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Khanyisile Mthetwa (33)

Professional flutist, Johannesburg Philharmonic Orchestra

‘I would like to show that anything is possible. You could come from Soweto and end up being a concert flute player,” says multiple-award-winning flutist Khanyisile Mthetwa, who has been playing the flute for just 10 years and has a yen to showcase South African music to the world.

That dream will come true for her this year. The 2019 recipient of the prestigious Myrna Brown international scholarship, Mthetwa, who is the principle flutist for the Johannesburg Philharmonic Orchestra, will travel to Salt Lake City in Utah this August, to perform a concert of South African work.

It was watching a concert by the National Symphony Orchestra that inspired her to want to learn music, when she was in her teens. Her parents found her a music school near the Chris Hani Baragwanath Nursing College in Soweto, near where she lived, and by way of an introduction to the theory and possibilities of music, Mthetwa learned to play the recorder, attending classes each Saturday.

She had her eye on a string instrument such as a violin or a cello, but was told she “was too old at 15 to start to learn to play a string instrument”.

With her options whittled down for her, she settled on the flute, and this opened the world for her, motivating her shift from Waverley Girls High School to the National School of the Arts, where she was able to get specialised education and to matriculate in practical music.

Armed with a fellowship and a licentiate in flute from the Trinity College of Music in London, Mthetwa was appointed a lecturer in flute at the University of the Witwatersrand two years ago, and while music comes easily to her lips, so does her opinion in the field. Last year she served on the jury of the National Youth Competition.

She says playing an instrument is very important for young people, especially for the brain.  “When you play an instrument you have to use your entire brain. When you play an instrument you have to count, you have to stay calm and you have to be really creative,” she says.

She says she tells her students that learning an instrument is about learning that things can go wrong and “not just in your career but also personally.”

Mthetwa says she tells them the instrument takes a lot of hard work but it’s an important lesson: “You have to learn how to pick yourself up and try again.”  — Fatima Moosa 

Twitter: @khanyisileflute

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Renaldo Schwarp (27)

Renaldo Schwarp (27)

Radio Host & Head of Digital: Jacaranda FM 

Born and bred in Centurion, Renaldo Schwarp says being an extrovert meant he always had a passion for people and telling their stories from a young age. “I’ve always been very social — just ask my friends and family,” he said.

He adds that since a young age he was always drawn to music and entertainment. He thinks the attraction can be pinned to the fact that the entertainment industry is people-centered.

Schwarp is a broadcaster who has hosted his shows on VIA TV as well as a late-night talk radio show on CapeTalk, a platform he says really reminded him of the “importance of different voices (young, black, queer) being heard on mainstream platforms”.

He also has put together an Afrikaans documentary called Skeef which is about the reality of being gay in South Africa. During its making he spoke to people from the Afrikaans LGBTI community about the challenges they face.

He believes that his chosen career in radio and television was beyond his control, saying that “It was written in the stars.” Initially dreaming of being an actor while studying, he got introduced to radio after lecturers convinced him acting wasn’t for him. While studying and working for the campus radio station the “radio bug” bit him. He says he realised “it is a platform for people to talk, share, feel, and re-connect”.

While having achieved many great things in his career, Schwarp says above those achievements, he cherishes all the people he has connected with, and whom shared their stories with him.

Schwarp says he was drawn to the power of “reshaping narratives and reclaiming truths.”

“This didn’t sit right with me” says Schwarp about the lack of representation he saw in the media. That’s why he feels a responsibility to “become the person I needed to see on TV and hear on the radio when I was younger — gay, coloured, and Afrikaans.”

Schwarp says while he might not be on the biggest platform, he believes that his visibility about his sexuality, race, language, and issues shows others “that their viewpoints are also valid”.

He says: “Openness might not completely eradicate prejudice, but it’s a damn good place to start.” — Fatima Moosa

Twitter: @RenaldoSchwarp 

Kate Goliath (35)

Kate Goliath (35)

Managing director, Goliath and Goliath

Kate Goliath cofounded the popular Goliath Comedy Club, which provided a platform for some of South Africa’s finest comedy. She says that the club was started when she, Jason, Donovan and Nicholas Goliath had been working hard at producing shows in Johannesburg and were called in to see if they were keen to collaborate with and open a club in Melrose Arch. That’s when they met Tony Raciti, who mentored them and became the business partner they worked with to build the club.

Since then the Goliath Comedy Club has closed, but they have opened a smaller, more intimate club in Melville, The Melville Comedy Club. This runs Wednesday to Sunday and much like the Goliath Comedy Club, still offers the best in South African and African comedy. Goliath says they are now expanding their corporate comedy agency and adding more acts to the stable to create more work for other comedians and to expand the industry.

When they started their business in 2012, she ran everything that pertained to the Goliath and Goliath organisation but now she oversees most tasks while managing the accounts and the corporate side of the business. She is also responsible for producing comedy shows and tours and is currently working with Siv Ngesi on a mini-festival called One Night Stands, which is scheduled for August and promises to feature South Africa’s top acts all in one night.

Her newest project is Comedy Con, which she says came about a result of her frustration with the comedy industry and her seeing the need to bring the industry together in conversations about expanding South African comedy through sharing knowledge and engaging with other comedians. “We needed a platform where we can ask the questions to the relevant people in our industry,” she adds. So far, she has managed to host conferences in Johannesburg, Durban and Cape Town that covered a variety of topics including corporate comedy, tax and law, social media and digital marketing, production and others.

As a woman in the male-dominated comedy industry, Goliath says she struggled with having her voice heard and being taken seriously. “If you keep forcing yourself into conversations and stand your ground eventually people will call you just to hear your voice of reason,” she says about how she’s overcome being overlooked as a woman. “I don’t ever want to have to answer to anyone in the business world ever again, so I work hard to make sure I will always be my own boss,” says Goliath. — Welcome Lishivha 

Twitter: @Kategoliath

Giggs Kgonamotse Kgole (22)

Giggs Kgonamotse Kgole (22)

International Visual Artist 

Artist Giggs Kgonamotse Kgole is making strides toward becoming a globally recognised powerhouse. He works in a range of mediums from painting to performance, but has the whole world sitting up and taking notice of him.

Currently completing a six-month artist residency in Vallauris, in the south of France, known for its ceramics Kgole is based in Rome and has exhibitions planned in Cannes and London.

But his journey has not been easy. Born in Tembisa, Johannesburg’s East Rand, he was raised by his grandmother in a village called Kutupu in Limpopo; his family could only afford to pay for his primary school education. Determined to carve out a better future for himself, Kgole won a scholarship to the prestigious St Johns College in Houghton, Johannesburg.

And it was here he realised that the sky is the limit. At St Johns he had the opportunity to take part in a Scottish exchange programme, and he knew art was the direction he would take.

“Telling your Black parent, ‘I’m in a great school but I’m going to paint for a living’, was difficult. It was hard for my father to understand. He hadn’t seen anyone make a career of it,” he says.

Pouring his time and resources into creating a body of work, he started #GiggsKgoleArt an online hub for his work. In 2016, at the age of 19, his work was selected for the Sasol New Signature Top 100 and exhibited in his first professional exhibition at the Pretoria Art Museum. From then Kgole has taken part in a host of exhibitions including a solo show at the Everard Read Gallery in Johannesburg.

And the more noise he’s made, the more institutions that matter have taken notice: He is the recipient of the John Cabot Presidential Scholarship which is paying his tuition for a four year art history degree in Rome. At his first exhibition in Rome, the then South African ambassador to Rome Nomathemba Tambo bought half his body of work on show before leaving to London where she currently serves as the High Commissioner. Recently, during his vacation to South Africa, Kgole co-opened the Gaslamp Gallery in Maboneng to showcase young, local talent and sell their work.

Kgole dreams of building an art centre in the Limpopo village where he was raised, to help young artists get a leg up into the industry. South Africa has a lot to offer the art world, as long as people who get the opportunities give back to the country, he says. — Shaazia Ebrahim 

Twitter: @giggskgoleart

Banele Khoza (25)

Banele Khoza (25)

Artist / Curator and Director of BKhz

Visual artist, curator and gallery director Banele Khoza remembers being always decisive and certain of his purpose. At the tender age of four, he embarked on his creative journey, recording what he saw and felt with pencil and paper. Writing and drawing gave him an immense joy and he has never stopped creating.

The Swaziland-born, South Africa-based artist first enrolled into fashion school, before pursuing his passion in fine arts. Khoza works with digital mediums, as well as acrylics, gouache and space.

Khoza’s debut solo exhibition Temporary Feelings was hosted by the Pretoria Art Museum three years ago, when he was just 22. It was very warmly received by critics and followed by several other solo shows, such as Lonely Nights at Lizamore Gallery, Rosebank, Johannesburg in 2017; and LOVE? at Cape Town’s Smith Studio; LGBTIQ+: Banele Khoza as part of the Curatorial Lab at Zeitz MOCAA in Cape Town and To The Unknown at LKB/G in Germany, all of which were hosted in 2018.

Khoza also dabbles in interior design. As part of a duo for the Win-A-Home competition in 2017 broadcasted on SABC 3, Khoza and his partner, Tshepo Sealetsa went head-to-head with two other teams to design a home. They won three challenges and were voted the viewer’s choice best team.

In 2017, Khoza won the coveted Gerard Sekoto Award, which is a part of the Absa L’Atelier award. This is a prize that comes with a three-month residency at the Cité Internationale des Arts in Paris. Later this year, thanks to the platform offered by the Gerard Sekoto award, Khoza’s body of work collectively entitled Seeking Love gets to travel nationally. Also in 2017, Khoza was also an overall winner for the SA Taxi Foundation Art Award.

When he returned from Paris in 2018, Khoza opened a multipurpose open studio and gallery BKhz in Braamfontein, Johannesburg. BKhz does not just house Khoza’s and other artists’ work, it is a space where people can meet to talk about art and watch artists at work. With BKhz, Khoza realised his gift of hosting and housing people. He says: “There is nothing more fulfilling than touching and heightening the experience of an individual in all senses.”

In 2018 he curated A Letter to my 22 Year Old Self: a group exhibition to launch his fundraising activities through BKhz Foundation, which aims to award grants to deserving art students dealing with economic hardship in South African universities.

Khoza counts Oprah Winfrey as an inspiration. “She has raised millions and generations of people, emphasising the knowledge that we should embrace and be our authentic selves.”

With energy and persistence, Khoza says the youth can follow his example. — Shaazia Ebrahim 

Instagram: @Banelekhoza and @BKhz

Mzoxolo X Mayongo (33)

Mzoxolo X Mayongo (33)

Founder of OCD23 Creative Studios, TALKINGMEN and Co-founder of MAGOLIDE

Thirty-three-year-old conceptual artist and activist Mzoxolo x Mayongo is a strong believer in the power and agency of the arts in playing a big role in public dialogue and commentary on important social issues.

His artwork conceptualises the complexities of societal perceptions and human conditioning. His work has been grabbing the attention of the visual art world, particularly with his latest body of work, entitled Ubukho Be Ndoda: Demystifying the Phallus of Man, which can be considered to be a timeous, provocative and challenging body of work that has emerged at a time when conversations about gender and sexual orientation are being dissected and scrutinised from multiple perspectives.

In the work, Mayongo offers a personal response to his own insecurities as a man living in South Africa today. “I use my body as a tool to explore and interrogate human conditions, exposing the ills and sickness that exist in society. In so doing, I hope my work will offer healing and reform,” he says.

He explains that the driving force behind his work is to use art as a mirror of truth “for which we as humanity can reflect on”.

Highlights in his artistic career include showcasing his work at the National Arts Festival in Makhanda, being selected as part of Design Indaba emerging creatives class of 2019, to name a few.

He comments that the value of exhibitions and showcases of this nature enable people to engage with his work and “encourage me on the importance of the ideas and issues of the work and how the work has affected them positively”.

The lack of sufficient support of the arts is such a huge issue that many artists face, he adds.

“If we can change the mindset of society to acknowledge and support the critical role art plays in our lives, just like medicine and education, then we shall overcome the challenges of access,” he says.

He spends most of his time between gym or running and meditation as form of unwinding and relaxation for his artistic mind, body and soul. —Welcome Lishivha 

Twitter: @Mzoxolo_x_Mayongo

Boitumelo Tumy Motsoatsoe (31)

Boitumelo Tumy Motsoatsoe (31)

Head of Programmes, Business and Arts South Africa

With an academic background in dramatic arts and cultural policy and management, Boitumelo Tumy Motsoatsoe, Head of Programmes at Business and Arts South Africa (Basa), is poised to do the work she enjoys.

While I deeply appreciate and celebrate the intrinsic value of the arts, my calling lies in the social scene where I maximise the ability it has to empower, educate, and to liberate.

In her work, Motsoatsoe is responsible for various programmes Basa offers. Together with a talented team of researchers, facilitators and coordinators, she ensures that creative peoples and cultural organisations have the skills and capacity to remain relevant, thriving and sustainable.

Motsoatsoe excels in her job. In 2017 she received the Basa award for cultural leadership and management in the cultural economy.

No stranger to awards, through ShakeXperience, a teaching initiative for the arts, supported by Basa, Motsoatsoe participated in the Shakespeare Worlds Together Youth Ensemble in London in 2012. Here, she facilitated the British Council’s connecting classrooms project between schools in Limpopo and Gauteng. This earned her a bronze arts award from Trinity College in London. Motsoatsoe describes herself as a facilitator at heart and firmly believes in dialogue and the exchange of skills and information.

A self-confessed “artivist”, Motsoatsoe co-founded and performs in Thenx: a women’s sketch comedy group presenting political satire and hilarious parodies of everyday South African life.

“I am a storyteller, I love to connect the dots, shake paradigms and provoke thought through performance, play and story.”

Motsoatsoe’s “artivism” extends toward empowering the arts sector and advancing members of the arts community, in her capacity as a member of Arterial Network South Africa’s steering committee. She is also a Canon Collins Trust and Common Purpose: Africa Venture alumnus.

In the southern Africa region of the Pan African Youth for a Culture of Peace, Motsoatsoe serves as regional coordinator. Here, she is part of a network of young change-makers who are passionate about promoting peace and a culture of unity, non-violence and active citizenship in their communities. Motsoatsoe is responsible for ensuring that the region is effectively bringing this agenda to fruition.

At the end of her busy days, Motsoatsoe returns home to her 18-month-old daughter.

The future looks promising for Motsoatsoe who dreams of bagging a PhD, travelling the world, and becoming one of the most sought after arts champions on the continent. — Shaazia Ebrahim 

Twitter: @tumyB

Lesego Tlhabi (Coconut Kelz) (30)

Lesego Tlhabi (Coconut Kelz) (30)

Satirist & Writer

Professor Pumla Gqola calls her “brilliant” and Marianne Thamm says she’s “the best thing to happen to SA comedy”. Lesego Tlhabi has elicited such praise through her wide-ranging work. Gaining prominence through her political satirist creation, Coconut Kelz, the television scriptwriter, producer, comedian, occasional DJ and all-round entertainer and content creator cannot be easily boxed. “I have the kind of brain that takes interest in so many different things within the creative space,” she says.

She completed a BA honours in theatre at Brunel in the UK, an intensive TV writing course at Columbia University and a copywriting course with Vega. Tlhabi understands it takes more than a “go for it” attitude to succeed. She attributes her formal training, especially with Vega, to her winning a Bronze Loerie.

“It’s a wonderful thing to be the producer of my career, because of what I have studied and the work experience I have,” she says. Her rising profile has allowed her to work with the people she admires, including Donavan Goliath for her first stand-up show at the Goliath Comedy Club. Moreover, having her own special show on BET Africa has been a highlight “because it took two years from the first meeting to [appear on] TV”.

Despite her popularity with slots on prominent platforms as eNCA and Radio 702, among others, Tlhabi has had to deal with “hurtful and sometimes violent and threatening comments” that made her want to give up. She has not allowed this to get her down however, because most people she meets have “nothing but positive comments”, and the “block” button has helped. Besides, she has a lot on her plate, including adding “published author” to her already impressive CV. Her satirical book (authored by “Coconut Kelz”) with Jonathan Ball Publishers is coming out in September, and she is brainstorming and writing a Kelz series.

While she can’t reveal the titles, she is clear about the topics that she will not satirise, including murder, rape and abuse. She wishes to eliminate toxic masculinity, bridge racial divides, work to ensure that black lives matter, that the media does not protect whiteness, and for women and the LGBTQIA+ community to feel safe; to this end she uses her humour, political commentary and intellect to make people laugh and think. With all the problems we face as a country, Tlhabi and “Coconut Kelz” make us feel better, joyful and more hopeful.

Twitter: @CoconutKelz

Thesis ZA

Thesis ZA

PhD student, lecturer, psychiatrist and researcher, Department of Psychiatry, University of the Witwatersrand

As Thesis ZA: The Collective, Ayanda Charlie (24) and Ondela Simakuhle (25) are a Xhosa songwriting and performing duo who have been making music together for seven years and have built a strong following in and around Cape Town.

First and foremost, Charlie and Simakuhle aim to write work addressing the Black femme experience in ways that are “new, exciting, beautiful and truthful” – and to do it in their own language. Ultimately, they hope to play an active role in the creation of a stronger song-writing landscape in South Africa, ensuring that the music of up-and-coming South African songwriters, composers, and performers is successfully documented.

“I think staying true to myself at all times is my greatest achievement,” says Simakuhle of her career so far. “As a child born female, I have constantly had to think about myself in relation to others; how I appeared to be carrying myself as a lady; was I living up to everyone’s expectations of me? But I think freeing myself from those expectations by doing what I love and living how I want is the bravest thing I’ve ever done, and that I continue to do every day. That’s what our song Iintloni is about.”

The year 2018 saw the classically trained pair, who each hold degrees in media from the University of Cape Town, perform at a number of successful shows featuring Xhosa folk songwriting duo Umle, South African Music award nominees Zoe Modiga and Msaki, and 2019 is off to a positive start: they were featured as one of influential website OkayAfrica’s 15 South African musicians to watch in 2019, three of their compositions are being featured on Tina Turner’s international organisation Beyond Music’s Top 50, a project that aims to highlight exceptional musical talent worldwide.

They’ve performed with the likes of Hugh Masekela, Ian Von Memerty and Gloria Bosman in their respective careers, and have an exciting future to look forward to as they’re frequently celebrated as an emerging blend of South African classical and jazz music.

Sometimes, the rewards are more personal: “One of my favourite things is when people tweet or message me telling me how much they’ve been healed by our live performances, especially,” says Simakuhle. “I love that. As much as I know that what I am is a writer – shows leave people feeling lighter, healthier, happier. That feels like purpose.” — Cayleigh Bright 

Twitter: @thesisza_

Yamkela Khoza-Tywakadi (31)

Yamkela Khoza-Tywakadi (31)

Businesswoman, Publisher, Author, Storyteller, Farmer
Yamkela Khoza-Tywakadi is the author of 15 books, a publisher in her own right, and has played an integral role in shaping the South African literature sphere to allow indigenous languages and folklore to flourish.

Her first novel is used in isiXhosa classes in schools across the country. She has since contributed folktales and riddles to a Xhosa folklore anthology and co-authored two children’s story anthologies, in isiXhosa and isiZulu respectively, all published by Oxford University Press.

A graduate of the University of the Witwatersrand, with degrees in media studies, African languages and publishing studies, Khoza-Tywakadi says of her work: “I write to bring value to an African child, to know that she or he is valid. I write about our experiences to show that there is nothing wrong with us, to show the beauty of being us.”

Her knowledge, skill and care are evident in the deft manner with which she touches on topics that are relevant to black children, yet often ignored by society and mainstream publishing, such as albinism and vitiligo, which she explored in her Sibahle book series. Consistently intentional in her efforts to explore where others won’t, Khoza-Tywakadi examines the cultural phenomenon of ukuthwala in her latest isiXhosa novel, Ndibuyisele Esizalweni.

Khoza-Tywakadi’s work as a publisher has followed a similar pattern of success, having published bestselling books such as Equal But Different by Judy Dlamini, as well as several books that were approved by the department of education to be used in schools.

Her career journey seems set to cover even more ground, with her work diversifying as it grows: a screen adaptation of her latest English novel, Lies in Her Boots, is currently in production. This will not be her first foray into the medium; she worked on several SABC TV shows as a language adviser.

Having already worked for a number of publishing houses such as Drum magazine, Oxford University Press and Pan Macmillan, Khoza-Tywakadi has been selected as the candidate who will represent South Africa in the 2019 Iowa University Writing Programme. — Cayleigh Bright 

Twitter: @yamkelakhoza

Oupa Sibeko (26)

Oupa Sibeko (26)

Performance artist, freelance artist

Oupa Sibeko is a performance artist who aims through his work to challenge heteronormative masculinity. Through the media of performance installation, photography, film and community-based workshops, Sibeko focuses on play as a method to allow people to engage with each other in a light, accessible manner on issues affecting them. As an independent artist, Sibeko teaches and volunteers in schools and universities around Johannesburg.

“I’m interested in the sustained act of self-becoming,” Sibeko says of his purpose and methodologies. “The body knows things that the mind cannot express and it’s in playing, and being playful, that I can continue becoming. It’s in the act of becoming that my body produces images, artworks and performances that are never planned but are a result of playing.”

Sibeko’s work crosses from theatre to site-specific work with different audiences. He is a recipient of the Richard Haines all-round performer award from the University of the Witwatersrand’s humanities faculty and was recognised for the best theatre production at the University of Pretoria’s Krêkvars Festival. He has showcased his work globally — in Iceland, Germany, Spain, France, Namibia and South Africa — in galleries and at festivals, depending on the nature of the work. Among his achievements is work he has created with the likes of Robyn Orlin, PJ Sabaggha, Jessica Nupen, Thulani Chauke, Albert Ibokwe Khoza, Nicholas Pilkington and numerous other local and international artists.

“The spirit of play in me married my body and my body is in collaboration with my artistry,” says Sibeko. “I’m always interested in the creation of alternative values, realities – and that feeds me hope to redream one’s place in the world.” It’s with this thought process in mind that Sibeko continues to learn, and to pass on his own knowledge, skills and experience. He is in his final year of his fine arts Masters degree at Wits University, and has worked on arts development in rural areas with the Forgotten Angle Theatre Collaborative, Drama for Life, and independently in Honeydew, as well as Denver hostel and Alexandra in Johannesburg with his collective, Dance Alexandra.— Cayleigh Bright

Twitter: @oupasibeko

Rorisang Motuba (32)

Rorisang Motuba (32)

Actress & Writer 

Working in the film and television industries for eight years as an actress and scriptwriter, Rorisang Motuba has been seen on screens around the country and further afield, and is now turning her attention to telling South African stories locally and worldwide.

She may look familiar to many from her starring roles in commercials for well-known brands such as Wimpy, Absa and MWeb, or you may have spotted her on TV in shows such as It’s Complicated, and the South African film and theatre association award-winning Sober Companion. You can see her in the Disney movie Queen of Katwe, which stars Oscar winner Lupita Nyong’o.

Behind the scenes, she’s begun to take an active role in shaping the narratives that we see on our collective screens.

“I am a part of the new wave of female, Black show-runners, storytellers and artists,” she says. In an industry that’s sometimes deemed to be all talk and little action by outsiders, with an emphasis on building an image rather than getting down to the less-than-glamorous business of doing the necessary work, Motuba is keeping things straightforward. “My goal is to simply tell our stories,” she says.

While her own story is just beginning, Rorisang has already got a few tales to tell, and is writing up an impressive resumé: she’s worked as a writer and story developer for much-loved South African shows such as aYeYe, Isibaya, It’s Okay We’re Family and most recently, The Herd. After completing her bachelors degree in drama, political science and film and media studies at the University of Cape Town, she continued her studies at the New York Film Academy.

Soon, her work will be appearing on the big screen: she’s the writer, producer and star of a film currently holding the working title Low Tide, for which she’s received support from the National film and video foundation.

Another story she’ll be telling is from the pages of a popular South African novel – she’s just signed on as part of the team adapting it for the big screen for a 2020 release – but that’s all she’s able to share publically about the project for now. No spoilers, as they say in the business. — Cayleigh Bright

Twitter: @rorisangmotuba

Sibabalwe Ndlwana (34)

Sibabalwe Ndlwana (34)

BTech Supervisor, Cape Peninsula University of Technology

Sibabalwe Ndlwana is a textile maker employing the unique process of traditional weaving methods combined with natural dyeing processes. In doing so, she works to keep an ancient practice alive, while driving creative innovation in her industry and championing sustainable design.

While working towards her diploma at the Cape Town College of Fashion, Ndlwana found herself unsatisfied with the state of the South Africa. Instead, “I found myself telling a story through the collections, which was my own story as well.”

Ndlwana’s journey to sustainable textiles still held some twists and turns: after graduation, she worked as a freelancer, pattern-making and taking small orders for sewing jobs. Feeling a need for more creative stimulation, she became curious about crafts and joined a weaving class. From there, things happened fast — particularly when she was awarded a scholarship to complete a Master of Arts in Fashion and Textile Design, at the Nuova Accademia di Belle Arti Milano in Italy.

Today, she uses plant-based pigments for dyeing raw yarn fibres and fabric. In this way, she’s preserving an ancient process through experimental textile design inspired by imagination, nature, science, culture and tradition of indigenous African textile-making, and incorporating natural materials such as tumeric root, eucalyptus leaves, fynbos, bark and timber to produce unique colours.

Aware that her work exists in something of a niche, she has nevertheless been able to apply her skills to widely varied projects, including a number of successful collaborations. Working on a once-off project for ready-to-wear clothing label Selfi, she created a once-off collection of handwoven, pure wool scarves, complementing the brand’s apparel offering. In collaboration with Cameron Barnes Custom Furniture, she was able to create a fabric dyed with the eucalyptus used in the construction of these wooden pieces, which was then incorporated into the finished product. — Cayleigh Bright

Twitter: @InGyeyo_

Simon Shimbambu (32)

Simon Shimbambu (32)

Opera Singer

Currently based in London but often touring the globe, bass-baritone Simon Shibambu is a Tshwane University of Technology graduate from the vocal arts department, currently blazing a trail for opera singers around his country and continent.

Being selected for the Royal Opera House London’s Jette Parker young artist programme means that Shibambu has graced the stage of this world-renowned opera theatre, performing with some of the industry’s best known and most respected singers, and he often has cause to look back and appreciate the friends and strangers who helped him on the path to achieving his successes.

When his application to audition at the Royal College of Music was successful, he found himself with an alarmingly short time in which to secure accommodation, a visa and his flights.

“My mother got support from her workplace and others in her circles, which was the key moment: it greatly changed the way I see things. Without other people, it’s really difficult to pursue anything, really,” he says.

Those who had helped so unhesitatingly were soon rewarded with good news: “Fortunately, the audition was successful in London and no money and prayers had been wasted. To this day, I remain very appreciative of those who opened their doors and hearts when my mother knocked for help – and of course, to all those who rejected me and my Mom, because they reminded me of why really this my journey matters and it is through such rejections that I hope my story will inspire the next generation of opera singers out of Africa.”

Perseverance has paid off, and good news keeps coming. Reviews of Shibambu’s performances from industry publications and more mainstream sources alike suggest that he’s headed for great things: Opera Wire described his voice as “dark and resonant, authoritative and firm,” and Forum Opera referred to his “beautiful bass timbre,” while a Guardian reviewer stated that, “The singer I’ll be looking out for is bass-baritone Simon Shibambu, who sang the King with authority, anguish and a huge, resonant tone.”

His accolades, meanwhile, speak for themselves: he was awarded an International opera awards bursary, an Associated board of the Royal Schools of Music scholarship, among others, including first prize in the Cloister opera competition, and first prize in the Voices of Africa national opera singing competition. — Cayleigh Bright

Twitter: @SimonShibambu

Lereko Mfono (27)

Lereko Mfono (27)

Playwright, Seeds of Water (SOW)

When he read his first Athol Fugard play, 27-year-old playwright Lereko Mfono wondered how another human being could make him feel those emotions through words. That was the moment he knew he wanted to inspire those same feelings in others.

“I was completely shattered when I read it. I felt like how dare another human being, through words, do that to me,” he says. Through his own plays, he decided that he wanted to shatter people “and in the same shattering process rebuild them.”

Mfono started acting when he was in primary school at a drama society situated in the Vaal, called the Vereeniging Operatic and Dramatic Society. After failing his initial audition, Mfono was accepted into the National School of the Arts.

“Everything changed when I got in the school and had it not been for my failure to get in for Grade 8 I wouldn’t have had the hunger to pursue this,” he says.

While he initially started acting, the process and discipline of writing plays was something he fell in love with. What really fascinated him was when his friends told him they saw themselves in his work. That really inspired him to continue with his work.

In developing new South African theatre, Mfono wants to create a narrative of “self-confident Africans”. “I think it’s the writers and scribes who define the narrative by feeling the culture of the continent and expressing this through literature. My role is to get into the difficult discussion of who we are and looking at my gift and saying this is how we can use it positively,” he says.

Mfono, who holds an advanced diploma in applied drama from the University of the Witwatersrand, now specialises in writing and acting in plays designed for children. It’s a specialisation that he was inspired to learn more about through an opportunity he had while he was studying: he was invited to join a group of young playwrights which was sent to Paris to develop work for young audiences.

“We got to meet young people and what was astounding was that the challenges they were facing were challenges we were facing. I found that young people are often misunderstood because they go through experiences older people are detached from,” he says.

Mfono also seeks to write for young people because he wants to inspire them to dream while they are young.

“My work is really based around getting young people to look within themselves for the answers and to know what their life has meaning,” he says. — Fatima Moosa 

LinkedIn: Lereko Mfono 

Lesoko Seabe (33)

Lesoko Seabe (33)

Voice over artist, Actor & Academic

Thirty-three-year-old voice artist and academic Lesoko Seabe aspired to be an entertainment lawyer. Instead, she became an actor, almost by accident. She studied theatre and performance at the University of Cape Town, and became magnetised by the power of storytelling.

Seabe says storytelling was always a big part of her life growing up, in Johannesburg. Whether it was her father playing music of all genres or the drama and singing lessons she was privy to at school, she was exposed to many different forms of arts.

“I have this one memory of my mom making the voices of all of the animals in a story she was telling me – I thought she was magic,” she says.

After prayers at her grandparents’, when she was a child, Seabe remembers that the small grandchildren would congregate in the bedroom “to perform the plays we had put together and practiced all day long.”

In the industry for more than a decade, Seabe has been prolific in her work and cannot deem one project ‘favourite’ over others. “It is difficult to single out one acting role that has been my favourite – to choose just one is like choosing a favourite child,” she says.

But her CV is rich with credentials. She’s performed across South Africa and Europe and was most recently on stage in South Africa with the award-winning production of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime, directed by Paul Warwick Griffin.

In addition to performing, Seabe teaches young artists. She says her greatest reward is watching “former students thrive in whatever they choose to pursue using the skills and techniques they learned from you.”

Seabe anticipates a future in which she will direct theatre and produce previously banned South African novels and short stories for the stage and screen.

“I am currently in the process of acquiring the rights for two such works and you will be able to see them on stage in 2020 and 2021,” she promises.

Along with all the work she does in the art industry, Seabe is also actively involved in advocacy, and the issue of gender-based violence in the entertainment industry is very close to her heart. She co-wrote In Her Shoes, a riveting dance work about violence against women, choreographed by Luyanda Sidiya in 2017.

Holding a masters degree in performance, Seabe, who is on the executive committee of the South African guild of actors says she wants to continue “to help grow the availability of extra mural arts education across schools and community” as well as to “continue advocating for safe spaces for actors to work.” — Fatima Moosa

Twitter:  @sokoseabe 

Lwazi Mshibe (25)

Lwazi Mshibe (25)

Interior Designer, 3D Modeler & Visualizer

Twenty-five-year-old interior designer, 3D modeller and visualiser Lwazi Mshibe has had many ups and downs in his life so far. From suffering with anxiety and stress to not always succeeding at his goals, he feels he has been through it all, but he says it is his willpower and the support of his family which has kept him going and enabled him to achieve greatness. Today he is highly respected in his field, and already has several awards under his belt.

Always enjoying a fascination with the built environment, Mshibe was not initially drawn to interior design as a career, and he pondered studying architecture. But it was a television programme which explained the magic of the field that won him over, and he enrolled in interior design at the Durban University of Technology.

His struggle with anxiety didn’t make things easy for him, as a student, however, and he failed his first year of study. This failure was possibly the best thing that could have happened to him, because it spurred him on with “a much more determined attitude.” Mshibe says from that year he was the top student in his class until he completed his studies.

That adage of try and try again applies completely to Mshibe’s efforts as he developed in his field: During his university years he entered a competition for the Department of Trade and Industry to come up with innovative office furniture ideas. The first time he entered this competition, his work was rejected. But the experience taught him well.

“I made small tweaks and then with the amended products I won the competition. I was shocked that I won after they turned me down the first year,” he says.

Mshibe still nurtures a love for architectures and hopes to one day pursue it, but also to develop his interior design acumen by way of his own firm or products relating to the built environment that are renowned locally and abroad. — Fatima Moosa

Twitter: @LwaziThoughts

Kenwyn Davids (33)

Kenwyn Davids (33)

Comedian, actor, producer

Part dreamer, part funny guy, comedian, actor and producer Kenwyn Davids says he is well balanced. He describes himself as a mix between analytic and creative. “Even my limbs are confusing, I’m cross dominant. I’m a combination of yellow and blue, which makes green. So I’m the Hulk?”

When he was about 10 years old, Davids made an off-the-cuff remark in class, and achieved his first bellyful of laughs from everyone, including his teacher. During his teen years, he spent his weekends watching a show called Comedy Showcase. Seeing local comics such as Stuart Taylor, Kurt Schoonraad, Tracy Klass and Loyiso Gola in action planted the seed for Davids.

He started a comedy club in Mitchells Plain, his hometown. Over the years, it has become a top comedy venue. Comics from all over the world have played there. Today, Davids shares the stage with comics he grew up watching, and counts them as his mentors and friends.

While he grew up in many places, Davids lived in Mitchells Plain until he was seven, and now for the past eight years, he’s back: he loves the neighbourhood for its close knit community feeling. And while people on the outside are quick to dismiss Mitchells Plain as a place of gangsterism, drugs and call centre agents, Davids is fervent in arguing that it is an environment brimming with life and talent.

Comics and actors JP Duminy, Schoonraad, Ready D and Emo Adams have all hailed from the sprawling Cape township.  “If we all just stood back for a second, and looked, we’d see that we are more than what others think. This place has so much to give to the world,” Davids says.

Davids has used his comedic power, not only to show youngsters in his community that there are other career options aside from the norm, but also to help change how his community sees itself. He has used his talents to help schools, charity organisations, and religious institutions to raise funds that help keep young people off the streets. Supported by Davids, Mitchell’s Plain comics Reagan Allen and Justin Ray have both had the opportunity to play on international stages.

Where others have decided to take talent to more affluent areas, Davids is ploughing back into his community. “Comedy is for the people, laughs are not an elitist thing. Mitchells Plain, and in general, people from less affluent areas tend to laugh more.”

Davids wanted to make comedy accessible for everyone: from his neighbours in Khayelitsha, to those that live in The Towers in Sea Point, because everyone deserves to laugh. — Shaazia Ebrahim 

Twitter: @kenwyntheking