When I was a child, my father told me I was always this person standing up for the other kids in preschool, standing up for my friends and advocating for things. I have always been “this person”: actively active, concerned about the well-being of others.
I was born in Johannesburg, on the vibrant streets of Soweto. I was raised by my father and mother until my mother died, which was my life-changing moment. It was weird to grow up without a mother, without the love and adoration that mothers so uniquely give.
After her death, I spent the year in Cape Town living with aunts and uncles who felt that was best as opposed to living with a single dad. While I was away at school, my father remarried and I moved back in with him and his new wife to begin high school. Immediately, his new wife and I did not get along—so began my ugly duckling years. High school was a difficult time to not have a mother, but it was even harder having a stepmother who at the time maybe did not have the skills to raise children who were not her own. Honestly, I don’t think being a stepmother is easy. But my stepmother was a very difficult person—somewhat emotionally abusive, which was hard for me to come to terms with. She specialized in public humiliation. For instance, I can remember times she would take me to friends’ houses and make me clean, to be “the help.” Her behaviour toward me made me blinded to the value in myself, feeling as if I wasn’t worth sympathy, love, dignity, or even being cared for. I think even now, I can still recognise those past wounds; I can still see them, feel them even. They have healed, but the scars remain as evidence. When I behave in such a way, I now know exactly what it’s about.
School took on new purpose, became my escape. My dad felt strongly that with education, you could do anything. Thus, I made it my focus. I was in boarding school, which meant I didn’t have to be home a lot. And, it became a place of safety for me.
Fast forward to university. I attended the historic and prestigious Fort Hare, and went on to receive my masters in economics at Fordham University in New York. At Fort Hare, I was the first female president of the student government, SRC. This was even more of a feat considering I wasn’t aligned to any political organization, which was a problem because political organizations governed universities in South Africa. It is rare for an independent candidate to win. But I started an underground movement; so students could relate to me, understand who I was and what I stood for. And as the first female president, I became the representation of what could happen when we worked toward the South Africa and Africa we dream of, led by responsible and responsive leaders.
I was that "person" my father told me I was as a child.
(RE)DISCOVERING A MOTHER’S LOVE
If you’re going to be a success in who you are, that depends on the people around you and the things they say to you, how they support you and be real with you. When I returned from New York, I moved in with my sister. She became that mother I needed. She loved me unconditionally. In those moments, I discovered how to love myself, to be the best version of myself. You teach others how to love themselves in times you see them not loving themselves. The love she gave me was neverending. It was an adoration you can’t describe. It was a mother’s love. There’s nothing like the love of a mother. It doesn’t have to come from a mother, but when you get it, your whole life changes.
THE DOUBLE-EDGED S(WORDS)
If I could get people to understand anything, it would be how powerful words can be, and also how destructive. I think you are born a particular person, and there are things meant especially for you; this is your personality, a result of your heritage. This is where you come from. And I was born with the inherent desire to be active, to play a part in this world, to be an asset to my fellow human beings. I choose my words, my art, to illuminate and speak life into others.
Performing is the only channel I’ve had to express myself. I am an artist, creator and performer. I love to perform! My art reflects my views, confusions, vulnerabilities. That’s how I cry — through my art. Speaking creatively allows a certain freedom, a freedom to spread your message to a more diverse group that may or may not have received it otherwise.
Now, I am a work in progress. I feel like the foundation is laid; for a while, it felt like I was building on sand. But now, it’s solid. I’m fulfilled. I was created to be an artist, created to have a voice, created to share a message with people. I was created to sing. I was created to be NOMISUPASTA.
And who is Nomisupasta, you ask? She is that carefree person, that girl before her mother died, that person happy with her siblings in a home with both her mother and father. She is that person, free in spirit, living the life she chose, the life she wanted. She is the culmination of the good that came from all her experiences.
I never like to live in regret, but I so wish I had known I was a swan when I was an ugly duckling. I could’ve taken advantage of more opportunities. I used to be so caged, but now I very much believe that you have just one chance; you just have now. I look back at decisions, wrong choices I made in the past, and they were the direct result of not loving myself, not believing in myself or feeling deserving. But that’s how you learn, how you grow: accept the person you were and move forward. Accept that this is your journey.
The advice I would pay forward is to make decisions. I find oftentimes as women, we can settle. We may get emotional over a situation, but we won’t leave it. If you decide to remain in a situation, take responsibility that you chose to stay. There’s a lot between self-value and how you allow others treat you. I used to allow men to really abuse me, because I didn’t see the value in myself. I’ve since realized people don’t change. And if they do, it’s not for you. It’s for themselves. So stay or go. Do or do not. It’s black or white. You’re speaking or you’re quiet. You’re growing or you’re stagnating. You’re hustling or you’re mooching. There’s no in-between. Otherwise, you’re just hoping things may change.
I now realize that where I am, is up to me.
NOMISUPASTA X UDD
Who were you as a child? Be that person.
Do you remember who you were before you met “the world”? Were you a little sassy, daring, a dreamer, a jokester, even? Or, maybe you were that curious little one, studious, always taking in your surroundings? Do you remember who you were before you were told you’re too bossy, you laugh too much, that’s not what girls do? Do you remember who you were? Is it who you are now, or a diminished version?
I have this picture of my 4-year-old self I look at from time to time. In this picture, I am so carefree. You can’t help but look at it and smile. I was this animated little girl who felt she could do or be anything she wanted to. I never backed down from a challenge, which filled my childhood with knee-torn jeans, bruises, and sprain ankles. I look at her from time to time to remind her, maybe assure her even, I haven’t forgotten about you—your hopes, your dreams—your unadulterated spirit that at times, lays dormant within me.
What I’ve learned is you have to fight for the little girl within you; show up for her time and time again. Don’t be afraid to let her loose. Since beginning UDD, I have really come to realize how much of our time and selves we give to others — their thoughts and expectations, even their wants and needs of us. But life is a journey. And perhaps that's what it takes for us to learn to safeguard our space. My hope is through these stories, that we can minimize the learning curve.
Nomisupasta is the eloquent and ingenious fusion of who Nomsa chooses to be and who she was born to be—this free, creative spirit who uses her voice to advocate. She is no stranger to feelings of rejection, loss and unworthiness—feelings that make her perfect to advocate for truth, love and global change. Her past validates her seat at the table and perfectly positions her for the influencer she is — which includes various South African social initiatives, global campaigns, performing for the United Nations, working with the Nelson Mandela Institute and a host of music accolades. She is the voice of the people.
I like that Nomsa is this compassionate advocate. I like that she chooses to fight for her voice and the voice of others. Her success is not luck. It is the result of someone that knows, “I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul.” (Invictus)