A former television producer, Ms Nandi Dlepu is the Founder of Mamakashaka – the agency responsible for some of Jo’burg (and South Africa’s) hippest gatherings centered around music, film, fashion, design and women. Her event properties – Pantone Sundays, Feel Good Series, Film Noire, Umi and Bloom – each breathe life into the different cavities of Jozi’s creative lungs, while remaining unfailingly hip. She spoke to Mr Siphiwe Mpye about platonic love, setting her son’s teacher straight, her evolving sexuality and entrepreneurial alignment.
NM: In a sentence, who is Nandi Dlepu?
ND: A black, adult-ish female and mother trying her best to live her life creatively, fully and in service to something bigger than herself.
NM: What is your interpretation of ‘Ungovernable’?
ND: Unrestricted, maybe even a little unruly erring on the side of disruption maybe even just for the sake of disruption.
NM: When was the first time you realised you were a girl and what that means in this world?
ND: When I thought I didn’t want to be one, which was pre-teen. I’m not sure what was going on at the time but I distinctly recall a period where I wondered about a sex change and thought ‘what if I were born a man’ or ‘what am I?’ and ‘were these parts incorrectly assigned?’ I think consciously and sub-consciously, I took in all the ways masculinity was elevated and femininity diminished quite hard, and rejected myself some. As a teen I relished being identified as ‘one of the guys’ rather than ‘one of the girls.’
“I think consciously and sub-consciously, I took in all the ways masculinity was elevated and femininity diminished quite hard, and rejected myself some. As a teen I relished being identified as ‘one of the guys’ rather than ‘one of the girls.’”
NM: Who are the three most pivotal people in your life and why?
ND: My mom, she is the first living example I have of pretty much everything so her approval and acceptance are important to me. Her blessings not so much, I’ve never enjoyed asking for permission. My son, he is the final filter that everything I do eventually runs past. Making him happy fulfills me, as a parent I don’t believe there should be anything to detract from the commitment I have made to nurture him. Myself – I am important to me, which is quite a statement because I have recently recognised how unloving I have been to myself. There’s a universe inside of me that I’m revisiting and nurturing.
NM: Our sibling brand Imbawula is running a series called ‘Love in the time of Social Distancing’ and I am wondering how your love levels are doing in this time?
ND: My capacity to feel – and thus love – has increased noticeably in the last year or so. I’ve fostered some intentional and healthy friendships where I have felt safe enough to feel and express love, and that hasn’t changed with social distancing.
NM: In a world intent on destroying women, self-care has been a go to saviour for many. What does your routine look like?
ND: More like a way of life, I prioritise sisterhood. Being around women is healing for me, exploring my femininity and sexuality have recently taken center stage in my becoming. What does femininity mean to me, what does it look like, feel like and how is it expressed? Then sexually, that started with some biology. Trying to truly understand my body, knowing its parts, calling them by their correct names and sexually, well thats been exploring myself etc and not in the context of pleasing someone else. It also struck me the other day that if my vulva was in a lineup, I don’t think, no, I know I wouldn’t be able to pick it out. Funny but unsettling. So I’m actively engaged in exploring, understanding and accepting myself.
“Being around women is healing for me, exploring my femininity and sexuality have recently taken center stage in my becoming. What does femininity mean to me, what does it look like, feel like and how is it expressed?”
NM: Tell us about a time you had to intervene in your son’s understanding of sex or gender?
ND: While my son was in pre-school, my son wouldn’t take something that was in pink or red and said his teacher said that was a girls color. I had polite words with the teacher around not perpetuating gender stereotypes on impressionable minds.
NM: What is the hardest thing about platonic relationships with men?
ND: Nothing. There used to be a specific consideration or moment, when he, me, sometimes both, have considered ‘we’re so good together, could there be more or should we be more?’ This is no longer exclusive to my male relationships.
NM: How close to your original entrepreneurship plans have you stayed in execution and why?
ND: Very close actually. I set out to focus on my brands, taking the time to figure myself and the business out and make money while doing so. I’ve honestly been deep in thought about my vision and purpose for the past 2 years. Largely because I am privy to very few businesses that do what I want to do so the journey to accurately and confidently defining myself is taking time.
NM: We all know that just living, as a woman, a black woman, is hard enough, where does this hardship present themselves at their most acutely while running a business?
ND: Andazi (I don’t know), honestly. Abnormal behavior in an abnormal world feels normal, so I’m sure there’s plenty I go through that I am unaware of, because I’ve shelved it under ‘normal’. I have to sit long and hard to identify them. That, in and of itself is pretty fucky, don’t you think?