living her dream

Photographer and writer Thobeka Ndabula is on cloud nine. Since the launch of her book, Epainette Nomaka Mbeki: A Humble Journey On Her Footprints, on International Women's Day, Ndabula, 33, has not stopped smiling.

"I am living my dream," she says.

Inspired by MaMbeki's commitment to community upliftment, particularly her village at Ngcingwane in Eastern Cape, and her faith in self-help projects, Ndabula saw it fit that a story highlighting MaMbeki's work be shared with the rest of the world.

And in 2006 Ndabula, a passionate photographer whose work has been published in several publications, including The Star and Sowetan, started putting together MaMbeki's ibnteresting story in pictures.

Three years later, and after enduring hardships, her book, co-written with City Press Editor-in-chief Mathatha Tsedu, became reality.

The book, which has been well-received, and about to hit the book stores in a week's time, features MaMbeki's biography and the rare interviews she has done in the past. Pictures of MaMbeki celebrating her 92nd birthday with her family and community members also feature prominently in the book.

But it is her giving spirit and commitment to her community that continues to inspire Ndabula.

Q: MaMbeki is hailed as an unsung heroine in the Eastern Cape, what was your experience of her?

A: My first meeting with umama humbled me. When I told her of my idea her response was "go and talk to the community first". She gave me a list of women she worked with and promised to talk to me afterwards. She didn't want to blow her own trumpet, that to me said a lot about the kind of woman she is. She is truly a remarkable woman and an inspiration to other women.

Q: How did you get the project off the ground?

A: When I started I had no funds. I relied solely on my salary as I was still employed and that of course was not enough because I had other debts prior to the project. I financed the project from 2006 until this year February when sponsors came on board.

"I remember when I went to Eastern Cape for the first time I did not have money for accommodation. I told myself that I was going to sleep in the car and refresh at a garage. What was important to me was my meeting with umama. Luckily a friend called and arranged accommodation for me.

Q: What challenges did you encounter?

A: It was mostly finance. I sacrificed a lot for the project. There was a time I didn't have electricity for three months but I persevered because I was so determined to see the project through.

Q: Were there times when you felt like giving up?

A: Oh yes, many times, especially when most of the sponsors who had promised to give me money disappeared and I had run out of ideas to get finance. Amazingly my friends believed in me and supported me during those trying times.

Q: What was the highlight of the project?

A: The actual launch of the book and the presence of very important people, including the president, first lady Zanele Mbeki, deputy president Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Essop Pahad, Thoko Didiza, my friends, my mother and the women who entertained guests who came all the way from the Eastern Cape - all made possible by Eastern Cape premier Nosimo Balindlela. I'm also excited that the book will be relaunched in the Eastern Cape in July.

Q: What lesson did you draw from the project?

A: It is very important to have a vision and remain focused on it. Problems will always be there and negative people will always be there.

Q: What advice would you give to aspirant women photographers wishing to follow in your footsteps?

A: Firstly, I would like to see more women getting into photography. I would also encourage women photographers to believe in themselves.