If you stand at a comfortable distance, you’d think this here woman has no windows to her soul. But as you tip toe closer, you start to realise that one of those many windows to her soul have ten fingers and ten knuckles; and that in order to truly experience her, you’d have to see what she made with her hands, because somewhere in that magic, lies the beginning of her purpose.
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Malandiswe ‘Mala’ Mbatha is a creative, designer, brand specialist and marketeer, who’s deep seated passion lies in illustration, animation, digital and the love for making an impact using her hands. She’s also the author and illustrator of children’s affirmations book Just be Kids: Vele ube nje. The book teaches kids to be more confident, to know that they can take up space as they are and that it is okay to be themselves, just kids.
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KEENLY CURIOUS ABOUT MALANDISWE
Mala, the youngest of three girls, had a comfortable and happy childhood in the company of her parents and two “awesome” big sisters.
“We’re all very alike ekhaya (at home). Si phansi (we’re calm). No one is hyper or outgoing but they all have strong personalities. Personally, I grew up a shy child and kept to myself a lot. I’ve always been reserved, but being reserved seemed like such a taboo growing up. People would ask me why I was so quiet. Like everyone must be loud, hyperactive and forward and that just wasn’t me. So I used to think ‘oh my gosh, what is wrong with me. Why is everyone making me feel like I shouldn’t be like this.’ In many ways, my childhood paved the way for this place where I find myself with Just be kids,” she says.
USING ART AS REPRESENTATION: I loved drawing people who looked like me
Show us a creative who didn’t grow up creative and we’ll show you hundreds who did. Mala shares, “I’ve always been a creative child, I used to literally draw all the time. And I loved drawing people more than anything. I used to draw people [who] looked like me because I never used to see people like me anywhere else. So growing up I knew I had to do something creative, art, using my hands – that’s my passion. I wasn’t sure what exactly that was then.” Apparently the emerging author used to want to become a stay at home mom too!
Although Mala has a job, some might say she doesn’t work a day in her life. But only because of the popular saying about doing what you love. “Career wise I am on the track where I believe I’m doing what I wanted to do both with my 9 to 5 and my passion project. I’m an Advertising and Marketing officer by profession. I’m basically a brand manager. I make sure the brand makes sense visually.”
THE JOURNEY TO JUST BE KIDS: I just knew I love children
“I’ve always wanted to create a children’s book since I was a teen or in varsity, it’s always been something in my heart.” Despite that heartfelt desire, the inspiration to do it just wasn’t there for Mala for a while. “I just knew I love children, I want to do a children’s book and I love drawing and animation so I needed to figure out how I could put those together. But life happened and the spark just wasn’t there. But I tried, I really tried,” she adds.
That spark would come during a time when we all could’ve used some inspiration. “During the lockdown we were all working from home and I’d sit in the same study room with my sister doing work. And one day I was just like I want to do an affirmations book, but for kids.”
Even as an adult, Mala shares that she still needs a lot of affirming to get through life, and it was a major trend at the time but she drew from her childhood and shifted the focus to children.
“They need it so much because it shapes and moulds them as they grow older. My sister and I were toying with the idea to make a brand of it, complete with stationery and stuff. Growing up in South Africa I feel we don’t have a lot of stories of affirmation. There’s always so much negativity surrounding black South Africans and the way we either behave or raise children. I wanted to start from the bottom creating those stories. So I started creating drawings and illustrations, writing the affirmations out and I was like but this is the actual book that I wanted to do for so long. I started putting it together into a picture book and everything just flowed and came together.”
YOU CAN LEARN MORE ABOUT OR SHOP THE JUST BE KIDS AFFIRMATIONS BOOK HERE.
That same conversation in the study room also produced the name Just be kids, vele ube nje. Mala tells us, “We were talking and my sister said Just be kids and it stuck, just be yourself, it’s such a simple name. There is so much pressure and expectations placed on kids these days and I want to remind them to just be themselves and kids.”
JUST BE MALANDISWE: I’m learning not to be too hard on myself
Personally, those two years have been a challenging time for Mala, both positively and negatively. “I’ve had to do everything by myself and that forced me to get out of my shell, I’m a very reserved person. So I think the book and the process helps me because I’m my own brand ambassador and I’m trying to teach kids to be more confident and take up spaces as they are. And I’m trying to do that as I am and not force anything. I’m learning that this is all a journey and I can’t expect everything to happen at once. I’m learning that I need to enjoy and be in the moment, like getting this opportunity for an interview for this incredible magazine, I need to take that in and not always worry about what’s next. I’m just learning to not be too hard on myself. It’s a lot of learning that is involved with this process.”
WHAT IS YOUR PURPOSE IN LIFE?
“I believe my main purpose is to use my hands to make a difference, to change a life. I’m a huge believer in God and I believe He gave me this talent and gift so I can use it to serve a much bigger purpose. My partner is also a creative and the things we work on together are very much apart of that purpose.
I was a Sunday school teacher, I used to like going to daycare or kids’ homes when I had time, and I realise all these things were and are an expression of me. I have such a soft spot for kids and when I had my daughter, the spark grew. When I see all the things she’s missing out on as an African child, a black child, I always have to determine how I can play a part in changing that using my gift.”
Just be kids was officially published in 2022 after a lengthy two years. “It took almost 2 years to get through the whole process. It’s still a process, I’m still pushing to get the book to more bookstores both physical and digital.”
“Shy and quiet aren’t the same thing, and I was both at some point in my life. But as I grew older and out of my shell, I realised I’m quiet and reserved with a strong personality, I’m not afraid to express myself when I need to. I want to people to know that it’s okay to be the way you are and to, in return, use that as a form of expression.”
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BLACK DIAMONDS AFRICA JOINS type4girl AS A BASADI BOHLALE COLLABORATIVE FOUNDER
Black Diamonds Africa (BDA) is a Non-profit Organisation founded by Mantoa Madimabe that aims to empower young people and help them tap into their full potential through school visits and talks. The name is a celebration and appreciation of how life moulds young black children into icons and legends of the future.
BDA’s vision is to inspire the youth of our country to recognise their talents and harness their gifts, to help the disadvantaged youth not to be discouraged by their surroundings but instead be motivated by them.
WHAT IS BASADI BOHLALE?
BASADI BOHLALE IS AN INITIATIVE DESIGNED TO HELP ESTABLISH AND ACCELERATE THE DIGITAL VISIBILITY OF BLACK WOMEN/WOC PROFESSIONALS AND BLACK WOMEN-FOUNDED, OWNED OR LED ORGANISATIONS AND COMPANIES.
The purpose of Basadi Bohlale is to help women establish and accelerate the digital visibility and presence of their profiles, companies or organisations. This will be achieved primarily by significantly reducing the costs associated with having a blog or website developed or designed or getting a professional email.
WHAT IS A COLLABORATIVE FOUNDER?
Successful applicants will be referred to as Collaborative Founders (CFs).
The Basadi Bohlale Collaborative Founder is an individual who is dedicated or committed to, whether directly or indirectly, using their purpose, talent or time to further the empowerment or development of women.
Our CFs prioritise or seek to (in the future) prioritise the employment, workplace advocacy, education and entrepreneurial development of women through their brands, companies, (and/or it’s socially responsible projects) or organisations.