Be careful of what you wish for...

“Pinyana ga e re ping, e a bo e utlwile tse di kgolo di re pong”, is a Setswana proverb that means when a child speaks/does, it is from seeing or hearing it from a parent/elder. As a young girl, I had always wished to look like my mother, I was in awe of her and admired everything she did and said. She was so beautiful and had the most charming smile, tall and graceful, with a fluffy thick afro and a much fairer skin to mine. Scrawny dark little me could only dream of looking like her. I even wished for her peculiar idiosyncrasies, like how she chewed and the nasal noises she made when she woke up, scratching her throat. My middle sister was constantly complimented of looking like my mother, she had most of her features, she even made the same nasal noises in the morning. My eldest sister is affectionate and charming like my mother, so naturally she would also be compared to her as well. I was never similarly complimented, but rather my mother was unabashedly asked, “..oh! and this one, is she also you daughter?”, my mother would beam out a proudly, “Yes!”, while affectionately embracing me. I felt comforted, like I also belonged, proud of having such a beautiful loving mother who thought the world of me. “umama sisikhukukazi”, is a Xhosa Idiom which literally means a mother is a hen, it protects it’s chicks against predators by hiding them under it’s wings. This Idiom best describes my mother’s affection to us her children.

It is disparaging nowadays how African society, especially traditional living, is regarded as a patriarchial social system and it is challenged with movements like feminism. ln our African ancient villages a woman was always regarded spiritually superior to a man and her spiritual influence was greatly revered. The role our mothers have played in building strong African homes, communities and kingdoms is too great to quantify. Their nurturing nature has endured them to compassionately working tirelessly and selflessly for their families and communities. Mothers are clothed with natural beauty, kindness, humanity, love and empathy. Submissive, in what sense? Some of our greatest leaders, philosophers and strategists where women. The late great Zulu sanusi, Credo Mutwa, explained that in ancient African homes “Man and Woman lived in harmony together”, there was no one greater than the other, they both contributed equally to the family and community at large. The cattle rearing man and the grain planting woman depended equally on each other, and had their different responsibilities and roles. The womens blessing in decisions have always been important in African life, a father was not allowed to discipline a child without consulting the mother, even the King would take counsel with the women first before marching onto the battlefield. As much as fathers/men went out to fight, hunt and trade, sometimes for years, the women stayed behind to ensure that the families, crops and herds were taken care of.

There are quite a lot of women that inspire me in many ways, some famous and some ordinary. Women like the famous Zulu queen mother Nandi, what stands out the most for me is, how against all odds, she was able to raise his son Shaka Zulu to be such a strong and powerful leader. She ensured that despite the demeaning circumstances that his son was born in, it did not define him or his future. She affirmed in him that his lineage was regal and great, and that through discipline and hard work he would also become one of the legendary Kings. Queen Mothers played a pivotal leadership role in the kingdoms, they were chief advisors to the King and royal counsel, oversaw the social and health conditions of the community and unifying women to work together. Queen Anna Nzinga of Ndongo/Mutamba (Angola) was a great Military leader, who transformed her Kingdom/Queendom into a mighty economic power, fought against slave trade and resisted the Portuguese invasions. She was an intelligent great leader, whose passionate love for her people and land was brave enough to lead her soldiers to war.

I would be doing a great injustice by not including Queen mother Nana Yaa Asentewaa of Ghana, a skilfull farmer, a very passionate leader who was the commander in chief of the Asante Army in the 1900s during the famous War of the Golden Stool (Anglo-Asante War). I admire how despite her royal standing she never stopped her passion of farming and feeding her people, how she was never too busy and always accessible as a mother to her children, and how, through the worst times of the war, she never gave up on her Asante people……

Queen Yaa Asentawaa


I am blessed to have been raised by a selfless and compassionate mother, who helped shaped me to be the kind of a mother and women I am today. She taught me that ubuntu is far more valuable than wealth, that through unity a lot can be achieved. She taught us that when you are blessed to have more it should be a blessing to share with those that do not have, that if you have the ability to be there for someone, be there selflessly regardless of how close or far they are. She emphasized that we should keep the spirit of being African inside of us, ubuntu as the basics of being human, no matter what the mordern and western world would teach us. “Umuntu ngubuntu nagbantu” (a person is a person through other people) she would say. That in everything big or small we should always give thanks, to never forget that we have a lot to be thankful for. She instilled good posture and confidence in us by always reminding us, “..no matter what you’re going through, walk with confidence, chest out, stomach in, chin up and smile.” Although we lost her when I was really young, in my early 20’s, her words, her teachings and the life she lived, will forever live and walk with me all the days of my life.

I have also been blessed, through mariage, to be welcomed as a daughter and not a ‘daughter-in-law’ by another great woman of virtue, my husband’s mother. Although she never replaced my mother she sure filled the gap of that selfless loving that only a mother can fill. My mother-in-law believed that no one is superior to another, she treated everyone affectionately, rich or poor, and made them feel special. Persistently reminding me that we are all equal in God’s eyes and He loves us the same. Whenever we were going through difficult times and feeling like everything was turned against us she would invite me to come for a chat over strong tea. Basking under the hot Mahikeng sun, drinking hot tea with hot milk, she would say, “…ngwanake what you are going through is not a mistake and it will not last forever. Have you not prayed and spoke to God to intervene? If this does not happen to you, who’s child should it happen to? It is your cup to drink and a solution will be provided to you. Now stop worrying and doubting God and just enjoy life.” She did indeed enjoy her life to its fullest, sharing it with her beloved family and friends. One day I will also be a mother-in-law, and through her actions, kindness, love and teachings, I hope to be a loving mother to whomever my sons choose and be able to have conversations like these with my ‘daughters’. maz’ebelelide lokwanyisa umntana engaphesheya komlambo another Xhosa Idiom that means a mother’s breast is long it can feed a baby on the other side of the river. A mother’s love knows no boundaries. My mother in law was able to extend her love and affection not only to her children but all children she encountered, including me and my siblings.

Today (28 May 2020) marks twelve years since my mom took her last breath on this earth, hence I am reflecting on my role as a mother to my boys and to my nieces.  What impact have I made in their lives that will live with them and inspire them. If I were to take my last breath now, God forbid, have I fulfilled my duties to them as their mother, have they felt that selfless sacred motherly love, have i taught through actions the importance of a mother at home and in the community? As an African woman you are a mother to all children around you, it is our blessed duty to constantly affirm positivity into them and love them unconditionally.To teach them about our victories and struggles as a people, our rich tribal history of great kings and queens, ubuntu-the essence of being African, about God, the Great Spirit, creator of all. We need to live these teachings for our children to learn and it becomes ingrained in their lives to have a more confident, more knowledgeable, more united and loving future generation.

I am blessed to have stored in my mind and a heart a lifetime of wisdom from both my mothers, especially the way they lived their lives. It is uncanny how both my mothers, though they never met, had so many things in common.They were both cultured refined ladys and loved beautiful things, good food and looking pretty, every morning (even when not going anywhere) they would wake up early, bath and elegantly dress up. They believed the beauty of feeling good is in looking good. If you are feeling beautiful about yourself you are confident to take on any challenge. 

My mother will forever live through me and my sisters and it fills me up with so much pride and joy whenever I hear my father say, “..haai MaThenji, awufani qha noMama wakho, umfuze wagqithisa. Naye waye qumba ngalendlela oqumbe ngayo..” (you don’t only look like your mother, you even have her mannerism, you even sulk like her). Sometimes when we are just chatting with my siblings they would pause mid-conversation and look at me surprised, “..yho! umama would have said exactly that or umama used to do that all the time”. At my mother’s home, I have inherited my mother’s name, due to how similar I resemble my mother, so much is the resemblance that in the first five years after my mother passed uMakazi (my aunt) used to cry every time she saw me. All those features and mannerisms I wished i had as a child from my mother I have inherited, I have her smile, her posture, her hair, maybe not her fairer complexion or her thick bushy eyebrows but that’s okay, I have more than enough. I am my mother’s daughter.


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17 Comments

  1. Thank you so much sis Thenjiswa for this particular post, a week and a half from now, my late mother would be turning 68 .I lost my mother due to alcoholism at 11. Not knowing or being raised by her, this post hit home in so many ways, it also healed me in a way for me to help forgive her for not being the mother I needed.

    I’ve had to overcome a million more setbacks without her I constantly as myself if I’ve made her proud at my age, with the independence I’ve managed to achieve, our birthdays are 7 days apart she’s on the 24th and I’m on the 30th. This post has soothed me somehow . Thank you, you’re a brilliant writer. I loved most of the posts here.

    Lots of love💜💜💜

  2. Such an inspirational read. I almost shed a tear while reading because of how I could relate to the way you describe your mother which resembles my very own mother. The truth is, mothers were the pillars of many homes in olden days. And women, to this day and age, are still pivotal in building homes.
    Thank you for this piece sisi. Keep on bringing us more of your thought provoking stories.

  3. Wow this is a powerful lesson on how we as African have always had a culture of caring and giving to other people regardless of their background. It reminds me a lot about how we grew up as well. Mothers are really the pillars and great leaders in our history. We need to take up those places in society, lead, love and pour out our best to those around us.

  4. Beautiful memories and powerful reflection. You vividly shared your aspiration of motherhood through your mother and learned a lot. Your compliments to both women who influenced is a continued tradition we often reflect when our loved one passed on. It’s a beautiful reminder to ourselves that they left a great influence or pieces of themselves somewhere.

    My mother passed away 24 years ago, luckily she had her father then, my aunts who resembled her, but I too was a reminder to them of her since I was like her, just fairer. My daughter was the born 8 years, who resembled both of us, she’s my almost daily reminder if her, her strength, intelligence, outspoken and laughter. We have good and beautiful memories and reminders of our loved once.

    Another take cutting deeper on my next reflection is extending my fatherhood far more to my nieces and nephews. I have been a father and brother to my cousins but not my nieces and nephews.

    Thank you.

    1. Thank you Thami, I am blessed indeed to have experience love from both. It warms my heart to know that there are people who relate and reflect.

  5. Manjilo Sigaya Phutha Mzwelanga👏🏼👏🏼 beautiful.

    To be a mother and to have a mother is truly a blessing.

  6. This is a beautiful beautiful piece.MamagaThenji was ‘camera ready’.I had a colleague that used to say to me,I have to be camera ready because you never know when you will be interviewed.
    Im happy for you Skwiza that as you are like MamagaThenji,you will also plant a good seed in your family and in the community.Mama is looking over you proudly and telling others that,that is my beloved daughter,continue making her proud and be a light always.
    You are blessed to have mmatsale oo lerato,learn your lessons from her also.

    Nna i am like my mom also,the figure and legs.I used to say to my hubby,pointing at my self,”wa bona from here downwards,I’m my mother”.Then he would sayt” It is wrong to tell me that,what should I do next time I meet your mom?”haaaahhhaaa

    I know your smile,it is beautiful and oozes out positive energy.
    Wishing you more peace,love and wealth Skwizasam.

    1. Thank you so much Skwiza, hahaha why would you traumitized hubby like that le wena? Thank you for the well wished, appreciated! I have indeed taken the lesson and hold it dear to my heart.

  7. O’ this is beautful. Left me chuckling and teary as it drew to the end. Ukuba uMama . . .

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