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Interview | Buhle Ngaba on Representation, Superbalist's No.1 Spot & Making Things Happen

Young storyteller, actress and founder of KaMatla NPO Buhle Ngaba released her debut novel "The Girl Without a Sound" earlier this year. The well-received book was created to empower young black girls and to bring about much needed diversity in children's books. Recently she has taken the No.1 spot on the Superbalist 100, a list dedicated to 100 young South African high achievers from different industries. We talk to her about the book, winning the Superbalist 100 and representation.

In this digital age where visual communication is prevalent and there’s a saturation of information, how would you encourage young girls to maintain a habit of reading information of substance?

I try and make sure that in my writing I allow for there to be conversations so that as opposed to just giving my audience what it is that I think they should be reading I try and open up topics of conversation that I think that they might find interesting. I also try and ensure that I keep those lines of communication open by not judging what I think the substance is. I try not to prescribe what I think is important and what isn't important.

It cant be denied that even though we have come as far as we've come there still aren't enough platforms that are for us by us and for as long as those platforms exist regardless of how big or small, they are bound to be of substance because there aren't enough of them.

What is your opinion with regards to the current revolution surrounding black identity?

I am incredibly excited, thrilled even. I've carried huge dreams since I was a little girl and throughout my life Ive been challenged about those dreams, Ive wondered if I would be able to achieve them or not achieve them. Out of all of that and right now, where I am in my life, I couldn't feel luckier to exist at this time because no one can deny that this time feels so significant especially for us young women of colour, who feel like we are finally starting to break down these barriers, even the ones that refuse to break down we are knocking them down with insistence. All of us understand that we are working towards something that is far bigger than us, we cant necessarily articulate what we think its going to be, the shape or form its gonna take. The reason a revolution becomes a revolution is because there is more than one person who sees the need for it. Its been really encouraging in 2016 to see how women of colour are supporting each other because we understand that it's not just one of us, its for all of us.

What are some of the biggest life lessons you’ve learnt to date?

The one lesson that I've really learnt particularly this year through all the challenges I've faced and the things I feel that I've started to achieve.

Ive learnt that you never have to be anything other than yourself, you really don't. For a very long time as an actress I was struggling, I couldn't figure out which box I fit into, I just wasn't clear as to why I felt like I wasn't achieving all the things that I needed to but then I learnt that I was being tried and tested and stretched in that way because what I was going to do was so much better.

I was never meant to fit into the industry because I was meant to carve out a special place within the industry for myself, and not only for myself, but to open it up for people just like me who arent quite sure where they fit in but they do. Or rather we don't fit it in because we are not meant to fit in, we are meant to be opening opportunities far bigger than ourselves.

I think I've also learnt that patience is a virtue. It all comes at the time when its supposed to. I've also learnt to not sit around waiting for people to give you permission to do something.

If we sat around waiting for someone to give us permission or to give us the funds or the resources to do something, I think we would be waiting for a very long time. So just do, the rest comes.

How do you manage your time between performing, running an NPO and writing?

In all honesty its a case of trial and error. I do my best each day as far as I can and I try not to judge myself too harshly if I haven't achieved all I felt like I needed to achieve in a day. Organisation is very key, I have very, very long to do lists that I tick off often. I also always try and remember that I can do everything but not all at once and that's okay, so just as long as I remember that my far greater vision is to achieve all of it, but I cant be expected to put in all the energy and time to achieve all of it right now then I do well because I am forced to look at it as little steps at a time. I try and take it day by day but I am also strict on myself with my routine for the day so I wake up very early because I find that I get the most done in the morning, I exercise, I try and eat healthy to keep my energy levels up.

I also make a lot of sacrifices, I make a lot sacrifices, often you wont find me at the party or you wont find me at the event and sometimes you wont even find me with my family on a Sunday because I know I have a lot of responsibilities.

So between sacrifice, general organisation and also incredible people who are around to help me, that's how I manage my time.

You've recently been awarded the No. 1 spot on the Superbalist 100, tell us about your journey so far since winning

Since winning things have been very hectic. What people often forget is that what they are seeing out there as happening right now is just one among five things that I am doing at the time. It hasn't quite sunk in yet that it has actually happened because it has only been two and a half weeks and in that time I've been travelling, performing and doing so much but I'm incredibly excited about it.

Before I had even won I started making plans for what I would like to do with the money which includes translating the book into a few more languages. So I'm excited for what's to come, I think 2017 will reveal all.

What influenced you to create KaMatla NPO and how has it impacted the community in which it operates?

The idea for the play came about while we were doing a play called "Missing" written by John Kani, who plays my father and Susan Danford who plays my mother.

While we were doing "Missing" in Pretoria, we wanted to start writing a play and we also wanted to start doing community outreach programmes with drama because we knew that there would be so many places that could benefit from this. We got tired of waiting months on end for proposals to be approved by the powers that be and I wanted to get on the ground and start working immediately so we decided the best way to do that would be to go ahead; to start by creating an NPO so that we would have the capacity to create the kinds of workshops that we wanted to do so it kind of started from then.

My arguement, which is still my arguement is all I really I need is to be able to get into a space with people who would like to learn. My skill which is acting is invaluable to me, if I wasnt able to imagine stories, I wouldnt be able to imagine a life bigger than my own and being able to give people the tools to do that has been incredible because you start to find that people start to dream beyond themselves too.

The power of story telling is that it allows people to dream and that isnt an opportunity that is afforded all of us, that is something I would like to start spreading.

You wrote ‘The Girl Without a Sound’ to empower the voiceless. Do you feel that young South Africans are receiving enough support to empower each other? And if not what do you feel still can be done?

For as long as we are made to feel as though we have to compete with each other or as though there is not enough space for all of us of course more needs to be more done and there needs to be more space for everyone. I think my biggest suggestion to resolve all of that is to invest more in artists and to care more about what it is that artists are doing not only in terms of the magazine article for now, or the cover for now, or the gallery for now, but what it is we want to say in the greater scheme of our stories. Artists can only grow as much as that which you invest in them beyond themselves. We can do only as much as what we are capable of doing but when we have people investing in us, I think we can grow far more and I think we need more of that in particular, that would make a difference. To have people believe in artists in South Africa and what it is we can do and not only for as long as you are a fan but for as long as we are trying to say what it is that we are trying to say.


Photography: Neo Baepi

Interview: Phendu Kuta

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