By Vangile Gantsho (@Vangi22)
Forget the hype, be gentle with yourselves. Push hard, focus and be, because you are the descendent of excellence.
In a world of fast cars, disposable income and The Real Housewives of Johannesburg, so many of us think that we should be living our perfect lives by the age of 25. Sadly, the reality is that this is not very likely for most of us, and that’s ok. If you are to matriculate at the average age of 18 and graduate at 22 (because very few people actually finish their three year qualifications in three years), it is very unlikely that you will find your dream job and be promoted to CEO, or start your own company and become a millionaire by 25. Then there’s the getting married and having children bit!
Before we get into this properly, however, let’s put it all into perspective. According the 2011 census, in South Africa 72.6% of white males, 56.1% of white females, 42.8% of black males and only 30.8% of black females are employed. (You should note that the census defines an employed person as anyone who “performed at least one hour of economic work during the week before the survey interview” so these figures are not necessarily the most accurate reflection of unemployment in the country but they paint a picture.)
In a country where the vast majority of young black women will not get an effective education or find sustainable employment, take a moment to understand what it means to be a black female, to graduate and to get a nine to five. Then consider that half of those women working a nine to five have to contribute to their homes (as well as their own personal households) in some way, because black women do not become success stories by walking alone. They often run on the shoulders of entire communities and are the products of unending sacrifices. This means that if you are able to work and spend all your money on just yourself, you are an exceptionally privileged black woman.
In every class of whatever year there will be that one person who seems to be running faster than everyone else, but the average young woman often finds it very difficult to strike a balance between ambition, reality and contentment. Even more so if we choose to chalenge the status quo. We are taught to follow a conventional route to ‘success’, are given some unattainable checklist and unrealistic time frames within which to check it. So after a few years of working, we find ourselves with a car or a house (depending on our priorities) but without a husband and/or children, or even a boyfriend (because relationships take work and we’ve spent all our time working on our careers). Then we assume that we are lagging behind and are no longer able to appreciate what we have achieved.
On the eve of my tenth anniversary in the industry, I still find myself frustrated by the pace of my progress, but I have learned to celebrate the ground work. I know now that as good as I thought I was five years ago, I am better now. My work has, to some degree, transcended ego and I am able to take critique and embrace growth. I have met and been validated by my heroes, mentored by the legend Dr Don Mattera, and know that whatever I put out into the Universe will make me proud for many years to come. I have defined success according to Vangi, set strict goal posts and I’m able to push and congratulate myself accordingly.
There are many lists of exceptional young people, but the most credible ones, that celebrate excellence versus screen time, acknowledge that excellence takes time. For example, the Forbes List of 20 Youngest Power Women in Africa celebrates exceptional women under the age of 45 who have made ground breaking contributions to their industries. We celebrate Bonang Matheba (because what she has achieved is admirable) but we also acknowledge that by the time she gets to Khanyi Dhlomo’s age, she will be phenomenal. As is Dhlomo.
Black women are faced with many challenges that make it difficult for them to move as fast as everyone else, but the tenacity of the black woman legacy is unparalleled. From Queen Modjadji to Lilian Ngoyi, Basetsane Khumalo to Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma,black women are designed for greatness. It is in our bloodline! But it takes hard work and balance. Forget the hype, be gentle with yourselves. Push hard, focus and be, because you are the descendent of excellence.
Vangi Gantsho is a poet, first and foremost. She is a firm believer in Africans telling African stories and has shared her stories on various platform in South Africa and abroad. Her voice is that of Black Woman, because that is the only truth she knows.