“Live a life of breaking records” is something my grandma uNomasonto Tshabalala always said to me. At the end of her life, when I was 20, she also said: “You’ve already broken so many records.” These words stay dear to me because I believe they helped me define what success looks like for me and that no matter what I do or say that I have already done big things by just being me. In a town like Standerton, where there wasn’t much to aspire to, they encouraged me to look around and see what I could do differently from the things I was interested in — and not only that, but to do them with a lot of courage. We can all change the world but it starts with the individual, the person who wants to see things differently.


Arts & Entertainment


Mam'Gobozi Design Factory

Nontokozo Tshabalala, 29, is an award-winning multidisciplinary artist, poet, Afrofuturist, designer and co-founder of the Mam’Gobozi Design Factory. She says the core of what she does looks at navigating the world as a black South African woman and, more importantly, it’s about creating endless possibilities within and beyond that context. Nontokozo holds a BA in graphic design from the University of Johannesburg and a master’s in design from the University of Gothenburg, Sweden. Among her awards are the upcoming 2023 Röda Sten Konsthall exhibition (Sweden); exhibiting at the 2021 Göteborg International Biennial for Contemporary Art (GIBCA) Extended (Sweden); and winning the 2021 Loeries Young Creative Award. Nontokozo says she had the privilege of being raised by her grandmother, uNomasonto Tshabalala, who always affirmed her. Nontokozo says her grandmother told her to “live a life of breaking records”. These words encouraged her to look around and see what she could do differently from the things she was interested in — and to do them with a lot of courage. In 2019, Nontokozo  developed Creative Joint Session: Creatives Shall Govern, an empowering initiative aimed at creating a space where artists can meet to discuss the different fields they are all in and to share what being a creative from a small town means. She hopes for a safe and stable South Africa where its people can dream — and actualise their dreams. “We can all change the world but it starts with the individual, the person who wants to see things differently.” 

  • HDK Academy of Design and Crafts: MFA (master’s) Programme in Design. The thesis project was called Melanin Spaces: A Space Occupation Project Targeting Spaces of Exclusion Within the City Centre of Gothenburg, Sweden. Graduated in 2020.
  • BA in Communication Design (graphic design). My course included critical thinking for solving communication problems through working with graphics. Graduated in 2017 with honours.
  • Six-months exchange programme in web design, visual graphic design, art history, and photography, January to May 2015, Dominican University of California, San Rafael, United States

  • Röda Sten Konsthall art gallery in Sweden), exhibitor (2023).
  • The Loeries Young Creative Award (2021)
  • Gothenburg International Biennial of Contemporary Art (extended), exhibitor (2020)  
  • D&AD Wooden Pencil (2019)
  • Reclaim Pride Göteborg, group exhibition at Världskulturmuseerna (World Culture Museum) (2019)
  • Swedish Institute; Diploma Ceremony Student Representative Speech (2020)
  • Creative Circle Annual Awards, third prize: Brand Identity & Collateral design (2020)
  • Loeries Official Ranking 2019: 12th Illustrator (2019)  Loeries: Finalist in Category Design: Logo’s (2019)  Swedish Institute Scholarship for South Africans (2018)  Pendoring, Gold Pendoring: Brand Identity & Collateral Design (2019)
  • Opening (singing) performance for the faculty of design, arts and crafts, HDK Gothenburg University,  (2019)
  • Loeries Official Ranking 2018: 16th Design, Communication Design (2018)
  • FCB South Africa 1/2 Graduate sent to One Show “Minds Wide Open” Bootcamp, Chicago, US (2017)
  • Between 10and5; Fresh meat feature (2017)
  • University of Johannesburg, Best of Show Honours exhibition (2016)
  • Facebook Africa: Facebook Hack For Good Winners (2016)
  • University of Johannesburg: An International Student exchange programme to the US (2015)

I was a bit of a star child so there are many (lol) however one I have been reflecting on lately was my grandma shouting “Run baby, run!” on the sidelines of my first hockey match with my grandpa holding my nephew in his arms standing under a small tree. This was after I was dropped by the netball team because I was too short. I was determined to be the best and play with the best even if it meant learning a whole new sport at 16 (which was considered somewhat too late).

I had the privilege of being raised by a grandma who always affirmed me even when I was doing weird things like dissecting a rat in my teens in her prayer room or choosing art and her looking for any sign of Jesus on the walls of my art school. She always said, what’s important is knowing who you are and what you want then life will follow you. I’d preach that over again. But also, the other piece of advice would be to question everything, especially history being taught in a small racist town.

There’s a lot I wish could be changed (and I have ideas for days) but at the core of it would be a country that values and invests in the life of the black majority. A safe and stable South Africa where its people are able to dream and actualise their dreams. We have gone way past figuring things out. At this point it is time to make drastic changes for the betterment of our people. I believe that truly investing in the youth of this country will turn things around. I do not mean simply throwing money at each problem but actually building sustainable infrastructures that will support the curiosities and ambitions of young people. I reflect from the perspective of my small hometown of Standerton where I see so many talented young people, who do not have a clear idea of what they wish to pursue or maybe can’t even afford to, but know they want better. Bringing in a space where they can research their interests, experience new ways of expressing their creativity, and develop their skills in a “no pressure” way would make a big difference in how they see themselves and their capabilities beyond circumstances. It will allow them to dream and there’s nothing more powerful than someone with a dream and the drive to see it through.

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