The Bold and The Fearless Mantate Mlotshwa: Leading the Charge For Women and the Youth in Zimbabwe..

If ever there was a person who has dedicated herself to building the future she wants to see, it has to be Mantate Mlotshwa. A young woman fiercely passionate about the youth, women and leadership development, Mantate has gone above and beyond to invest in the marginalized communities in Zimbabwe and to make an impact. Her work as Program Lead at Magamba Network has her working towards supporting young artists in Zimbabwe by helping them amplify their voices on social justice and accountability issues. In 2017 Mantate produced and hosted Youth Engage, a weekly show that discussed the place and voices of young people in the development of Zimbabwe. Mantate has also championed dialogues whose focus is on spotlighting the experiences of women and girls on critical issues like drug abuse, mental health, self-care and relationships. Add to this impressive portfolio an African-inspired jewellery line that she started to celebrate African women and our African culture, and now, as if it all wasn’t enough, the title Author to her name with a book, Turquoise Dreams which she co-authored that was released early this year. And all this is still just the tip of the iceberg of all the work Mantate has done and continues to do. Fiercely and fearlessly. A pro-active community member with a lot of projects under her belt, there’s so much to love and learn from her. Her fire burns so bright you can’t help but be in awe!

You started off the new year on a high note. A whole published author. Tell me about Turquoise Dreams?

Turquoise Dreams is an anthology of short stories by Zimbabwean women. I contributed three stories reflecting on the experience of abuse of women in marriage, academic and political settings. It’s interesting how all 10 of the authors were writing about different women from different parts of the country, yet the themes that came out converge into a shared feeling that Zimbabwe is a scary place to exist in as a woman. I love how the stories don’t just amplify the plight of Zimbabwean women, most of them reflect on their resilience and commitment to a better life.

Take us through the writer’s war behind Turquoise Dreams. Writer’s block, maybe? The struggles of a Zimbabwean author?

For most of the authors, this was a first-time publication and that makes me happy because most could not have become published had they not been able to partner Samantha Vazhure in this journey. I guess for most authors the cost of becoming a published author is often too high, especially for the younger, unemployed youth who still depend on parents who are also struggling to make ends meet. Once published there’s that stress of sales. It’s not every day in Zimbabwe that you bump into people who have broken the glass ceiling with book sales. But I am also excited that this collective experience enables each of the writers to be better equipped when they finally launch their own books. The struggle won’t be as hectic because lessons would have been learnt.

A lot of your work is aimed at the youth. What is it about the youth that has you wearing your superwoman suit?

Young people are the future that was talked about in the past. We are leaders of today, and tomorrow. It’s a critical demographic that must be empowered and allowed to bloom. That’s why my heart is on building youth capacity to be more engaged in democracy and governance work, and finding ways to model successful enterprises so that others can shoot for the stars too.

Do you feel like the youth are doing enough to secure the future? If not, where are we missing it?

I’m not too sure what enough looks like but I think in different ways young people are working their asses off to thrive in this country. It’s definitely hard for most, but seeing them push through each day, choosing to survive, to dream, and for others, to risk their lives demanding for a better Zimbabwe, that tells you they are doing something. The question may need to be, is the environment responsive to these young people’s efforts.

You were at the forefront of raising money for your community borehole which is beyond impressive especially when most would rather sit back and wait for others to do it. What inspired you to drive this initiative?

I was raised by a community of grannies and grandpas that treated me like I was their own child. That sense of community is why I chose to make my 25th about them. A thank you to my roots for all the encouraging and confidence in my dreams. I called it water my roots as a way of inspiring other young people to look back at where they come from, and contribute to that which makes life easier for people, and for the younger ones to know that they too can become, and change their community.

Only 25 and yet you’ve achieved so much. What’s the highlight of all your achievements for you?

The Campaign School at Yale University. The time spent with all those phenomenal women transformed my view of women in leadership. I felt at home in all that fierceness, that commitment to building ourselves to be instrumental in our countries’ development. And the one thing that came out strong was the feeling that I wasn’t there by error, or luck, I deserved to be there. Representing every childhood dream, every individual that consistently told me they believed in me, and every young African who needed evidence that their past, or present circumstance is not the determinant of what they are capable of becoming.

If you could give a lecture unprepared on a topic, what would it be?

All things women and leadership!

What drives you to be so fearless in tackling the issues you do?

I was raised a doer. I want to see change so I commit myself to being a part of the action that ensures change. And for the longest time people have been supportive of my initiatives, and that gives me the boldness to keep doing what I do.

And what’s next on your society’s problems to tackle list?

In 2019 I started the Lead Girls To School program, premised on keeping rural girls in school, and mentoring them to be leaders. Most of the girls we paid school fees for last year passed and have proceeded to secondary school. We’re currently working on an updated database of the new schools, fee structures e.t.c. and will be reaching out to people for support in paying the tuition for the girls. We’ve had people commit to adopting a girl or two, and that’s a model we want to champion. Encouraging people to commit to one or more girls as that makes it more sustainable.

We’ve seen the activist side of you. On to more personal things. On a scale of 1 to 10, how is umjolo going for you?

I’ve been off the mjolo path a while. I’m hoping to stay out a bit longer.

Your style. Goodness. What inspires your unique wardrobe pieces?

I legit love looking good because I believe fashion to be a storytelling tool. Mine is a story of color, grace, confidence, and a sense of contentment in self. So I guess I am inspired by how easily fashion allows me to express my soul.

What’s that one item in your wardrobe you would die defending?

My Yellow Nike sneakers…….I mean have you seen how to die for gorgeous they are…?! (Laughs)

Speaking of style, what’s the inspiration behind U Motle?

U Motle is a Sotho term that means you are beautiful. The brand is premised on affirming and curating a beauty narrative that empowers women to be themselves, because their beauty is embedded in who they are, and their experiences. I want to use U Motle to explore and tell stories of African women and culture.

Discovering that you would have your own mural in Bulawayo. Take us through the moments you discovered that.

I felt immortalized! When the team called me and asked for permission to paint a mural in my honor, I was beyond flattered. Beyonce has a song called “I was Here” and there’s a part I love that says,

“I wanna say I lived each day, until I died
I know that I had something in somebody’s life
The hearts I have touched, will be the proof that I leave
That I made a difference and this world will see
I was here,”

If my life had a soundtrack, that would be the song. It summarizes my reaction even when I saw the mural in person.


By: Thandie Nyoni

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