Tshepi Vundla, Tamara Dey & other celebs recreate old snaps of their moms

Tshepi Vundla's mother Mampo Vundla (left), Tshepi Vundla (right). Production: Sheena Bagshawe.
Tshepi Vundla's mother Mampo Vundla (left), Tshepi Vundla (right). Production: Sheena Bagshawe.
Image: Steve Tanchel

I have always found photographs of my mother as a young woman compelling. Who is that person? So familiar, yet so different to the consuming presence that is my mother. Emphasis on "my". Somehow our relationship is one of possession and an all- encompassing definition. She is a mother. The mother that is mine.

An existence before the time she became mine and I became hers has a slippery quality. Things somehow getting away from us. What did this woman who predates our relationship think? What did she aspire to? Who was she before she became my mother? How much of the person who existed in that fleeting snapshot of time past persists in the person she became? How much did the state of motherhood alter her personhood, or did it amplify and reinforce her being? She is a mystery.

In looking at the woman who became my mother I am looking at versions of this woman and by extension versions of myself as reflected in the relationship.

A conversation at a party with a lawyer who described her newly empty nest was illustrative. She said that when she first had these now absent children she was constantly caught off guard when they called her Mom. She kept on expecting her own mother to appear in response to the calls. Her own mother was "the mother". She was still the child, albeit unexpectedly caught up in this new role.

Now time has done its trick - she responds to the label, but has been cast into a new reality. A post-motherhood. Or an otherhood. A recent film on Netflix played with this idea. If you are no longer a mother in the hands-on manner you have become accustomed to, what defines you? What is this otherhood? Who is this woman when she is not defined purely by her biological imperative? And by extension, how have gender roles been redefined over the past few decades?

Inspired by this idea of otherhood, we borrowed photographs of mothers before they became mothers, or just as they entered the state of motherhood, then got their celebrity offspring to recreate the moment. We asked the subjects of these newly composed old portraits to grapple with these ideas, both with the benefit of hindsight and through the prism of time. It seems that by stepping into her frame we reimagine our own.

TSHEPI VUNDLA

Influencer, 28

Mother: Mampo Vundla

Age in the photo: 21

How do you feel stepping into her frame?

Pretty cool. My mom was a beauty queen growing up and I was very excited to do this.

What do you think the dreams and aspirations of the woman in the picture are?

She didn't want to have kids. She wanted to make her parents really proud and support them, so she entered beauty pageants to bring more money into the home - there were nine siblings. She always loved fashion - I have taken after her. We had such different backgrounds. She grew up in the township, I didn't. But we are very close and I followed in her footsteps.

Describe your mother in one sentence: She is a tough cookie.

Has motherhood changed your idea of who she is?

Being a mom has made our relationship better. I understand the sacrifices she made and she is super obsessed with my son.

How have gender roles changed since this picture was taken?

We can speak up for ourselves now in the relationship, in the workplace, we can change our mind and become something else. In her day you could only be a doctor, a nurse, a lawyer - now we have so many more options. I can stand up for myself. We don't need marriage to sanction things. I think my parents struggled and didn't understand my desire to be a creative, but now they do.

TATUM KESHWAR

Former Miss SA, 35

Mother: Roslyn Bengtson

Age in the photo: 21

Tatum Keshwar. Production: Sheena Bagshawe.
Tatum Keshwar. Production: Sheena Bagshawe.
Image: Steve Tanchel
Tatum Keshwar's mother Roslyn Bengtson. Production: Sheena Bagshawe.
Tatum Keshwar's mother Roslyn Bengtson. Production: Sheena Bagshawe.
Image: Steve Tanchel

How do you feel stepping into her frame?

It felt so nostalgic - looking at this picture, I feel it encapsulates the essence, everything I know her to be - girly, down to earth and sweet. That is the essence of my mom now.

What do you think the dreams and aspirations of the woman in the picture are?

I think that is what is amazing. When my mom was 20 she was scouted to be a model, but her life took her on a different path. I was afforded the opportunity that she couldn't take. I became a model and then Miss South Africa and that led to so many other opportunities. So even though she may not have been able to fulfil that dream, through me vicariously it was something that manifested in our lives.

Describe your mom.

My mother is the most gracious and selfless person I know. She is always there to help and support other people. The kindest heart who puts everyone before herself.

What have you learnt from your mother?

The most important thing I have learnt is that regardless of what is going on around you, to summon the highest and best version of yourself and always present that.

How has motherhood impacted on you?

I always knew I wanted to be a mother, but you never understand what it is until you are in that position. Now you understand what it is to be a mother. It heightens your dimension of being a woman. You understand what she had to go through, all the sacrifices she had to make. You have a deeper level of understanding and compassion for mothers and women in general.

How have gender roles changed since this picture was taken?

I think the essence of being a woman and a mother are by and large the same. There is the same level of dedication and sacrifice. But the world has changed so much. Family structure has changed, and the demands and expectations on women are much greater, but the levels of dedication and sacrifice are still there.

TAMARA DEY

Musician, 39

Mother: Susan Dey

Age in the photo: 20-something

Tamara Dey's mother Susan Dey (left), Tamara Dey (right). Production: Sheena Bagshawe.
Tamara Dey's mother Susan Dey (left), Tamara Dey (right). Production: Sheena Bagshawe.
Image: Steve Tanchel

How do you feel stepping into her frame?

I feel the energy of her innocence at the time. She is still on her way to becoming the woman she is going to become. So unaware of what is coming ahead. But she has a twinkle in her eye that I remember having at that age myself. There are so many possibilities. She looks a little bit shy but there is a strength there that you can already see.

What do you think the dreams of the woman in the picture are?

She was hugely passionate about music. She went on to study at Wits but her parents weren't too keen on her pursuing music so she got to live that dream vicariously through me. We have shared that together, but at that time she was discouraged. Music has been a big part of our lives and she passed that on to me. She wanted to travel. Although she looks sweet and shy in that picture she was actually very strong - she was an activist at Wits - and soon wanted to escape the constraints of apartheid SA so she became an air hostess to fly all over the world. I was born when she was living in Belgium.

How has motherhood changed you?

I just don't think I would have discovered what I am truly made of if I didn't have this experience - I don't think there is any other experience you can have that you grow that way so quickly. When you are young, everything is a first - the first kiss, first time you travel, first time you fall in love - but as you get older there comes a plateau; you run out of first times and then you have a kid and your soul starts growing again. Every day there is a first. Your soul is expanding at a rate that it hasn't in years. It's insane. There is nothing else like it.

Describe your mother.

Fearless fighter doing whatever she can to make things right in the world.

What have you learnt from your mother?

She taught me how to be brave and make brave choices. She lived by example so I have never stuck around in a horrible situation for long, because she always got out and that is how I have lived my life. I am a single mom and I never doubted I would be able to do it because of the way she is.

How have gender roles changed since this picture was taken?

We have come a long way since then. The difference between my mom at that age and myself is that I was encouraged to follow my dreams. There was a lot more freedom. I could forge my own way and not play by society's rules. She was quite restricted in that way and had to conform. She didn't like that, hence she jumped on an aeroplane and went to discover the world and came back with me.

MX BLOUSE

Musician, 32

Mother: Gwendolynne Zanele Mhlongo

Age in the photo: 22

MX Blouse's mother Gwendolynne Zanele Mhlongo (left), MX Blouse (right). Production: Sheena Bagshawe.
MX Blouse's mother Gwendolynne Zanele Mhlongo (left), MX Blouse (right). Production: Sheena Bagshawe.
Image: Steve Tanchel

How do you feel stepping into her frame?

My mom was at varsity in this picture and I was living with my grandmother at the time. She had me when she was 17. It's a bit weird - my mom passed away in 2003 so this shoot makes me feel in touch with her spirit. A lot of people tell me we look alike - twinsies. My sister is going to be very jealous.

What do you think the dreams and aspirations of the woman in the picture are?

In this picture she was fun-loving, carefree. She was always a single mother. My dad wasn't around. At the time I thought she was super old, but now it makes me think about how young she really was. I am 32 now. She was 34 when she passed away. When she was at varsity I only saw her on weekends and holidays. When she started working there was still that fun-loving person, but at the age of 30 she stopped going out completely, which is really how I feel now. I suppose we become our parents.

What have you learnt from your mother?

Everything I know I learnt from my mother. The cooking - between my mom and my grandmother. Movies - she loved movies: Death Becomes Her, Home Alone - we watched all the time and I still do. Music - Sade, Whitney Houston, Incognito, Jamiroquai - her taste was quite diverse. I like a lot of the same things that my mom liked. But above all it is strength, really. She was a single mom and later in life she got into an abusive relationship that I witnessed, but through all of that she came out on top. She was a very strong person and I would like to think that I am too.

If you could tell her one thing, what would it be?

I was 16 when she died. I would say thank you.

How have gender roles changed since this picture was taken?

If I told my mom that I identify as non-binary I don't think she would know what it means. I guess as a parent you know you have a weird child, not like other kids, but I doubt she would have had the vocabulary to understand what being non-binary is. So I think our understanding of gender has changed a lot. People are still learning. For me identifying as non-binary, sometimes I am willing to educate people, sometimes I am not. But I do think she would have tried to understand.

SIPHOKAZI VETI

Writer/Influencer, 26

Mother: Phila Veti

Age in the photo: 20

Siphokazi Veti's mother Phila Veti (left), Siphokazi Veti (right). Production: Sheena Bagshawe.
Siphokazi Veti's mother Phila Veti (left), Siphokazi Veti (right). Production: Sheena Bagshawe.
Image: Steve Tanchel

How do you feel stepping into her frame?

Proud, but also knowing her now I realise that these are big shoes to fill given the person she is and who she has been in our lives. It also makes me look forward to how much I can accomplish.

What do you think the dreams and aspirations of the woman in the picture are?

She wanted to be a teacher but she didn't pursue that dream as she started a family very early. She was happy to start a family as she didn't grow up with a family of her own in the traditional sense of word, so to be a homemaker made her happy.

Do you think motherhood is essential to womanhood?

No, I think each to their own. Every person must do what feels right to them. If you want a child you should have one, if you don't, don't.

What have you learnt from your mother?

I have learnt that my biggest superpower is knowing that I am enough, enough to accomplish my dreams, enough to take space and speak my truth all the time, enough to be exactly who I am meant to be without any fears - me, unapologetically.

How have gender roles changed since this picture was taken?

Women now are more fearless in becoming who they are, in making their own decisions and being present and mindful in their own bodies - a whole lot of fearlessness that we have adapted to over the years. It is very inspiring.

FAITH SEUOE

Celebrity makeup artist, 55

Mother: Maria Mankonono Seuoe

Age in the photo: Mid to late 20s

Faith Seuoe's mother Maria Mankonono Seuoe. Production: Sheena Bagshawe.
Faith Seuoe's mother Maria Mankonono Seuoe. Production: Sheena Bagshawe.
Image: Steve Tanchel
Faith Seuoe. Production: Sheena Bagshawe.
Faith Seuoe. Production: Sheena Bagshawe.
Image: Steve Tanchel

How do you feel stepping into her frame?

Nostalgic - mushy. I lost my mom three years ago and this is my favourite picture of her, so this is heart-warming.

What do you think the dreams and aspirations of the woman in the picture are?

That picture feels like the essence of her - that quiet strength and beauty. She is a woman full of zest for life - ambitious, but she always wanted to have a full life and that is how she lived. At 19 she was a qualified teacher and working and at 39 she went to do her first degree. When she retired she had a master's in education.

Describe her in one sentence.

Ballsy - she had chutzpah.

What have you learnt from your mother?

Go after what you want, and always be kind.

What would you say to her?

I think what I would say is that my mom was before her time. I feel like I am walking in her footsteps, very much so. Since her passing my family has shoved me into her place so the way my family looks at me (I look like her) I get calls asking for advice. It seems I have become what my mother was in my family. It is a little bit scary but also flattering because I thought so highly of her - her character, her strength and her wisdom. This caught me a little bit.


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