I know the future of our continent is in safe hands with non-conformists like Amonge Sinxoto leading the African narrative.
“I want to see every type of black girl; black guy narrative being told. I want the world to understand that it’s not a singular thing. I am not an embodiment of Africa and neither is anyone,” says the co-founder of non-profit organisation and platform Blackboard Africa at the start of our interview.
When I first learned that I was interviewing the 17-year old businesswoman, I was not prepared for the inspiration that was to come. Notwithstanding the accolades, Amonge has collected in her brief time as co-founder of Blackboard Africa, she forges ahead with being the voice for young thought leaders, finding new ways to grapple Africa’s complex challenges, from beauty, identity, history, capitalism and African politics, one conversation at a time. Be it at Howard University, at a Google conference in Dublin or at a township community hall.
In matric, her final year of high school, Amonge has recently been accepted at the African Leadership Academy for a two-year programme, which focuses on African and entrepreneur studies. She talks about her journey so far.
HOW DID THE IDEA OF BLACKBOARD AFRICA COME ABOUT? WHAT ARE YOU TRYING TO ACHIEVE AND COMMUNICATE THROUGH THE ORGANISATION? Co-founder Zingisa Sixonte and myself grew up in very model C environments and we came to realise that a lot of people were losing touch with what made them African. These environments wanted us to be Eurocentric and western carbon copies, which was obviously a major issue for us, and resulted in the birth of Blackboard Africa. The organisation is about creating, moulding and shaping leaders.
YOU WORK CLOSELY WITH YOUR MOM AND COUSIN ZINGISA ON BLACKBOARD, WHAT’S THAT LIKE? I work with my mom but think in general my relationship with her is close, so both her and my father have really moulded my ideas of Africa. They have given me the bases for what I understand and helped grow as an individual. A lot of people don’t have parents or family structures that support their dream so I am grateful for that.
HOW DO YOU BALANCE SCHOOL WITH WORK AND HOW DO THESE TWO WORLDS INFLUENCE EACH OTHER? It’s a lot. Especially now because I am in matric. I think prioritising is a major part of it, it’s mainly about finding a balance.
WHERE DO YOU GET YOUR SENSE OF STYLE FROM? WHO INFLUENCES YOUR IDEA OF STYLE? My mom is a stylist, so a lot of it is birthed from that. She’s always pushed me to be different even when I would rather fit in with the rest of the crowd and follow the latest trends. She’s pushed me into the space that I am in now.
Blackboard’s core message is about being intentional about being African. That has really pushed me to wear more African designers and embrace that.
NAME FOUR WOMEN WHO INSPIRE YOU. Nomzamo Mbatha, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, the late Winnie Mandela and Maya Angelou.
HOW HAS THE DIGITAL SPACE HELPED YOU AND YOUR WORK? HAS IT HELPED GROW YOUR COMMUNITY IN ANYWAY? Our messaging has taken shape on social media and because of the accessibility and the influence that it allows, we have gotten world recognition.
WHAT CHALLENGES HAVE YOU FACED AS A YOUNG WOMAN IN BUSINESS? DO YOU FIND THAT THE WORLD DOESN’T TAKE YOUR OPINIONS, AS WELL AS YOUR WORK SERIOUSLY BECAUSE OF WHO YOU ARE? No. There are two things that everyone is trying to get to; being heard and having your voice being listened to effectively. More and more people are hearing young voices.
WHERE DO YOU FIND YOUR SELF-IDENTITY? From my history. I am invested in our country’s history as well as our African history. Marcus Garvey once said, “A people without the knowledge of their history, origin or culture is like a tree without roots.”
WHAT IS BEAUTY? WHAT DOES IT MEAN? That’s a tough one. I think my idea of beauty is evolving. I don’t think it’s one dimensional anymore, it has moved away from the typical narrative that it once was. Beauty is subjective, which is fine because what you and I think is beautiful doesn’t have to be beautiful for the next person and there’s beauty in that.
WHAT IS YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH YOUR HAIR? DO YOU THINK OUR HAIR ENCOMPASSES WHO WE ARE? IS HAIR AN EXPRESSION OF WHO WE TRULY ARE? I am always trying to take it to the extreme for everybody who aspires to be different. I think I have tried to be unconventional when it comes to my hair, and also intentional in normalising that.
DO I NEED TO WEAR MY NATURAL HAIR FOR ME TO BE FULLY EMBRACING MY BLACKNESS? No, I don’t think so, embracing your blackness for me is very much a state of mind. How you choose to express that is your own thing.
GIVE US YOUR TOP 3 FAVOURITE BOOKS AND HOW THEY HAVE HELPED YOU BECOME BETTER AT WHAT YOU DO. Coconut, by Kopano Matlwa. Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie I Write What I Like by Steve Biko.
Photos taken by Obakeng “Regular Obby” Molepe