The True Life of a Black Woman: A Dialogue with Sithasolwazi Kentane

Sithasolwazi Kentane is a South African film maker and photographer. She discovered her love for making films while studying a Bachelor of Journalism specializing in photography at Rhodes University, Grahamstown. She is the creator of Web Docu-series  Who Do You Think You Are and Woman Undressed.  Her films and photographic projects  been featured on  OkayAfrica and Unlabelled Magazine. 

This conversation took place in the warm, sweetspot of Gaborone, Botswana and the cosmopolitan city of Johannesburg, South Africa by Skype.

Gaamangwe: In the spirit of your beautiful documentary Who Do You Think You Are, I want to start with extending the same question to you—who do you think you are?

Sithasolwazi: It’s quite tricky to answer this question because we rarely find time in our busy lives to stop and ask ourselves who we think we are or who we know we are.  For me, I am a black African woman, whose roots and focus in life is centered in Africa. I am a people person and I am drawn to discovering how other people live, especially people that are not like me. I am a story teller, who tells stories of anyone who is living and breathing. I do this by giving visuals to people’s stories. The fact that no one on earth is the same is very interesting and reason enough for me to tell stories.

Gaamangwe: What are you discovering, learning and unlearning as you give visuals to other people’s stories?

Sithasolwazi: When I started telling stories, I found it difficult to take myself out of the story because I had a vision of how I wanted to tell stories.  Now I want to record and document the true essence of someone and this requires that I allow someone to be their own individual and express themselves as they are.  I had to learn to take myself out of people’s stories so they can truly tell their authentic stories. Authenticity and difference is important to me because I think that is what grows us as people.

If we combine different people’s differences into one organization, and allow people to embrace that difference and uniqueness, a lot moves and success is guaranteed because in allowing people to be the best authentic version of themselves, we allow them to put their best effort.  I have been fortunate to work with people who have chosen to celebrate their uniqueness.  People who live from what they believe is their passion and purpose, and consequently people who have become successful because they have focused and really nurtured their talents.

Gaamangwe: I also believe in following one’s bliss and living from one’s highest excitement. This ideology is effective in the pursuit of happiness but there are always restrictions, mostly from societal expectations.  From your documentaries, what are you learning and discovering in terms of the kind of restrictions women face?

Sithasolwazi: The silencing of women is the most predominant restriction. Women are not allowed a space or a voice to be. African traditions often make women feel like they are less worthy or inferior to men. African women go through certain situations that weigh heavy on the heart and the soul, and sometimes we are not able to articulate our experiences, and we think we are the only ones going through them.

My documentaries and short stories are platforms for women to articulate their lived experiences. I give women a space of allowance, where they can express their minds and take the dialogue further into their own circles. There is so much power in seeing other women speak about the same thing you are feeling, using words you can understand. Even if the context is different, in speaking, we realize and understand that we are not alone.  I hope to bring women together, so we can collectively help open spaces where we don’t seek permission to do things. Women have enough power and strength that if we work together on emancipating ourselves from the power of patriarchy and capitalism, then we can come into a space where we can completely be ourselves.

We deserve to occupy spaces where all women know that; it’s okay to be who you are, it’s okay to think certain things, it’s okay to feel a certain way, it’s okay to want children, it’s okay to not want children, it’s okay to marry a man, it’s okay to marry a woman, it’s okay to be you and you don’t need to get permission to do those things.  We need to free ourselves and other women around us. That comes with seeing each other as alliances rather than enemies, because we are a stronger force together than apart. We need to love ourselves and love those around us. We need to advance ourselves and other women around us, because if one woman wins, we all win.

Gaamangwe: Yes, and we must first start with emancipating ourselves from the daily narratives deeply entrenched and conditioned in our personal and psychic realities. To emancipate ourselves, we must introspect on the origins of these daily narratives, because most of them are what we have inherited and what we have been conditioned to believe is a woman or the ways in which a woman is supposed to be or the ways a woman navigates the environment she lives in.

What are the daily narratives that limits or restrict your experience as a woman?

Sithasolwazi: There’s been a shift in the narratives I used to hold about the position of a woman. I grew up surrounded by strong women, who make decisions and take care of the home.  It was true when it also came to ceremonies, get together and most traditional activities. The woman is the one that is cooking, serving, getting things together and making sure that the guests are well. Basically, running the whole show.  The man then comes in and acts as the head of the household.  But in actual fact, the woman is the head of the house hold. The man becomes the head of the household, when we are sort of putting a show for the community.  If we take the woman out of the home structure, things would crumble.

I’m truly blessed to know what a strong woman is and what a strong woman looks like because my mother took forefront of everything. This has allowed me to be strong in my daily life and to find self-love because if I can’t find self-love in myself, then I can’t possibly be expected to give it to someone else. Being surrounded by strong women is a very profound thing.  You learn to do good for others, but for yourself first. Every woman at some point or in some space of their lives needs to be selfish because they love themselves.

My mom tells me that from the moment I came out of the womb, I have been an independent person, who makes her own decisions.  I do what I want to do and I am given the freedom to do that. My mother doesn’t force me to do things I don’t want. Even with my career, I have chosen fields that I feel I am passionate about and interested in, and know I will do well in. I have been given the space to make decisions and to not be influenced heavily by societal norms or narratives or how things are supposed to be. I think that has taught me to look at my daily narratives and question how I, as an individual, choose to reason to those daily narratives.

Gaamangwe: Nurture yourself before you can nurture others.  It’s not selfishness, its self-love. You can only give what you have, so if you haven’t nurtured yourself, how can you wholly nurture other people?

Sithasolwazi: I agree with you. Recently, I have taken time to say I am going to choose when I am going to be strong. I can’t be that strong for the whole world. Sometimes, I can’t be that strong woman that knows how to do everything. I can’t be the super mom that knows how to do this and that and everything. I can’t be the woman that is going to complete every single person’s tasks when they want them.  And I can’t be the person who can run around town and get back home and still make the meal of dreams. Somebody came in and created these titles that make women feel like they need to do certain things to be considered for this title. That doesn’t sound like a real person.

Gaamangwe: What also needs to shift is the words we use to describe our experiences. There are some constrictive words that we often use to make others feel guilty for their own experiences.

If I am crying, I am weak. If I am speaking my mind, I am emotional. If I know what I want, I am controlling. This makes the journey to self-love difficult because the words used to describe some valid aspects of the individual, are not empowering. How do we navigate the wording of things and the expectation that we have been given as women, as people, so that we can arrive at self-love?

Sithasolwazi: This is also a very difficult question because I don’t think there is a blue print. I think introspection is a huge thing and I don’t know if enough people do it. So, it’s a ration of constantly asking yourself who you are and encouraging others to ask themselves who they are or to think about themselves outside of worldly influences.

Asking yourself the question of who you are and being honest to yourself about your answers will get you to a point where you can realize or at least see that you are different, meaning you cannot do the same things as the next person does them because you are not the next person.  Your differences are a good thing and can contribute to the good in your life. If you believe this, I think that you are on the inevitable road to self-love. Because you are appreciating who you are, your differences, and what you can do with all that information. And you know that no one else can do what you do the way that you do it. We need to stop looking outside for answers and look within because truly answers that we look for outside lie within ourselves.

Gaamangwe: I totally agree. In a world without limitation, the road to self-love will be easier. There are a lot of things you mentioned that limit women, if you could remove one limitation to the woman experience, what would that thing be?

Sithasolwazi: That would be inherent patriarchy. Inherent because we have learnt it from generation to generation, and so its instilled in our everyday lives. If we remove this century of damage maybe women would be perceived as equals. Feminism is trying to do this. Besides some aspects that are radicalized and forceful and aggressive, the founding principles of feminism is women must be in a society that they don’t have to ask permission to be part of. Women should be able to do anything in society just as men do things, without being called out for it. I don’t have strong feelings or ill feelings towards men but I strongly feel that women should not be inferior to men in anyway. We are and should be equal.

Gaamangwe:  For me, it will be the removal of all forms of violence that women navigate daily. I want women to navigate the world, internally and externally free, without fears that something bad is going to happen at any minute, or street corner or conversation. We have a long road ahead, but I think in some lifetime we will get there. How do you hope to use film-making to help create this world without limitation?

Sithasolwazi: I hope I can create safe and free conversation spaces, not only for women but also for those people who are connected to the women who are engaged in these conversations, in and outside these films or documentaries. I would like to start talking about issues that are affecting women, that women face every day and talk about how they make us feel and give us space to be angry about it. Because this has been a long-lived thing, so it’s important to give us a space to get over it in a way that we feel we can and not tell us how to deal with these certain things. I feel like conversations are gateway to solving problems. If we have conversations and really feel free to say what we really feel, without feeling like we are going to be punished or victimized or isolated for it, I think that will be a goal reached through these documentaries.  If we can reach a point of coming together as women genuinely, there is so much that we could do together as women, if we work truthfully and genuinely with each other.

Gaamangwe: I am also of the idea that if we engage in conversations then we can look at things head-on, and collaboratively change them.  I am in awe and I wish you all the best in your work.

Sithasolwazi: I truly appreciate that. Let’s work together as women. In connecting, we open spaces for us to learn from each other.

See Sithasolwazi’s work:

Gaamangwe Mogami is a writer, filmmaker and founder of Africa in Dialogue.

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