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Women in Law – Tanveer Rashid Jeewa

I believe that my biggest achievement in life has been to adapt. No matter what obstacle was thrown my way, in terms of my career or even my education, I have always adapted and kept moving.

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Women in Law - Tanveer Rashid Jeewa Asante Afrika Magazine
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At only 24 years of age, Mauritian citizen Tanveer Jeewa has broken barriers and worked extremely hard to make a name for herself in the South African legal space. From assisting refugees with translation services, to assisting fellow UCT students with academic legal problems, as well as working as a Judge’s clerk at the Constitutional Court, among many other things, Tanveer is a force to reckon with. Don’t be fooled though by the focused career lady who sounds like all she does is work 24/7. Tanveer has a heart of gold and she has the bubbliest personality, and the most contagious laugh. Volunteerism is a way of life for her and her kindness is unmatched.

She took time off her extremely busy schedule to tell us more about herself and her career choices.   

Can you tell us about your current occupation and what it entails?

I am a lawyer who is currently doing a few different things. I am a Managing Editor and Researcher at the African Legal Information Institute where I am currently working on a project to facilitate access to the Constitution and constitutional law in general. This means I am in charge of making constitutional rights available in a more accessible language, especially for people who do not have a legal background. I also do research for the African Court of Human Rights on upcoming cases and legal issues which have not been dealt with by the Court yet.

I am also a reporter for the International Law in Domestic Courts at Oxford University Press, where I identify cases in South African law where international law has been applied. I then critique the court’s approach to the law on the identified issues.

In addition to this work, I am an LLM candidate in Public Law at the University of Cape Town and a Graduate Diploma in Law student at the University of Law in the United Kingdom.

Where were you born and what kind of a family were you born into?

I was born in Mauritius, in a close-knit family of six, including my sister, parents and paternal grandparents.

Is Mauritius a conservative or liberal country? How would you rate gender equality / inequality when it comes to employment and empowerment of women and girls in your country?

While this might seem controversial, I find Mauritius to be a conservative country. We have strong ties to India, the country where most indentured labourers come from, and I have observed that these ties also come with the conservative values associated to the culture. Unfortunately, gender equality is not as far as I would hope for it to have been at this stage. Although activists work hard for issues around gender to be more mainstreamed, it often remains a taboo – especially discussions around sexuality.

On the bright side, girls have been known to perform extremely well and sometimes even better than boys in exams. Yet, there are still courses taught only to girls (for example: cooking and sewing) and some for boys only (for example: technical design).

Women in Law - Tanveer Rashid Jeewa Asante Afrika Magazine
Tanveer at the Constitutional Court

Can you describe the environment you grew up in? What activities did you enjoy engaging in during your early years? 

I was lucky to grow up in a supportive environment, my parents were very invested in my sister and I’s education. They would go to great lengths to make sure we had access to numerous tutors for us to have the best chance of obtaining good grades and studying further.

As a child, I really enjoyed reading. This might actually be an understatement since I was obsessed with our public library. I was in such a hurry for them to move me from the children’s section to the adult section because I would finally have access to lengthier non-fiction books. I still remember that the first non-fiction book I read was a book about comodo dragons. I do not remember why I picked it, but what I do remember is how proud I was when I finished the whole book – which had no images in it!

Where did you attend primary school and how was your primary school experience?

I went to Emilienne Rochecouste Government School and had a lovely experience there. My primary teacher built the foundation for my love for studying at the time. She believed in me, and always had high expectations for me. In addition to that, school was also fun because my sister attended the same institution!

The government of Mauritius provides free education to its citizens from pre-primary to tertiary levels. Since July 2005, the government also introduced free transport for all students.

en.wikepedia.org

Where did you attend high school and what did you enjoy most about high school? Which subjects did you enjoy and/or excel in most?  

I attended Queen Elizabeth College and I met a lot of good friends there. I met my best friend, who I still talk to every day, and some other friends who, although I do not talk to as often, still have a special place in my heart. I know that they will all change the world for the better, one way or another.

My favourite subject was sociology. It opened my eyes to a different way of thinking as it was the first time that I learnt about feminism, Marxism and other notions which would end up affecting my daily adult life in a concrete way. It was different from other subjects and required another level of intellectual engagement which I had craved in high school. I was never one to enjoy rote learning and sociology was the opposite.

Did you face any challenges while growing up (personal / family / communal) and if yes, how did you strive to overcome those challenges?

Growing up, I faced different challenges than most of my friends. My grandfather was old, blind and his lower body was paralysed. So often, I would take care of him. I never regretted doing that and would not change it for the world. But this often meant that I did not have as much time as my friends to study or get some rest. It was hard for me to overcome these challenges, and I also started having some health issues myself. Due to this, I would struggle to fall asleep and would be quite fatigued. In all honesty, I never overcame these challenges but instead, I just tried to do my best with the hand of cards I was dealt.

Did you always know that you wanted to be a lawyer from an early age? If not, what did you aspire to become when you grew up?

As a child, I kept on changing my mind about what my occupation would be as an adult. From a lawyer to a veterinarian or neurosurgeon, I had not made my mind up. However, my mother is an attorney, so I had been surrounded by lawyers as I was growing up. I would often hear my mother’s friends say that I would be a good lawyer because I never kept quiet. (Little did I know that is not what makes a good lawyer!) The idea of finding loopholes in arguments and being in a courtroom to present said arguments really enticed me. When I went to court with my mother and watched cross-examinations (or sometimes watching Law and Order on television), I started subconsciously picturing myself as an advocate. What convinced me that law was the way for me, was when I realized that there were going to be a lot of times in life where I will have to face authorities, or be in a position where someone else has the upper hand, and I could not stand the thought of not knowing what my legal resources would be. In my mind, I was left with no choice, I needed to become an advocate.

Tell us about your tertiary education journey; where it started, up to where you are now.

I started studying law at the age of 18 at the University of Cape Town in South Africa. At first, I personally found the journey to be tough, probably because I was not so familiar with using only English as a medium of language and instruction. Especially in law, this proved to be harder as the language used was often more complicated than your daily-spoken English. Once I became more familiar with the language, the work started getting easier.

Yet, there were still areas where I struggled and honestly, at some stages I did not even understand assignment questions. It is only when a tutor sat me down, and broke down how questions surrounding the law usually work that I understood what I had been doing wrong. This really changed how I approached law school and it made the experience much better.

After graduating with my LLB, I enrolled for an LLM in Public Law, still at the University of Cape Town. I found the engagement at post-graduate level to be even better and really enjoyed my time doing coursework and debating current issues.

“I have had men undermine me and talk over me during conversations…”

Can you tell us about the challenges you have faced (if any) of being a Muslim woman of colour in the legal fraternity?  

I unfortunately found that the challenges one faces as a woman of colour are more or less similar regardless of the country you are in. In many contexts, I have had men undermine me and talk over me during conversations. Even in conversations where I would present my own work, men would stop me and doubt me, despite having produced sound and thorough research. I can name many different instances in which this happened. My ability is often doubted, despite my qualifications and experience. I have found that this happens less often to men and even less often to white male colleagues.

How did you or how do you continue to deal with those challenges?

This has been a hard challenge to overcome because if, as a brown woman, you bring this up, you are told that you are reading too much into things or that you are being aggressive. I have learnt to be firmer and to point out when I have not finished explaining something, or when someone just repeated an idea that I have brought up. I have also learnt that women must not try and be extremely humble in spaces where they are doubted. This kind of behaviour must be nipped in the bud.

What are your biggest achievements in life so far?

I do not like pointing out to tangible things that I have done and identify them as the biggest achievement. I believe that my biggest achievement in life has been to adapt. No matter what obstacle was thrown my way, in terms of my career or even my education, I have always adapted and kept moving. Sometimes I am surprised that I have come this far because I do remember some sad moments when I genuinely thought that I would not achieve anything, not even my LLB. But regardless of how I felt, I kept moving forward and I think that in itself is my biggest achievement.

Where do you see yourself professionally in the next 5 years?

In the next five years, I want to call to the bar and finally be an advocate. This has always been my goal but it has taken long to realise. I also see myself being a PhD candidate by then, InshAllah.

Academic journeys can be very lonely and stressful and in some cases they may even lead to depression and other mental disorders. How do you deal with that kind of pressure?

I was actually diagnosed with depression in 2017 and even before that I strongly suspect that I had some mental health issues. The journey has been very hard but I believe that it was easier to deal with some of the pressure with a strong supportive system. The people that I keep close in my life are people who want the best for me, and I want the best for them too.

I was also privileged enough to secure an income so that I can now afford to see a therapist and that has been helping me tremendously to deal with the pressures that come with studying and working.

Women in Law - Tanveer Rashid Jeewa Asante Afrika Magazine
Tanveer Jeewa

Connect with Tanveer on Twitter @TanveerJeewa and on LinkedIn – Tanveer Jeewa.

Interviewed by Gugu Mpofu

Art

Mirroring The Times In Sculpture With David Ngwerume

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I am sure we all can agree that the beginning of the year 2020 was a rude awakening wrapped in a global event for the books due to the Covid19 pandemic. Zimbabwean sculptor slash Lawyer, David Chengetai Ngwerume, took to his creative outlet to not only process but provide a map for future generations in the form of his work, ‘The COVID-19 Pandemic Collection’ that has taken the world by storm.

According to Ngwerume, art “…is a duty and calling…”

The 40-year old’s sculpting journey started in the humble communal lands of Musana in 1995 under the instruction of revered fellow sculptor Cosmas Muchenje. He continued to excel in his academic studies as well which led him to an LLB (Bachelor of Laws, Honours) in 2006 from the University of Zimbabwe.  

Mirroring The Times In Sculpture With David Ngwerume Asante Afrika Magazine
One of Ngwerume’s pieces

According to Ngwerume, “Art is a duty and calling that I persistently continue using various forms mainly in Stone Sculpture in invoking thought into Humanity, share awareness with the contemptuous world.” Ngwerume’s sculptures have been exhibited all over the world from Hong Kong (China), Canada to the United States of America, and locally in Zimbabwe at the Hebert Chitepo Memorial. 

“My ambitions are global so I am in for it; it’s not always about where you are but where you are going.”

The sculptor’s ‘The COVID-19 Pandemic Collection’ comprises of pieces such as ‘MJ’ inspired by the pop icon Michael Jackson, encouraging people to mask up and get vaccinated. Another piece in the collection is called, ‘We are Torn’ which encourages people to sneeze into their elbows.

He is currently working on two other collections:

  • ‘Thy Next World Collection’ which addresses concerns pertaining to humanity as we move into the future;
  • And ‘Taking the Reins Collection’ which looks at the advancement of the world through the relationship between people and horses and their loyalty to humanity.

Ngwerume’s art is a reflection of the times and he is not stopping any time soon. He is also responsible for the iconic ‘Scales of Justice’ sculptures situated in front of the High Court in Zimbabwe’s capital, Harare and the second capital, Bulawayo. We got to chat with the sculptor.

Mirroring The Times In Sculpture With David Ngwerume Asante Afrika Magazine
  • The first question is probably something you get a lot, but I just have to ask; how did you manage to find yourself in the world of law and sculpting? To us laymen, the fields look so vastly different.

I am a hard worker and I believe staying in work in both professions has made me invincible. The modern-day world is driven by skill and knowledge and it is acquired by putting in more effort.

“As a creative I also can tell you inspiration is everywhere, everyday life is filled with endless sources of influence.”

  • Have you ever found yourself in a position to choose between the two (law and sculpting) or a situation where one had to suffer for the benefit of the other?

Never! My ambition has always been to do more and I believe amongst the many I do I can manage both. If anything my professions feed off each other in a way.

  • What is the intention of your art?

To influence change in this world and make it a better place through various mediums from Stone Sculpture, paintings, installations and various other mediums in portraying contemporary messages that invoke thoughts into humanity towards shaping their moment in times and make this world move towards positive thinking. 

  • In a past article, it is mentioned that you draw inspiration from your experience practising law; can you remember the first case that inspired an exhibit? Why did you find the case worthy of being your muse?

The first case I got inspired by was a Domestic Violence case. It motivated me to do a painting titled, WOMEN – STRUGGLE from the CRADLE. It was the extent of damage this particular domestic abuse case had inflicted on those involved that moved me to create.

Mirroring The Times In Sculpture With David Ngwerume Asante Afrika Magazine
Ngwerume with more of his work.
  • In another article it is mentioned that you mostly use serpentine stone, why is that?

I use various types of stones in my sculpting, like Spring stone, Opal, Lepidolite and Granite. It all depends on the message I intend to portray.

  • Would you say you have any sculptors who either they personally or their work influences your work?

I am inspired by many sculptors like Michael Angelo, Gustav Vigeland and Dominic Benhura to name a few. As a creative I also can tell you inspiration is everywhere, everyday life is filled with endless sources of influence.

Mirroring The Times In Sculpture With David Ngwerume Asante Afrika Magazine
  • Sculpting isn’t really popular in Zimbabwe, how can you say the sculpting scene is in Zimbabwe? Is there a support structure from fellow sculptors or it’s more of finding your own way?

Zimbabwe in a nutshell is about finding your way, but the upside of today’s world is that it’s a global village. In this global village, if you do your best, the world will always notice. My ambitions are global so I am in for it; it’s not always about where you are but where you are going.

  • Could you please try explaining to us the creative journey you took in creating your popular COVID 19 Gallery?

The COVID-19 Pandemic is a global event affecting us all, and as an artist, I found it prudent to play my part in capturing the moments and share my views on Awareness and Vaccination.

Mirroring The Times In Sculpture With David Ngwerume Asante Afrika Magazine
Ngwerume’s piece ‘MJ’
  • In making the exhibit MJ, how did you hone in on making the sculpture about the U.S pop star Michael Jackson?

MJ was the first public figure to move around wearing a mask, and his actions were early warnings of our reality, where the air we breathe is not safe as before because of COVID-19. His messages then were foretelling.

  • According to New York-based art dealer Shingirai Mafara, your pieces are going to be part of the United Nations World Health Organisation permanent collection. Such an achievement, congratulations! How does knowing your work will live on long after you are gone feel? One could call it time travel of sorts, conversing with future generations.

I believe art is a reflection of perception and I am grateful for such higher strides being attained through my ingenuity. It is humbling to know that my work will inform, maybe even inspire future generations all over the world.

  • How has it been coming into contact with big art dealers like Shingirai Mafara and do you think that has or will affect your style or subject matter moving forward?

Such dealers inspire my work and further my will to create and give me higher hopes that my art will be seen globally.

Mirroring The Times In Sculpture With David Ngwerume Asante Afrika Magazine
Ngwerume’s piece, ‘Halt Child Marriages’
  • Your most recent exhibit, “Halt Child Marriages” is definitely one for the times. As a man, where do you think the root problem lies in Zimbabwe’s child-bride pandemic?   

The issue when it comes to child marriages is pure ugly GREED. The greediness in those men is uncalled for, it’s dirty, it’s illegal and it is immoral to view the young Girl Child as an object. We need to right such wrongs, and I am more than happy to lend my artistry to the cause.

(All pictures used are courtesy of David Ngwerume’s Facebook)

Interviewed by Hazel Lifa

hazel@asanteafrika.net

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Features

My Work Is My Passion – Zim Rugby Guru Nelson Madida

A chat with Zimbabwean professional rugby player Nelson Madida.

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Image: Zimbabwean Professional Rugby Player Nelson Madida
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Hazel Lifa

For Nelson ‘Terminator’ Madida, a simple day at the office is light years from what many of us envision as a job. The professional rugby player, coach and trainer is one of the lucky few who get to do what they love on a daily, and he couldn’t be happier.  Madida’s sporting career has come with a slew of awards like the 2015 Best Forward Player in Matabeleland, and the 2017 7’s Player of the Year. These awards ultimately led him to play for Zimbabwe’s national rugby team.

“The world finds itself in a difficult position due to this pandemic… I have come up with a fitness and health programme meant to keep people focused on something other than the coronavirus.”

Once he had dominated the player aspect, Madida shifted to training others and making bold moves in the world of rugby. Dubbed a ‘rugby guru’, Madida’s experience playing internationally highlighted how opportunities in spaces like the rugby world were closed off to women. This realisation steered Madida’s involvement with the Nyambose Girls Academy through the programme, HOPE. The programme was aimed at using the sport of rugby as a tool to empower the girl child and encourage gender equality in the game of rugby. The Nyambose team went on to win the 2017 Bulawayo Women’s Club League.

My Work Is My Passion - Zim Rugby Guru Nelson Madida Asante Afrika Magazine
Image: Madida on the field.

The Covid19 pandemic was a huge disrupter for many and the father of one is no exception. Never one to be short of ideas, Madida started an online fitness and health programme in 2020 to keep people’s bodies and minds in shape. The programme has Zimbabwean and South African participants who have benefited from the self-crafted training regimes and free medical advice on muscle issues and injuries Madida provides. 

Madida stated, “The world finds itself in a difficult position due to this pandemic. The sporting world has suffered severely from the consequences of the virus… I have come up with a fitness and health programme meant to keep people focused on something other than the coronavirus.”

“My work is my passion.”

nelson madida

Madida is also the Sports Director at Christian Brothers College (CBC) in the city of Bulawayo. We caught up with the sportsman/mentor/ trainer/coach/community leader for a chat.

Zimbabwe participated in the Tokyo Olympics Sevens rugby qualifying trials in Monaco, how was the trip?

It was fun and inspiring. It’s always a great time when I get to meet and play with players from other countries/teams.   

Any highlights from the experience?

I got to see the growth of rugby in Zim through the new crop of players on the Zim team and other new players from other teams.

Being a trainer as well, could you say rugby influenced your fitness level or has the game just been an added advantage?

I have always been a fitness fanatic, but rugby as a sport naturally pushes you beyond the boundaries to become a better and supreme competitor.

From the field to the community; what inspires your involvement as a community leader in the Bulawayo community of Pumula?

To help and motivate the younger generation to be the best they can be, and that starts NOW! People often think this happens overnight, but no, we should start in the immediate communities we live in.

Could you give us a basic breakdown of the community activities you are involved in?

1. I run a rugby academy that helps kids with Depression (suicidal risk).

2. Mentorship through rugby.

3. Keeping old people / senior citizens healthy and happy through fitness.

My Work Is My Passion - Zim Rugby Guru Nelson Madida Asante Afrika Magazine
Image: Madida and fellow teammates celebrate winning the Rugby Africa Cup 2018

You started an online fitness and health training program right about the time the pandemic started, how has that been?

It has been progressive and a challenge at the same time, adapting to the new normal has its growing pains but I am optimistic.

When you started training a girls team at Nyambose Girls Academy did you experience any push back from stakeholders seeing as rugby has long been seen as a boys-only sport?

No, we had a lot of support for the girls’ rugby team. It was heart-warming to see how people could see what we were trying to achieve.

Any new projects or programs in the near future?

YES, definitely; but I won’t spill the beans just as yet.

Having played rugby this long any regrets or advice you can give to rookie players you wish you had known sooner?

Regrets none, advice? If you love something never give up but always know that failing is a part of a learning curve.

Any sportsperson who has influenced your career and why?

Myself, (laughs) I think it’s important to always give yourself more credit for how far you have come and what you have achieved. I saw what I wanted and went for it, I didn’t have all the answers but I kept pushing even when others didn’t have faith in my vision.

If you weren’t doing what you do today what would you be doing?

(A pause followed by a nervous laugh) Honestly, l don’t know… this is all l have ever known. My work is my passion.

Any noteworthy differences between being a player and a coach?

Not differences really but similarities rather, you are always learning on both ends which ensures I am never bored.

Interviewed By Hazel Lifa

hazel@asanteafrika.net

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Fashion & Beauty

AKEWA – A Celebration of African Creativity & Craftsmanship By Francois Aveyra

A chat with Gabonese/French fashion powerhouse Francois Aveyra who apprenticed for huge international brands such as Balenciaga, Thierry Mugler, Jean-Paul Gaultier, among others.

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Having been an apprentice for huge international brands such as Balenciaga, Thierry Mugler, Jean-Paul Gaultier, and Cor Raniero Gattinoni, you would think that founder of prêt-à-porter brand AKEWA, Francois Aveyra, is one very tough and proud individual. Reserved but always smiling, Francois is quite the opposite. A happy soul who enjoys life, loves nature, and is not pretentious, his friends and family describe him as a confident and trustworthy person who brings sunshine and good vibes into their lives. A bit of a loner sometimes, Francois loves people who are as reserved as he is, and maybe the quiet time is what gives this creative genius all the inspiration and motivation he needs to churn out exotic and colourful designs which celebrate contemporary African creativity.

AKEWA - A Celebration of African Creativity & Craftsmanship By Francois Aveyra Asante Afrika Magazine
Image: Francois Aveyra

Says Francois, “I love making clothes, bags and accessories which represent my story. My products represent who I am… a mixture of different cultures.”

When he was a young stylist in the 80s, Francois made a name for himself working at Parisian events which were attended by the likes of Grace Jones, Madonna, Mick Jagger, Jerry Hall, Serge, Gainsbourg, Andy Warhol, and Claude Montana, among many other stars.

Based in Marrakech, Morocco, the yoga-loving design guru took some time to tell us his life story and about his exceptional achievements in the fashion industry.

“AKEWA is an expression of gratitude. It means ‘thank you’ in my Gabonese language which is called Mpongwe.”

AKEWA - A Celebration of African Creativity & Craftsmanship By Francois Aveyra Asante Afrika Magazine
Image: Akewa Designs
AKEWA - A Celebration of African Creativity & Craftsmanship By Francois Aveyra Asante Afrika Magazine
Image: Akewa Designs
AKEWA - A Celebration of African Creativity & Craftsmanship By Francois Aveyra Asante Afrika Magazine
Image: Akewa Designs

You were born to a Gabonese father and a French mother. Can you briefly tell us about your childhood, and life lived between the two countries?

I grew up in France, and I would travel to Gabon, Central Africa, over the summer holidays. Flying between those two worlds brought me a lot of exposure, compared to my friends. By that time, most of my friends had never been on an aeroplane. I loved travelling and I felt so privileged. My father was a very traditional man, and through visiting his side of the family, I was introduced to Gabonese music, dance and spiritual traditions, all of which intrigued me greatly. From my childhood, I attended and assisted my father in many spiritual ceremonies; I loved it, and I felt so powerful with him.

How and when did you decide that fashion was what you wanted to do as a career?

I was close to the beach with a friend one day, and we were talking about fashion. She was supposed to start work as an assistant to Guy Laroche, a great haute couture designer in France. Suddenly, I had a revelation, and I decided right there that I wanted to attend Fashion School in France. My father refused at the beginning, but after a few months of fighting, he accepted the idea. I had always felt so attracted to dance, music or acting, and I would have probably chosen a career in the arts, but life and destiny brought me to fashion.

Before that, I had actually started law school, and after doing just one part of my studies in Bordeaux, France, I stopped because I realised that becoming a lawyer wasn’t meant for me, and I went to Design School in Paris.

My mother is a hairstylist and I spent most of my early years behind the hair salon doing hair on some dolls (laughs). My grandfather was a painter, and so from seeing him work, I started to draw at a very early age. I spent most of my time with my grandma who was very elegant and smart. She was a great influence to me. She played violin so well, and we would watch black and white movies together. I believe I got most of my artistic and creative influence from my entire immediate family.

“My dream was not really to be recognised, but to do what I wanted to do passionately, and to meet with people and share my knowledge…”

AKEWA - A Celebration of African Creativity & Craftsmanship By Francois Aveyra Asante Afrika Magazine
Image: Akewa Designs
AKEWA - A Celebration of African Creativity & Craftsmanship By Francois Aveyra Asante Afrika Magazine
Image: Akewa Designs

As your career progressed, you decided to leave Paris. Which country did you go to first, and what did you do when you got there? Which other countries did you eventually work in as well, and what did you do there?

When I completed Fashion School, I started working for small brands like Naf Naf, but my dream was to work in Italy, because I was so impressed by Armani and Versace designs. I was able to realise my dream, and in Italy I worked for Cor Raniero Gattinoni in Rome, who had clients like Ingrid Bergman, Anita Ekberg, etc. Her mother, Fernanda Gattinoni, was very famous in the 60s during the ciné cita period. A lot of American productions were produced in Italy at the time.

AKEWA - A Celebration of African Creativity & Craftsmanship By Francois Aveyra Asante Afrika Magazine
Image: A young Francois

After a while I moved back to Paris, and then London, because I wanted to discover the world and to feed my spirit of creativity. I eventually settled in Morocco in 2016, where I’m based now. By the way, soon after I was done with Fashion School, I founded my first brand in Gabon, LEAMONO, in association with Albertine, who was the daughter of the president at that time, and her cousin Ursula.

AKEWA - A Celebration of African Creativity & Craftsmanship By Francois Aveyra Asante Afrika Magazine
Image: Akewa Designs

As the years went by, you managed to grow in your career and you became the owner of an artistic agency. Can you tell us more about the agency and the work you did, and what motivated you to start that business? 

Having worked in different sections of the fashion industry, I learnt so much over time. Among other things, I worked as a Booker in various modelling agencies, I was once a stylist for advertising and magazine agencies, I worked as a Casting Director, and I also worked as a Press RP in English. Armed with all this experience, my global vision of fashion, and sheer curiosity, I then decided to create my own agency representing talent which included fashion photographers, stylists, hairstylists, makeup artists, illustrators and directors.

I am naturally someone who loves to take care of others, and if someone is feeling bad, I will do my best and exert all my energy to make that person feel better, and achieving that goal gives me a lot of satisfaction. Hence I created the agency because to me it was only logical, seeing as my job was concentrated on looking after others. I enjoyed being the ‘orchestra chief’ or ‘conductor’ of the whole operation.

I totally loved my job, being everywhere, doing production, and applying the vast knowledge I had gained over the years. Choosing talent, mixing them up, and developing them with an artistic vision of their career was the highlight of my vocation.

Your business grew from strength to strength, and as you mentioned earlier, you were privileged to work as a Model Booker and Stylist for some of the most prestigious agencies and influential people in the world’s largest fashion capitals such as Rome, Paris, New York, and London. How did it feel to have made a name for yourself and be recognised, reflecting on how far you had come from when you were a young man in Libreville, Gabon with big dreams?

To me, whether one comes from Africa, China, the countryside, or a small city, if you have big dreams, the feeling will be the same. When you do things with heart and passion, everything comes naturally, step by step, because obviously one does not wake up with a crown on their head overnight.

My dream was not really to be recognised, but to do what I wanted to do passionately and to meet with people and share my knowledge, as well as learn new things. Above all, I wanted to do what makes me happy, and that was the most important thing to me.

AKEWA - A Celebration of African Creativity & Craftsmanship By Francois Aveyra Asante Afrika Magazine
Image: Akewa Designs

Can you tell us about the birth of the brand AKEWA? How and when was it born, and why did you choose that name? What does it mean and what is its significance?

AKEWA was born in Marrakech. Initially, I was just supposed to help a Moroccan designer and disappear (big laugh), but I started working for a friend in decor for 6 months before I then decided to create shoes and bags which I sold to friends. Soon after, I was now selling the products online, and when I realised it was going well, I decided after a year to open a physical store and that was when the brand explosion happened (smiles).

AKEWA is an expression of gratitude. It means ‘thank you’ in my Gabonese language which is called Mpongwe. The context is “thank you to life, and thank you to freedom”. I feel very attached to the notion of freedom, because for me, it signals a rebirth.

Did working with big brands and big names such as Mick Jagger, Carla Bruni, Madonna and Grace Jones have an influence on your decision to start your own fashion brand?

As I mentioned earlier, my biggest goal from a young age was to discover the world; I was so attracted to the fashion and creative industries, and I wanted to be part of that. I arrived in London at the young age of 17, and I was at Kings Road with the unconventional hub of young and fashionable creatives during the punk era. The stars did feed my curiosity, and yes they definitely influenced me – they were a light to my path.

Everybody was very simple at the time, we all shared the same feelings and moods. Life was also very simple back then – there were no iPhones or other similar gadgets to capture and expose you in a bad situation. Everyone was very cool and we all minded our own business.

I had my own type of ‘swag’, confidence and personality, and even though I wasn’t famous, that worked for me because the doorman would always let me in at events (laughs).

AKEWA - A Celebration of African Creativity & Craftsmanship By Francois Aveyra Asante Afrika Magazine
Image: Akewa Designs
AKEWA - A Celebration of African Creativity & Craftsmanship By Francois Aveyra Asante Afrika Magazine
Image: Akewa Designs
AKEWA - A Celebration of African Creativity & Craftsmanship By Francois Aveyra Asante Afrika Magazine
Image: Akewa Designs

Where do you see the brand AKEWA in the next 5 years?

Well, Covid-19 has been quite a hindrance, but I hope that it will soon pass and everything will be going well again in a couple of months, because what I want is to see AKEWA all over the world.

I’m working on a perfume right now, and I’m also preparing the “Who’s Next – Paris” ready-to-wear international exhibition for January 2022. I trust God that all will go well.

AKEWA - A Celebration of African Creativity & Craftsmanship By Francois Aveyra Asante Afrika Magazine
Image: Akewa Designs
AKEWA - A Celebration of African Creativity & Craftsmanship By Francois Aveyra Asante Afrika Magazine
Image: Akewa Designs

You are also into philanthropic work. Can you tell us about your involvement with Refugees Got Talent? What is your role there and what inspired your decision to become part of it?

When I first arrived in Marrakech, I shared my flat with a friend who runs a refugees association called Global Migrants Africa. I immediately felt a lot of concern for the people he was working to assist, and I lobbied my network of friends and colleagues to support the initiative.

The organisation supports a lot of artists and sculptors by lobbying an African market for the products, and I decided to invite potential customers to purchase the products. I also collaborated with another association to find ways in which they can provide dance classes for young children. We even got the likes of Léonore Baulac, a French ballet dancer who is an étoile (star) at the Opéra National de Paris Ambassador of Associations, to come and assist.

Also, most of the members of my teams at my atelier (design workshop) and shop are actually migrants from Côte d’Ivoire, Guinea, Senegal and Cameroun.

What words of advice would you give to a young African who has dreams of making it big in the fashion industry just as you did?

That is very simple; NEVER GIVE UP, AND FOLLOW YOUR DREAMS!!

To see more of Francois’ alluring designs, follow @akewa_african_lifestyle on Instagram, and @AKEWA.STYLE on Facebook.

Interviewed By Tholakele Dlamini

creatives@asanteafrika.net

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