Winning on a wonky outfield

Black women: The only thing that separates females of colour from anyone else is opportunity

27 September 2017 - 07:13 By Andile Ndlovu
ACHIEVER South African businesswoman, TV presenter/producer and creator of Stoned Cherrie fashion label Nkhensani Manganyi Nkosi making moves in 2006 Picture: Steve Tanchel
ACHIEVER South African businesswoman, TV presenter/producer and creator of Stoned Cherrie fashion label Nkhensani Manganyi Nkosi making moves in 2006 Picture: Steve Tanchel

A new report, Stateside, conducted by Nielsen found that black women (and their disposable income) were the trendsetters in influencing mainstream culture in various industries including entertainment, fashion and beauty.

To many of us, this wasn't a surprise. We have known this to be true for many years.

In South Africa women make up about 51% of the population - but black women make up 80.6% of the 28.5 million female population. It's also important to mention that, according to Stats SA, about 30.1% of our population is younger than 15 - so the potential to mine and develop this demographic is boundless.

I'm reminded of Viola Davis's memorable quote during her acceptance speech at the 67th Emmy Awards, when she became the first African-American woman to win an Emmy for best lead actress in a drama: "The only thing that separates women of colour from anyone else is opportunity," she said between sniffles from fighting back tears.

While I haven't come across a similar survey focusing specifically on South Africa and black South African women, I think it's irrefutable that women make most of the purchasing decisions in households, and that despite black women being exposed to the least amount of opportunities, they wield hefty influence.

Boity Thulo's launch of her pharma company, Human Limitless, is unprecedented in the space that she occupies. Though her offering doesn't speak to me, it demonstrated innovativeness. It showed individualism and, importantly, what can be realised once you're afforded opportunity.

She is carving a different path for her career and it is inspiring. It's a moment as stirring as when Connie Masilo (now Ferguson) launched her eyewear range decades ago; she also became the first South African woman to launch her celebrity fragrance, True Self.

Almost two decades ago, Nkhensani Nkosi launched her iconic and award-winning Stoned Cherrie fashion label, and opened many doors for those who followed. She helped define what it is to be a fashionable black businesswoman, and influenced fashion and aesthetics.

In recent times Beyoncé became the first female soloist to headline Glastonbury Festival six years ago - and ranks as one of the best acts the Brits have witnessed on that stage.

From being the first black woman on the cover of Vogue France, Naomi Campbell was the magazine's first black woman to appear on the cover of its fabled September issue.

Halle Berry will forever be remembered for the 2002 Oscars, when she became the first African-American woman to win the best actress award, for Monster's Ball.

It would take another 15 years before Lena Waithe became the first African-American woman to win an Emmy for outstanding writing in a comedy series, for Master of None. Waithe happens to be lesbian (this is important when looked at from a representation point of view).

Two years ago Rihanna became the first black woman to front a Dior campaign - she also became the first black woman to accept Harvard University's Humanitarian of the Year award. Just this year she launched Fenty Beauty - a make-up and skin-care range for all skin colours.

It was almost surreal for me to learn of the struggles that black women have endured to access something as simple as the right shade of make-up for their skin colours and tones. Judging from the reaction from the cosmetics industry since its launch, Rihanna caught everybody unawares. However, it also gave the lie to those who have been underestimating the buying power and the influence of black women for decades.

So much of what celebrities and media personalities do influences what we onlookers do and aspire to. When other young women see the successes of the likes of Boity Thulo, Terry Pheto, Pearl Thusi, Caster Semenya, Carol Tshabalala, Lira, Bonang Matheba, Connie Ferguson, Khanyi Dhlomo and Carol Bouwer, it is a reminder that our mothers knelt so that we could stand on their backs and look over the barriers, so we could learn what lies on the other side. We need more examples of those who have leapt up from those backs and made it over those barriers.

Of course we should always celebrate one another's successes as South Africans - but the reason a win for a black woman feels and tastes and smells so much sweeter is because it's so rare and so inspiring.

Mentioning all these different black women and their breakthroughs and groundbreaking innovations and ideas is as emotional as it is stimulating. It reminds us that while there have been wins and great strides made, there are more rungs to be climbed - that there are more doors to be opened. It reminds us that we all come from diverse upbringings but possess remarkable gifts and dreams that wait to be tapped into.