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Tenacious Mabuza On Her Love For Sports, & The Hope Through Sports Trust

I faced a lot of backlash from the doors I tried knocking on, as I was constantly reminded that I should concentrate on my school work.

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Tenacious Mabuza On Her Love For Sports, & The Hope Through Sports Trust Asante Afrika Magazine
Image: Bulawayo Sports Personality and Philanthropist, Talent Tenacious Mabuza Ncube
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Talent Tenacious Mabuza Ncube is a sports personality who is passionate about the development of her community in the education and sports spaces. She is an opinionated individual who advocates for equal opportunities for all. Disappointed by a denied life-changing opportunity in her own life, Talent decided to dust herself up from the sad event and use her experience to make sure that other talented young girls do not have to go through what she went through. Read on to find out more.

When did you discover your love for sports?

My love for sports backdates to my primary school days. I was an all-rounder from primary up to high school. Participation in sports came naturally to me and my teachers encouraged me to take part in sports. Finally in high school, I found my niche in short distance running. I was a sprinter for 100m and 4 x 100m relay at Inyathi High School where I started and completed my high school. Currently, I solicit opportunities to partake in sporting disciplines around my community such as Netball, marathon, athletics, and Volleyball, and I am a member of FM Running Club and Bulawayo Marathon.

“Some close family members thought I was too ‘playful’ for someone who is an orphan.”

What challenges did you face in sports growing up, and how did that influence where you are in sports today?

This is a really sad story to tell, but if it had not happened, I would not have had the same drive to change and transform other people’s lives today. I excelled in sports, but there was a time when I was supposed to go and compete outside the country, and I was not able to travel because I didn’t have a passport. Support for the girl child especially in sports was extinct at the time.

I faced a lot of backlash from the doors I tried knocking on, as I was constantly reminded that I should concentrate on my school work. Some close family members thought I was too ‘playful’ for someone who is an orphan. It’s sad that the system we grew up in was that which viewed sports as an extracurricular activity that is not really important and holds no bright future prospects.

Tenacious Mabuza On Her Love For Sports, & The Hope Through Sports Trust Asante Afrika Magazine
Image: Talent Tenacious Mabuza Ncube

What inspired you to rally behind the girl child in sports?

My life story was inspiration enough to rally behind the girl child in sports. The fire in me to change the narrative that society has that girls are meant to be in the kitchen and not on the grounds pursuing their passion and talent never died. I always knew that If I had the capacity I would make sure to change the little bit that I could. I started as a volunteer at Bekezela Home-Based Care, and later on moved to Thembalethu Foundation as a volunteer, and later as a Resident Director in 2017.

Can you tell us about the ‘Hope Through Sports Trust’? When was it launched and what projects have you done so far?

The Hope Through Sports Trust, affectionately known as HoTS, was formed to cater to all sporting disciplines, since Thembalethu Foundation, a project I was working for in 2017, purely targeted girls’ soccer only. Volleyball, Netball and running clubs in Bulawayo reached out to us to look into their needs, hence I founded HoTS with my close friend Marley who is a former soccer player. We launched it in 2018, and since then we never looked back.

Tenacious Mabuza On Her Love For Sports, & The Hope Through Sports Trust Asante Afrika Magazine
Boots or no boots… Street Set Captain Ayanda ‘Bazooka’ Ncube and several Ubuntu players troop back into the field of play during Ubuntu’s end of season awards ceremony. December 2019.

It is a project that is community-focused and so far, we have reached areas such as Gwanda, Tsholotsho, Filabusi and Bulawayo. To date, we have organised successful annual tournaments, training for the girls, and outreach programs in the aforementioned areas. We nurture, educate and empower the girl child on health, security, education, governance and citizenry through sports. We have donated sports kits, balls, school uniforms and sanitary towels to more than 10 teams from different disciplines.

What has been the major highlight of the trust since its launch?

The biggest highlight of the trust has been us managing to forge a strong partnership with the Zimbabwe Football Association, which is the southern region women’s football league main sponsor, servicing an approximate number of 300 girls who participate in the league.

Tenacious Mabuza On Her Love For Sports, & The Hope Through Sports Trust Asante Afrika Magazine
Ubuntu 0 – 0 Street Set: The two sides pose for a photo during Ubuntu’s end of season awards ceremony. December 2019.

The girl child rarely receives recognition in sports, how do you plan on improving that?

This is a sad fact, and as HoTS we believe that young people are the custodians of the future, therefore as the Trust our primary objective guided by Sustainable Developmental Goal (SDG) 5 is that of creating a change in the life of the girl child through sports by giving hope. We promote equality and inclusion, and we aim for our trust to contribute to a society of zero tolerance to discrimination against gender. Women and girls have been victims of inequality and abuse and we use this opportunity to develop leadership, resilience, and a network of sisterhood which will be helpful for them to break the barriers. Our Tag line is ‘Girls in sports dwell in possibility’.

Tenacious Mabuza On Her Love For Sports, & The Hope Through Sports Trust Asante Afrika Magazine
Image: Talent Tenacious Mabuza Ncube

How do you plan on breaking the stigma around the girl child and sports, and preparing her for what she will face in this chosen career path?

This is a war I am willing to fight every single day through our #GetInvolved Model, where we pioneer meaningful conversation along the subject with our community of girls. Also, as mentioned above, we intend to develop leadership, resilience, and a strong network of sisterhood.

Have you dealt with any negativity surrounding you as a woman in the male-dominated field of sports, and if so, how has it challenged you to continue day-to-day?

Yes, I have, a couple of times actually, and all thanks to my tenacious spirit I am not fazed by negativity. I have been called derogatory names, and some people even go to the extent of making ‘sick’ assumptions about me and the girls under our sponsorship, but at the end of the day, it is my vision for equal opportunities that keeps me glued to the end goal. I have learnt that this field might be dominated by males, but I can claim my space in it too. The war is not against male and female, but against social injustice, poverty and inequality.

Tenacious Mabuza On Her Love For Sports, & The Hope Through Sports Trust Asante Afrika Magazine
Image: Talent Tenacious Mabuza Ncube

What advice do you have for the girl child who wants to pursue sports as a career?

Sport is a career that one can choose using the heart and not the head, so my advice will be to follow your heart. There are so many avenues available that one can explore to be successful in sports, however, we also need to be cognisant of the economic and political environment we live in in Zimbabwe – it is not for the faint-hearted. In this industry you need to grow a thick skin, let go of the negatives, embrace every opportunity that comes, be hungry to be better than yesterday, and build a powerful portfolio of your sports track record.

Tenacious Mabuza On Her Love For Sports, & The Hope Through Sports Trust Asante Afrika Magazine
Our team visited the Ekhaya Kip Keino Children’s Home in Gwanda to donate sanitary ware, school uniforms and sports kits. December 2019

What future plans do you have for Hope Through Sports Trust?

We are currently pursuing better opportunities for our exceptional girls outside the country. This is to encourage and motivate those in all the clubs who fall under our sponsorship. In future, we want to build strong partnerships with renowned clubs in the region and internationally; talks are already underway. Cognisant of the fact that sports are not a lifetime career, HoTS is looking at creating a sustainable mechanism to remain relevant in the industry for those who would have come of age.

If you would like to connect with Tenacious, you can send her an email on hopethroughsports1@gmail.com, or visit her Facebook page, Hope Through Sports Foundation.

Interviewed by Tholakele Dlamini

Art

Mirroring The Times In Sculpture With David Ngwerume

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Mirroring The Times In Sculpture With David Ngwerume Asante Afrika Magazine
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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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Image: Akewa Designs
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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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