Smangele Nicolette Ngwenya: I am Enough

Born in the east of Johannesburg in Ekurhuleni, Smangele Nicolette Ngwenya is a self-motivated, systematic and confident woman.

Having grown up in her grandmother’s green shack, she sums up her background as colorful and supportive. 

This background inspired her to start the WomenYouAreEnough organization. Through her organization, Smangele hopes to empower and inspire women. 


What was the motivation behind your organization? 

I’ve always wanted to be involved in meaningful & fruitful things. My prayer has always been, God helps me to give more than I can receive. Being raised by a giving grandmother made it natural to me.

When the organization started, I only wanted to help take a disadvantaged girl child to school. Then suddenly, I also wanted to collect sanitary towels so that no girl child could miss class because of something that occurs involuntarily.

The organization has since become a movement with a hashtag #WomanYouAreEnough which reminds all women that it’s okay to be imperfect, that it’s okay to help other women without taking the glory once they reach to the top. WomanYouAreEnough means that when Queens(Women) gather, wonderful things happen.

What does confidence mean to you?

Personally, confidence means complimenting another woman’s beauty & understating that their beauty is not in the absence of mine. It means recognizing the strength of another woman & knowing but also knowing that I too am enough.

So confidence is about being happy in my own skin and also appreciating the strength of those around me. 

Has your confidence ever been compromised? 

Women have often compromised my confidence every now and then. I have had a very strong personality which has often mistaken for being a miss know it all.

I was teased for my body weight and facial features. However, despite all these negative comments, I have never felt any less confident. In fact, I have been fortunate enough to attract confident women who see each other as Queens and not threats.

What is your mantra?

My daily mantra is reminding myself that I am enough. Even on my worst day, I wake up and dress up knowing that without any reasonable doubt, I am enough. I don’t have to force what’s meant for me as it will find me.

Are women empowered today?

I have to say that women empowerment is definitely on the rise. Especially with the use of social media, we are seeing more women in the corporate world holding higher positions. Different organizations and movements are making sure that women empowerment is on the rise.

WomanYouAreEnough is one of those. We have different empowerment programs such as the matric dance campaign where we dress up disadvantaged girls for their big day. We also host seminars and share personal struggles to continue encouraging women. Therefore, females are inspired by everything we’ve done.

Where do you draw your inspiration?

My late grandmother Salamina Mafoka Molakeng Mimi truly inspires me. Though life has dealt with her, she has remained hopeful. My mother NoNhlanhla Ngwenya who from the age 18 has worked double shifts at various restaurants so that we can have a normal childhood also inspires me.

Finally, every other female who decided to go for it even though their background didn’t allow them also greatly inspires me.  

Does overconfidence cause more problems than under-confidence?

There’s nothing like being overconfident according to me. So, I’d say there are more problems caused by being under confident. Society still tries to tame females.

They tell us we are too old, too confident or too much. At the end of the day, these things make us doubt ourselves & we end up in a certain box hating each other as females.


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Elom Ayayee: Photography for me was a fortunate accident

Elom Ayayee never thought photography would be a part of her life. Her career path was in international relations, policy, linguistics, and publishing. But her love for beautiful images in magazines ignited her desire to pursue a career in photography.

She wanted to recreate these looks which seemed limited to only models for the everyday woman who could be a wife, mother, entrepreneur / employee, believer, citizen and role model.

Elom started with no knowledge of photography. She didn’t know how to take photos and had no clients. But with time, constant practice and determination, she opened her photo studio Elom Ayayee Portraiture where she takes magazine-worthy images of women to remember for the rest of their lives.


How did you start your photography career?

Photography was a very fortunate accident and I fall in love with it more and more every day. It’s all about meeting someone for the first time and finally creating a timeless piece of art that speaks to the essence of who they are or who they want to be in the moment it was created.

To me, that is the amazing power of portraiture. Photography for me is the power to exist in time. It’s a way to say “I was here. I lived, I loved, I hurt, I suffered, I rejoiced, I was silent, I was loud. I held this space”.

Why do you focus on women?

I started photographing family and friends and before I knew it I had a client base. My move to photograph women was not just a great business plan. But, it was also a way to highlight these women who are sometimes invisible in the roles they play. Women often get lost in their responsibilities and forget to appreciate themselves.

My initial desire was to give women just one day off. A day to get pampered and remember and document who she is outside of all the hustle.

To get her hair and makeup done and the most beautiful images of herself that would be loved and cherished and appreciated for all time.

What were some of the hurdles you encountered and how did you solve them?

Marketing has been the biggest hurdle. I’m naturally a very private person and 90% of my client base is from referrals. Putting myself out there is still a very uncomfortable experience for me.

That being said, my target market is small and very specific so that tends to minimize the effort I would otherwise have to make in marketing myself. It’s a lazy way of marketing I guess; give great service and let happy clients do the talking for you.

How do you get your photographs to spread your messages?

I don’t create my photographs for the general public. I create images for my clients to hang on their walls in their homes – this is very intimate and private. Images that hopefully their great great great grandchildren will see and talk about.

My images are about time, legacy and emotion. All of my images say different things in the different homes they live in. I can usually tell by spending enough time with a woman who she wants to see when she looks at an image of herself. I pull on every resource within me during a shoot to be able to give her that.

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How do you improve your photography and get inspired? 

I do this every way that I can. I enjoy constructive criticism from people I look up to in the industry and my clients. I’m always on the internet trying to figure out how to get what I see in my head right.

My clients are all the inspiration I need. I’ve met such incredible people. Every woman has a story, every child has incredible potential. One day what I create for this person will be a timeless treasure to someone else.

Are you working on anything exciting at the moment?

Yes! I’m doing a series for women that I’m very excited about. It’s easy to promise to take the most amazing picture a woman has ever seen of herself when she’s been pampered and dolled up and looks like the jackpot.

Can I take the most beautiful picture of a woman make-up free? This is my challenge to myself and all my clients. So far, it’s been amazing. Women are so deep and they carry so much behind their eyes.

Each of my clients who have trusted me enough to put themselves in this vulnerable place has been won over. It’s literally the most powerful image you could ever take.

What photography gear do you use to keep focused on what you do best?

I started with a Nikon D3300 and I’ve always used natural light. My first studio was robbed and all my gear was stolen, that’s when I switched to Canon. I’m now shooting on a 5DMark iii.

I own a 50mm lens which I shoot 80% of my shots with and a 70-200 for my outdoor portraits. I use Adobe Photoshop for my editing.

What advice would you give young photographers who want to make it in this industry?

I really don’t feel like I’m qualified to speak for the whole industry, but I would say you need solid people skills and know the basic fundamentals of how to run a business. There’s a huge difference between a business and a hustle.

Also, advise often depends on what area of photography you venture in. So, the first thing I would say is, find your niche, and contrary to popular belief, the smaller your niche the better. Too many photographers are doing too many things. You can’t have it all.  Give great service. Master your craft.


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Being a Woman in leadership: How to Change the Narrative

Being a ‘Woman in Leadership’ comes with certain not so pretty narratives. I remember listening to Mrs Ifenyiwa Afe’s story, a recently appointed managing director.

She was accompanied by some male staff on a scheduled trip to meet another male executive in the industry. As they met the executive, he immediately walked over to the male staff assuming the ‘Managing Director’ was a man.

The embarrassed staff immediately corrected the shocked executive. Imagine the awkward moment!

These are relatable workplace realities, that spring from a culture that limits the capabilities of women. I look forward to a society that’s where women in leadership are expected and supported. However, the part that women have to play in driving home this new narrative; is owning it.

I have a critical role to play in owning the new narrative myself. I am General Manager at African Women in Leadership Organisation (AWLO). Sometimes, it is possible to slip into these limitations by the society. But being conscious of who you are, and not cautious is a huge step in changing the narrative.

Here are a few tips:

Be Assertive

One of my friends used the phrase; “He was expecting me to be docile” to imply that a male colleague hadn’t expected her to communicate assertively.

Being assertive is an attitude, and it doesn’t mean domineering. It is portraying confidence, and presence and very essential in leadership. As women in leadership, being feminine does not mean not being assertive.

Be Professional

It is so easy to cross the line of professionalism with women. I was in a skype meeting with some male colleagues and I was the only female. With a switched off camera, the convener kept referring to me as male. 

He made the move to apologize as soon as the impression was corrected. Do you know what he did? He waves a teddy bear in a gesture of apology!

People expect that women are meant to be cuddled. Though we may be in certain scenarios, women are also logical beings. Do not compromise ethics for sentiments in the workplace. Women must insist on this.

Set Healthy Boundaries

I offer to shake hands with a male colleague one day, and he was already gesturing to hug me. What! A male colleague should be able to shake hands with you just as he would a male colleague. That’s not to say that work friendships cannot exist, but let that be clear.

Are you cool being identified as dears? Many times, as females we tend to be susceptible.

However, you can stay true to your values and communicate as opposed to getting warped in the idiosyncrasies of being female.

Focus on your superpowers

Being part of a movement that says; ‘beauty lies in the heart of the possessor’ has been much more empowering. It doesn’t just focus on men’s role in helping or stopping us from attaining our full potential as women.

Being a by-product of the mission of AWLO has influenced a developmental process that is centered on me.

It is true that beauty lies first in the heart of the possessor. It’s about being our own super-heroes first, and concentrating on our superpowers. This does not negate the fact that people may or may not contribute to gender issues.

Finally, it feels much more empowering to have great self-talk, self-belief, and self-love, rather than getting caught up in a battle of genders.


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