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Editor's letter: The Power of Women

Emmanuel Tjiya S Mag Editor-in-chief
Emmanuel Tjiya is the editor-in-chief of Sowetan S Mag.
Emmanuel Tjiya is the editor-in-chief of Sowetan S Mag.
Image: Steve Tanchel

“Love liberates. It doesn’t just hold — that’s ego.” That is one of my favourite Maya Angelou quotes, which I first heard in 2013 when I was in a dark place in my life.

It was during a segment of her Master Class on Oprah’s OWN network. She wasn’t referring to romantic companionship, but rather to how her mother’s unconditional love had liberated her to live her best life and find her place in the world. 

Those words have always stayed with me, and resonated with the love I get from my mother, Elizabeth Tjiya.

Her power is to love and, much like Angelou’s mom, she released me to be of value in the world. Even when I felt like I disappointed her, she never made me feel it. When I acted a fool, she shielded me. She freed me to be the best version of myself and be unapologetic about my individuality.

My mother is ferocious, a typical Pedi woman. Loud, outspoken, and smart with a flair for dark humour. She often holds a deadpan expression. She doesn’t take nonsense from anyone — call her the dragon lady, if you want. When she walks into a room she commands attention. I’ve never seen self-doubt in her. She doesn’t seek validation from anyone and has this quiet confidence that I admire. The BDE that Shingai Darangwa writes about in this issue, that’s her. She can solve any problem as fast as a calculator. She’s a leader in her community. She has impeccable taste and style. She is my mother and my biggest influence.

The second woman who had the biggest impact on my life is my late grandmother Maiti Johanna Maupa. I got to spend a lot of time with her when I was in grade 2. It was a very lonely and confusing time in my life. My mother had answered her ancestral calling and disappeared for a lengthy period. My grandmother moved into my mother’s matrimonial home to take care of me. She was the opposite of her firstborn, my mother. She was more subdued in her approach to life. Her power was grace. She was like a swan — the most gracious bird, but underneath the water puddling up a storm. Everyone remembers her as sweet, but not meek. She had a sweet tooth and loved condensed milk, which, of course, I’d steal as a naughty kid. She was good with her hands, very artistic, and always creating patterns. But what I found fascinating was her eye for photography. She couldn’t read, but she would page through all the fashion glossies in my house, spend copious time with each page, and describe each abstract detail of photography through her own lens. She is my grandmother and she taught me grace. 

One of my oldest friends is Dineo Mashegoana. We met in crèche. She has always been highly opinionated about everything. Her power is her sharp tongue. She is charming and extroverted, and possesses people skills. She has no fear of confrontation, is very forthcoming, and has good communication skills. If she doesn’t like something, she doesn’t bottle it inside. She is always laughing, so every minute spent with her is filled with zero drama and many lighthearted moments. She’s my day one and she taught me to always have my voice heard. 

High school was not the best time of my life, and I’d rather forget about it. But my friend Boitumelo Mokwana got me through it. In high school I was shy, reserved, and awkward. I was the “weirdo”. But in grade 8 I befriended the most popular girl in school. It made no sense to me. She was comfortable in her skin, sexy, and rocked a mini skirt. She drove the boys crazy. But she had time for me. She believed in my dope before I could see it. Her power is in uplifting others. She told everyone who would listen that I was dope. Even today, she still finds time to uplift me and make my day with random texts about how dope I am. She’s my high-school BFF and she got me through it.

After high school, I moved to the City of Gold. In the first year of journalism school, I met this feisty young woman who I found incredibly rude, but I liked it. Lindiwe Mpama was from Meadowlands, Soweto. She went under the alias Shaquita. She told it like it was and didn’t mince her words. Her favourite line was: “I’m the best thing since sliced bread.” She intimidated the students and lecturers, but she didn’t care. She took me out of my shell. She had a wild streak that a villager like me found exciting. Her power is in giving zero f*cks. She taught me everything naughty that “bomma” (my mother) told me was bad and warned me about in Jozi. She reshaped my identity and helped me redesign myself. We loved being rebellious and othered. She is Shaquita and she released my wild side. 

My best friend, Londiwe Dlomo, taught me compassion and empathy on a deeper level. It’s because of her that I understand and protect my mental health. She doesn’t shy away from calling out problematic behaviour. She calls me out on my BS. She fights for equality and the rights of minorities. Her power is her activism. We have navigated our late 20s and early 30s together. She has held my hand every step of the way. She’s very dramatic and her heroes are Diana Ross, Solange Knowles, and Diahann Carroll. Go figure! She is the most intelligent and well-read person I’ve ever met. I learn something new from her every day. She’s my best friend and she made me woke.

Great leaders listen, and that’s what Sowetan editor Nwabisa Makunga has instilled in me. She has pushed and supported me to greatness. No matter how ambitious or ridiculous my ideas, she always has time to lend me an ear. She makes me feel seen and valued. She taught me you can’t be everything to everyone, otherwise you end up being a nobody. It became a turning point in my career. She’s a great leader and this is me launching a campaign to get a bonus. Kidding! No, really!

Other resilient women who have empowered me in the newsroom through different styles of leadership are Mapula Nkosi, Lebogang Le Kay, and Thembela Khamango. 

Our inaugural Women of the Year issue honours the varied layers of female power and strength, which cannot be boxed or defined as one-dimensional. Our Women of the Year honourees, ranging from Lamiez Holworthy to Dr Tlaleng Mofokeng and Tshiamo Modisane, are testament to this. You are the superwoman you think you are!​