the heart of a campus in Southern Africa, of a man who deserves zero adoration, respect, or celebration.  Rhodes did donate the land for the UCT campus – but then again, it wasn’t really his land to  start with, was it?   People walk by that statue every day, a constant reminder of the ‘great’ man who deigned to donate ‘his’ land and money to the establishment of a university.  In a country that is  still negotiating a difficult and traumatic history, it’s understandable that some students at UCT would be hurt by constantly being exposed to a monument of a man who killed millions of natives and relocated thousands of others.  And when people feel like their voices are being shut out, when the Powers That Be refuse to even listen to your views and complaints, people get desperate.  People get angry.  People get drastic.  The poo being flung on that statue was a demonstration of that frustration, anger, and disgust.  It worked.  People started to listen to their grievances.

Then came an equally controversial subject: changing the name of Rhodes University.   This debate is not new; the proposal was first tabled all the way back in 1994, by the then Student Representative Council (SRC) President Vuyo Kahla.  Fast forward to 2015, and the debate rages on, but something has changed.  The warm, friendly atmosphere at Rhodes has often masked the underlying frustrations and tension that bubbled to the surface a few weeks ago.  If  an institution does not condone, nor associate ourselves with the views and morals of Rhodes, why do they insist on keeping the name?  Name changes are not new: after Independence, did Zimbabwe not change its name from Rhodesia?  If a university is so intent on preserving its brand, then surely its reputation should be based on the quality of its education, and not its name?  Ultimately, why, until now, have people been so dismissive about this issue, an issue that clearly affects ALL of us?

Photo sourced from Wikipedia

Photo sourced from Wikipedia

Colonial baggage and the legacy of Rhodes is a burden that every Southern African must bear.  History has not been kind to Africa, and as a Zimbabwean living in a foreign country, I can personally say that nothing is more aggravating than someone trivialising your distress and your history.  Living with colonial legacy is hard enough, do we really need to live with the monuments that glorify a man who represents a particularly  dark period in African history?  A man who said,

“Pure philanthropy is very well in its way but philanthropy plus five percent is a good deal better”

AND

“I prefer land to niggers.”

Removing such monuments, contrary to popular belief, is not “erasing history”.  Rather, it’s acknowledging that some of the men and women who were celebrated as heroes in their time do not deserve that honour today.  The statue of Cecil John Rhodes in Zimbabwe was taken down, yet we are still very much aware of his life and legacy.  Statues of Lenin, Stalin and Saddam Hussein have been torn down, but that was not followed by the world collectively hitting Delete on their histories.

A statue of Rhodes in formerly Southern Rhodesia

A statue of Rhodes in formerly Southern Rhodesia

The statue was taken down and relocated to a museum

The statue was taken down and relocated to a museum

At the end of the day, this is a discussion that’s not going to go away.  It shouldn’t go away.  The effects of colonisation are still strong today, and even though the Born Frees didn’t live through it, doesn’t mean we are not affected by it.  Telling someone to “get over it” is downright insensitive and ignorant.  All it comes down to is consideration.  For any progress to be made, and for Southern Africa to reconcile with its tumultuous past, each of us needs to be open to each other’s perspectives, distress and opinions.  To quote my Vice Chancellor, Dr. Sizwe Mabizela,

“When you walk in someone else’s shoes that is when you realise what it is like to be that other person.”

Makabongwe and her dream to save the world

Makabongwe Ngulube is a firecracker.  The spark in her eyes and the joy in her smile bring her brand of energy to her surroundings and friends.  Her upbeat positivity is ingrained into her very DNA, that little piece of personality that makes her…her.   With an optimistic outlook and a genuine drive for helping out her countrymen, Maka’s story of life studying in the USA is a reflection of her open mind, a generous heart, and an invincible Zimbabwean spirit.

 Leaving Home

Maka celebrating her Ndebele heritage at a school event

Maka celebrating her Ndebele heritage at a school event

When Maka enrolled at St.Catherine’s University in Minnesota, she wasn’t really sure what to expect.  “Going to the US was the first long trip away from home”, she says, and for someone coming from a close-knit family, life without them was hard.  However, it wasn’t as hard as getting to know her new surroundings.  In Minnesota, a largely white community, Maka was for the first time acutely concsious of her skin colour.  “I’m very aware that I’m a minority.  You see white people in Zimbabwe, but they’re not in masses.  It was way too much in one go.”

Fortunately for her, she was not met with hostility in her new community.  Her host family showed her around, easing her into Minnesota life and getting her used to moving around the city.  She had to adjust to a foreign climate: temperatures during a Minnesota winter average -4 degrees celsius.  Compared to Harare’s average of 18 degrees, it felt like jumping from a hot tub into a pool of ice.  And she wasn’t ready for the food.  The potato-heavy diet, a staple in Minnesota, was something that Makabongwe couldn’t wrap her head around.    “When you’re out of your comfort zone, you have to completely adjust.”  So she held her breath, and dove head-first into the unknown.

Maka the Student                            

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Receiving an award at her university

Two and a half years on, and Maka has carved a piece of the American city for herself.  She’s made friends, has joined the local church, and is enjoying university life.  Going to an all-female university would be a nightmare for some , but Maka loves St. Catherine’s. “It’s not as bad as Convent (in terms of boys)!”  She has her books to keep her busy.  Studying International Relations and working at St. Catherine’s University’s Admissions Office takes up a lot of Maka’s time, and even during school breaks she stays active with internships and summer jobs.   She’s already mulling over life after university, with a career in diplomacy being a strong possibility.

 

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“It’ll Never Truly Be Home”

Maka loves her school, she’s made good friends, and thanks to a small Zimbabwean community in Minnesota, she isn’t completely isolated from her culture.  But for her, the convenience of American life will forever fall short of  Zimbabwe.  “It (Minnesota) will never truly be home.”  Maka hopes that the Zimbabwe she left is still waiting for her when she comes back, as sunny and welcoming as she remembers.  Only then will she truly feel at home, in a place full of hope, dreams, and love.