Ntsikimazwai – a real coming of age
01 January 1970
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AN: Now, we touched a bit about your family and the meetings that were headed by the children in your home but you are the daughter of a mother who was a teacher. Some would consider a social activist. Your father was a journalist at the time. How have your parents influenced the person that you are today?
My parents were a major influence on me
N: Well my mum was also a journalist, so I mean they were both writers. Obviously I picked that up and we were exposed to conscious writers and black consciousness work when we were small. So we’ve been programmed in a certain way, which I always feel that our education system, it’s so important for us to mechanic it right and get it. Because it is about the formative years and it is about what you put in a child so that they become a certain kind of grown up.
The fact that we were exposed to Steve Biko and Guguathe Ungah, Mbeki Mbathele, all these right black African writers and Buchinwa Cebe it made a difference; because it gave us a sense of identity and a sense of pride in our identity. I always find that Black people have got a low self-esteem because they don’t know their own story.
But if you know that you’re the descendent of Ntsinga or the descendent of Queen Nandi or Madikizela Mandela, if that’s put in your face you feel pride when you wake up. You’re like, “Oh, wait, I’m from a great people, so I need to be great. What’s my story?” so I really do think that it’s about conscientising the children.
AN: All right, now you burst into the South African music scene as the girl who made everyone’s heart skip a beat. You capture South Africans with their collaboration with DJ Fresh and that was the break out of Ntsikimazwai or had it been a while? Have you been around before that?
N: I actually had been around before that.
AN: But I mean a lot of people that know you now often reflect to the time of that –
Mainstream break through was not the starting point
N: Definitely, I mean Orongo drew me into the mainstream but before that I had always been the Street Queen. I was always resourceful, always trying to figure out my journey with my poetry. Before that real Ntsikimazwai fans, not these fake ones will tell you that they know me from like Fila Sister and my days with my poetry. I think that’s maybe where and oh, actually before that my beadwork.
AN: Of course, yes.
N: It’s been a journey and what’s interesting is that South Africans almost value a media construct celebrity to an actual artist. I always find that an artist’s journey is so much more interesting because you actually see that this person went here then they expressed themselves here. Then they did this and then they went through this phase, you know there’s a whole new way that we need to teach our audience to look at art.
AN: We are going to get to that. I know you’re very passionate about art and you’re passionate about Africans and how Africans look at themselves or feel about themselves like you mentioned earlier. But we can’t ignore the fact that you’re the sister to U Thandiso Mazwai who was a member of one of South Africa’s biggest Kwaito afro pop groups, Bongo Maffin.
She’s also established herself as one of South Africa’s most celebrated artists. Your sister U Nomsa is also making her mark in the industry. I understand she performed at the UN quite recently. Would you say the public expects you to behave a certain way or to live a certain way because of the name you carry?
It’s not really about what the public thinks
N: Definitely but I’m not going listen to the public.
AN: Of course not.
N: Imagine, you know my attitude to all of this is, “Yoh, I didn’t like choose this or whatever it is, I didn’t apply for this, so I’m sorry there is no standard that I’m going to live by. I have to impress Ntsiki at the end of the day and the end of my life and I’ve realised that I mean I’ve just experienced my youth. So I’ve learnt a few things now and I’m just like, my adult years are going to be about me.
AN: I think that’s the beautiful thing about life as well. Well, I’m still in my 20’s but I feel the more I grow, the more I realise that actually this journey is not about anyone else but yourself you know –
AN: I think it’s important for us to recognise that and not live in the shadow of be it our parents or our siblings and you know just be one with ourselves.
N: Yep, everybody’s got the right to their own human journey and once you understand that then it’s better and stay in your lane. I’ve learnt that and do whatever you want to do in your lane. Like there’s nobody like anybody in the world. We really have to get over our insecurities and our comparisons and I don’t want to be anything else but myself and I’ve owned up to that and I’m like oh hell, no.
AN: Whether they like you or they don’t for it, you are still just going to stay and be you.
N: Indeed, they’re just going to have to adapt.
AN: All right Ntsiki, let’s get into the nitty gritty part of it now. You’re known to be a feminist although it seems both sexes have either a love-hate relationship with you.
AN: You speak a lot about social ills be it political, woman’s rights, Africanism and sometimes even weaves. What are these issues that you are burning to say and why do people hate you so much for saying them?
I’m not afraid to voice my opinion
N: It’s so, you know it took me a long time to embrace being a catalyst personality or the one who presses the buttons or creates the move or shift from a consciousness because that’s not an easy person to be. That’s the kind of person that’s hated and an easy target especially when people don’t want to deal with the issue that’s been raised.
So it’s almost like being the type of person where you just put yourself in the line of fire all the time. So it’s built my character and I’ve kind of, ja I’ve got like a shield because I also kind of feel like these issues that I’m raising are extremely important. They’re extremely important in the vision we have for South Africa.
We cannot have a state of anarchy or a state of the blind leading the blind or just a lack of consciousness after such a long struggle. So for me our identity issues are the most important things because a person without an identity is a weak person and we can’t have weak people that fall for anything because the East, not even the West anymore, the East is going to chow us up if we don’t know ourselves.
AN: Now, you’ve touched on this that there’s no denying that being outspoken has sometimes landed you in hot water like constant cyber bullying and a magazine photo shoot that leaked. If you could, would there be anything you could reverse or undo?
N: With Marie Claire Naked Campaign –
AN: Let’s just start at the beginning of that. Tell me about how you were approached for the campaign, how you felt doing the campaign and how you felt when the campaign came out. Then to end it off I want you to speak very honestly about how you feel, Marie Claire handled the leaking of that photograph which is I understand not a, you were very unhappy about it.
The Marie Claire debacle
N: Hmm, okay. Marie Claire approached me and said, would I pose naked to stand up against the rights of women and rape in particular. I was like “Yeah, that’s a great idea” and I was like, for me I want to de-sexualise the woman’s body. I don’t want to do a sexy nude that I can do at home or, it’s not for sexy purposes, you know, not to look good or to entice.
I wanted to be brutal and in your face and as brutal as rape is you know and I wanted to, I was like, “I’m ready to put it in your face so that we can talk about it”.