Category Archives: African Art

Of injustice, rage and genocides. A PAN poem for Ahed Tamini

For #ahed_tamimi

Award winning Zimbabwean Poet, Philani Amadeus Nyoni writes a moving poem for Ahed Tamini, a young Palestinian young woman that speaks of an observed injustice, a global grief and our restlessness for a better future. Zimbabwe in conversation with Palestine.

PAN Ahed

There is a fire in your palm
That speaks for all injustice;
It is the rage of genocide
From Rwanda to Gukurahundi,
From power to power
The plight of the innocent
Tower to tower. Fire to fire,
Your palm against fire power.
There is a fire in your palm
I wish was in mine for see:
The pen would be mightier
Than gunpowder and I’d free you
Back to the dunes you call home.
But there is fire in your name;
It burns of promise.

Ahed Tamini 2

Philani A Nyoni was born in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe sometime in the last century. He has authored four books: “Once A Lover Always A Fool” (2012), “Hewn From Rock” (2014) with John Eppel, “Mars His Sword” (2016) and ‘Philtrum’ (2017)

Ahed Tamini


PAN Picture credit of KB Mpofu

Dorcas Gwata

Director of Tribal Sands 2018

All rights reserved.


South of Africa: Ubuntu: Styled by Fikile Mqhelekagogo Dube



It is often said that the beauty of African fashion comes from the   authentic hands that craft it, the innovation that turns a worn out maize sack into a head turning figure-hugging skirt, the visionary eyes that see beyond our everyday waste, and the delicate hands that put finishing touches to wearable arts fit for grand ceremonies.

African fashion is actively participating on the global stage, we are shaping the global fashion industry with our bold colours, tribals prints and wraps that have no beginning or ending. 

Fikile Mqhelekagogo Dube hails from Southern Africa, her world is wrapped in all things African, she is as unclaimed as her brand, there are no cliches here, there is nothing ordinary about Fix, as I call her. Her jewellery has clout, it is loud and bold yet grounded in a deep cultural presence that our collective ancestors would approve. I love her unique accessories designs, she embodies strong Southern African themes that have a strong sense of belonging, yet not tied to any particular country or tribe. Fikile is present, she is here and she is not afraid to ‘go there’ and disrupt our cultural norms. She whips up our usual culturally themed styles into mesmerising garments, the kind that acclaims remarks wherever you are. I love that she continuously pays homage to her roots and honours the origins of her inspirations, that she sources her materials from the continent and  actively supports local women to produce materials, collaborating with them to improve their participation in showcasing the best from Southern Africa. 

I caught up with the ever vivacious Fikile  Dube on my blog, Tribal Sands, and she shared her journey on how it all began with your brand, South of Africa.

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‘I have always been unapologetically afrocentric and in the 90s when I arrived in the UK African accessories and clothes were not easy to find (unlike now), and because I enjoyed working with indigenous mediums in Zimbabwe I was more than eager to make my own rather than to abandon wearing my African clothes and accessories . A friend of mine came to visit me one day and said “these shoes are Dope! why don’t you just make these to sell?” and the rest is history,’ Fikile smiled.

Fikile’s ethnographic approaches embody the ethos of Ubuntu culture, she has a way with fabrics, kaftans, shawls and rems of mouthwatering jewellery. I wondered what grounded her so firmly in her roots.

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‘I like to think I was raised in the spirit of Ubuntu and it’s importance for our ability to thrive and grow as a people. It’s something that was ingrained in me from childhood and up to this day I believe, live and practice it. I therefore believe that it translates naturally into my brand.’

‘My inspiration is without a doubt drawn from the African continent and her traditional cultures, her colours, her smells, her vibrancy, her people, her pain. My emphasis on Southern Africa is mostly because of my diverse heritage from the region. I have Ndebele, Sotho, Shona, Swati and Zulu blood and influences from those cultures have been constant in my life’

As an Analyst and Global Mental Health Specialist, I see synergies between art and mental health, I love supporting African artists. I am all too aware that we are documenting African fashion at a time when the continent is rising, and the African Diaspora is keen to play its part in the continents development. African women in particular are defining their own narrative through spectacular designs. This is an exciting time to engage in  African Fashion. African designers too have social responsibilities and can leverage and amplify cultural impacts in the community.

‘Africa is trending,’ Fikile insists,  ‘African influence is at the forefront of not only the fashion industry but a vast majority of other disciplines in the creative world. This is our moment as fashion and accessories designers to not only tell our story about Africa but also to influence how people dress. This is our opportunity to influence how people perceive Africa and how us Africans perceive ourselves. It’s an opportunity for our young girls to realise the beauty of Africa and the beauty of being African’ she adds.

Although many African women are progressing well,  the issues of domestic violence, which are further complicated by our cultural beliefs and practises continue to affect us all at all in the continent and in the diaspora, I wondered how Fikile was using her brand and voice to advocate on these challenging issues.

‘South of Africa works with women who have been affected by issues of abuse. We source and sell products on their behalf. We also work with a team who proactively work with these ladies to make sure they have access to information and knowledge on how to access resources for women who may be abused. In addition, we at South of Africa have been proactively vocal on issues of abuse. In this day and age no type of abuse should be considered acceptable,’ Fikile says with a passion that is clearly seeking for a better tomorrow for us all.

‘You are out and about and unapologetically bold about your accessories, how does this reflect your personality,’ I asked Fikile. She smiles, broad red lipsticked, adjusts her bold signature squared glasses and whisperers, ‘I am unapologetically African, vibrant, vivacious, and a non conformist’  Our spirits mingle and I breath into a timeless friendship.

Fikile’s craftsmanship skills are fascinating, she dyes her own materials to enhance her designs,  I wondered why is it important to her to maintain the traditional skills of design, even with all the technology that we have today.

‘For me the perfection of Africa is in its imperfections,’ she says. ‘The flaws in my design give them character and the traditional skills best reflect this beauty. Whilst technology might be quicker and more efficient I don’t believe that it can adequately capture all the skills of design that we’ve acquired over years and years.’

Fikile has been awarded for her work. ‘I have  had many happy moments,’ she said ‘but being recognised by my peers as a fully fledged designer rather than someone who just makes accessories for fun in her living room was a very happy moment for me, she adds.

‘There have been challenges too’ she says ‘challenges that I’m sure many other African designers face too. The economic challenges in Zimbabwe make it difficult to import and export our crafts, we hope that this improves and opens up greater opportunities for the local producers and the diaspora, the scope for development is immense’

Fikile maintains a ground footing in a number of community projects in Zimbabwe. ‘It is important for the diaspora to support home based brands,’ she says, ‘because Zimbabwe is home and whether we like it or not it has moulded each and every one of us into who we are today and where we end up. It’s only right that we give back to the earth that has given us so much,’ she adds.

Young and experienced designers look up to Fikile, I wondered what advice she would you give to a young person who may be considering a career path in African fashion today.

‘Believe in yourself, she says, believe in your talent and don’t ever create anything that you would never publicly endorse. Don’t let your fears inhibit your goals. Embrace your fears,’ she concludes.

Fikile Dube thank you for talking to me on Tribal Sands.


Dorcas Gwata

Director of Tribal Sands

Photo’s credit to Fikile Dube

Thank you to Dalia Majongwe, Manager at Tribal Sands

January 2018, all rights reserved.

Nutrition in Zimbabwe, a Global Health perspective

LSHTM 2017

Global health challenges accelerate in conditions of poverty, poor economies, and geo-political uncertainty. Infectious diseases thrive in poverty, viruses do not respect boarders. It is therefore imperative that we discuss and explore measure to strengthen regional responses to health challenges in Southern Africa and improve health security for all. In analysing Global Health threats and challenges, Zimbabwe must be viewed in the broader context of region, an ecological view across the African landscape. The Cholera outbreak in 2008 in Zimbabwe became a regional challenge, just as the Ebola crisis defied all boundaries as it a spread across West Africa and beyond.

In Zimbabwe poor nutrition particularly in children and women has coincided with poor harvesting, drought and poor economic opportunities, this report draws on information gathered in clinical practices, observations and collaborations with non-governmental organisations in Zimbabwe.

The 2015 Demographic and Health Survey estimated that 27% of children under 5 years in Zimbabwe are stunted (chronically malnourished), with significant disparities between urban (22%) and rural (29%) areas, and between boys (30%) and girls (24%). 3% of children under 5 years are estimated to be wasted (acutely malnourished), with severe acute malnutrition at 1%. The rates of exclusive breastfeeding in the first 6 months currently stands at 48%. Only 8% of children 6–23 months are given a minimum acceptable diet. (Dfid Zimbabwe 2017)

The DFID Livelihoods and Food Security Programme (LFSP) aims to improve nutrition through promoting production and consumption of bio-fortified crops such vitamin A maize, iron and zinc enriched beans and millets; and providing trainings to smallholder farmers on good agricultural practices, various technologies (crops and livestock), good nutrition, and financial literacy. (Dfid Zimbabwe 2017)

There are significant nutritional disparities between rural 29% and urban areas 22%, which could be explained by the fact that people in rural areas have limited access to diverse means of income compared to urban areas, which is further complicated by poor health seeking behaviours, thresholds to seeking help and access to transport to access health care. Clinically patients presenting to health care services with nutritional problems are often presenting with co-morbidities and complex faceted medical complications such as HIV and poor nutrition or Diabetes and poor nutrition.

There are gender differences in poor nutrition, with boys presenting at 30% and girls at 28%, these differences have been observed across other low income countries and the evidence base for the difference is still weak.

In mental health terms, suicides amongst farmers are significantly high throughout the world, and suicides are highest in men, overall farmers are particularly vulnerable at times of poor harvest. Farmers tend to use highly poisonous methods which are at their disposal, eg pest controls which are more likely to be fatal in death. Poor nutrition will have implications on early marriages and gender violence; we are observing an increase in HIV infections amongst young women across the country which may be related with poor literacy and the desire to get married in search of better outcomes. Some patients in mental health hospitals may prefer to stay in hospital long after they are well and dischargeable because the conditions at home might be poorer than in hospital, this is further complicated by their disabilities and stigma and lack of food.

Africa’s middle class society is growing, in what many are coining ‘The Pot Belly Economy’ Globalisation means people are able to access information and model lifestyle behaviours from communities afar, the African middle class is modelling western lifestyles and indulging in fast foods at the cost of their health. In the wake of the HIV crisis, and in a culture where ‘big’ is much preferred than ‘thin’ which is opposite to the western phenomena, non communicable diseases such as diabetes, hypertension, and alcohol related conditions are the new threat and often neglected health challenge in the continent. Poor infrastructure compounds access to health and number of traffic related death and injuries is a public health concern.

More critically in these difficult economic times, poor people having to make tough choices between feeding their children or using the $1 they may have to travel to hospital for treatment. They are many female led households in Zimbabwe, headed by highly resilient and resourceful women, however the lack of economic enterprise compound their health and social outcomes, a growing concern for this highly vulnerable population.

There is a need to strengthen regional responses in the Southern Africa region, the East African region has become increasingly co-ordinated and coherent, economically culturally and socially, all this despite the challenges they continue to face. The Ebola crisis and response brought the West African response even closer and we are encouraged by the launch of the Africa Centre of Disease Control in Nigeria. Southern Africa region needs to be much more robust coherent regional planning and responses, we need to re-define SADC’s role and remit and strengthen where possible. We must leverage on the new appointment of Dr Tedros Ghebreyesus, WHO Director General, the first African to hold this post, an important development given that globally, Africa carries the heaviest burden of disease.

Thank you to Annabel Gerry and Dr Sajil Liaqat of DfiD, Zimbabwe

Nutrition in Clinical Practice, a Global Health perspective.

Dorcas Gwata

Global Mental Health Specialist

Britain Zimbabwe Society Conference 2017

Zimbabwean Fashion Designer Joy-Line Clothing Takes Stage

I have a thing for Africa and African fabrics, when I wear an African designer, I feel grounded and stylish, when I wear anything by a Zimbabwean designer, I feel on top of the world.  Whilst so many  designers stand out, old and new, over time I have been blown away by Joyline Kim Munairwa’s work. Her’s is more than just a love of fabrics, I caught up with Joyline Kim on Tribal Sands, she tells us how it all began.

‘There years ago I had a tragic accident at work that left me seriously injured and out of employment’ Joyline begins, ‘inspired by my family, especially my little girl, I picked up a pencil and pad to jot down my first drawing of a little dress I had been imagining. From there on I enlisted myself into a few weeks basic college of sewing, which taught me from threading the machine to cutting of different materials’ she says.



‘In order to enhance my knowledge I decided to grab whatever information about the design world I could find and I have been working as hard as I can since then,’ Joyline continues, ‘God has continued to bless me until now and it has been a whirlwind of amazing opportunities coming my way. In the next few years I would like for Joy-Line Clothing to be internationally recognised as a statement for all the women that no matter what size, colour or shape you are ,we are all amazing in our own special way’ she says.

 Joyline’s work speaks for itself, she is unapologetic about her African heritage and her love for long skirts and dresses  peppered with African jewellery. She has the ability to visualise  fabrics in three or four dimensions, then as ever, whip them up with an authentic African angle, quenching our thirst for innovation in fashion.

‘I have worked and met plenty of supportive people on this wonderful journey and would like the continuing growth of our company to be an inspiration to anyone who has ever had a dream, that with hard work and determination you will succeed’ Joyline concludes.

African designers are rising, they are embodying and modernising the African fashion landscape to new heights, they are  embracing a new dimension of creativity with dazzling layers and colours that can light up even the darkest of rooms. I love wearing Joy-Line Clothing.


Dorcas Gwata

Director of Tribal Sands

June 2017

All images have been posted with the consent of Joyline Kim Munairwa

From A Hospital Cleaner To A Global Health Specialist. My Story

The Nursing Times kindly featured my career journey as a role model in nursing. I weep as I reflect on this journey, many challenges all of which I embraced as opportunities for a better tomorrow.


Sudan talk

Dorcas Gwata started as a hospital cleaner, and now she’s a clinical nurse specialist who works with young people affected by gangs

Dorcas Gwata’s career has been nothing short of impactful. In addition to her current work in the UK, Ms Gwata has worked in healthcare on a global scale in order to address poor access to healthcare in low-income countries. She worked on the Friendship Bench Project in Zimbabwe, an evidence-based programme that uses problem solving to address mental health issues in the community.

Ms Gwata’s current role is very much community based. She works with Central and North West London NHS Foundation Trust’s Westminster Integrated Gangs Unit where her team uses innovative methods to engage with young people who are involved with or affected by gangs.

“We meet them wherever they are – in schools, youth clubs, prisons or hospitals,” she tells me.

Adolescents affected by gang culture have high exposure to trauma and are often shunned by society, resulting in isolation, Ms Gwata explains.

She has been in this role since 2013. The Integrated Gangs Unit was set up when strong evidence emerged of the effects of gangs and gang culture on the mental health of adolescents.

Although her specific role is within a specialised unit, Ms Gwata works with a multi-agency team, which she says helps broaden her perspective in helping young people affected by gangs.

“Adolescents affected by gang culture have high exposure to trauma”

“The greatest value of this role is the innovation and clinical skills that I am able to bring to the team, while also understanding the roles that different agencies play in keeping the community safe from gang culture,” Ms Gwata says.

She is someone who has worked hard to reach her current role. Ms Gwata started out as a hospital cleaner at the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary. She then worked as a healthcare assistant.

As a healthcare assistant, Ms Gwata was looking after a woman with anorexia, a condition she says she didn’t fully understand at the time. But they developed a good therapeutic relationship, and one day the patient asked: “Have you ever thought about becoming a nurse?”

It struck a chord with Ms Gwata.

“I always thought that was powerful coming from a patient, and I started my training soon after,” Ms Gwata says. She started training as a nurse in the late 1990s.

“In each role, I have learned so much about humanity and the challenges that people face, particularly about people from low-income communities,” she says.

310315 30th March 2015 Dorcas Gwata - Clinical Nurse Specialist with model posing as gang members (Joseph Amuah (male in first cafe shots, and in hoodie for external shots) & Rachel Ryan ( female in 2nd set of cafe shots & with hooded jacket, and wool green hat for outside shots). Pictures include one or both of the two models named.
30th March 2015
Dorcas Gwata – Clinical Nurse Specialist with model posing as gang members (Joseph Amuah (male in first cafe shots, and in hoodie for external shots) & Rachel Ryan ( female in 2nd set of cafe shots & with hooded jacket, and wool green hat for outside shots). Pictures include one or both of the two models named.

Ms Gwata worked in various roles after getting her nursing qualification, including time at an A&E and working for the charity Africans Unite Against Child Abuse (Afruca). It was then that she was approached to take on a role in the Integrated Gangs Unit.

“I have learned so much about humanity and the challenges that people face”

“It was a great opportunity to get involved in adolescent mental health and address the trauma they face due to high exposure to violence and sexual exploitation,” she explains.

Ms Gwata says that studying public health and gender violence prepared her well for this role, as did her role with Afruca. This position allowed her to come into contact with survivors of human trafficking, female genital mutilation and witchcraft branding. Her experiences have all helped in her role working with adolescents affected by gangs and gang culture.

“Nursing is a unique role”

Ms Gwata has received a number of honours for her role in healthcare, including the Zimbabwe International Womens’ Humanitarian Award in 2016. But in the end, it’s the support from family and friends that “kisses her heart”, she says.

“Nursing is a unique role that puts us in contact with people at their most vulnerable times,” she says. “I have learned so much about myself and humanity through nursing.”

Dorcas Gwata

Director at Tribal Sands

All rights reserved

Writing Under A Candle Light, Kelvin Mangwende reveals

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I love the arts and culture, I love reading,  At my best I am tucked away in a good book, immersed in new found characters many of whom challenge our status quo on deep issues in our society. I remember missing my train stops so many times when I was reading Non Violet Bulawayo’s We need new Names’, I  struggled to get into Home Going by Yaa Ghasi, but once I was away, I was in those slave caves with all the characters, I dont want ever finish that book.

A good writer has the ability to draw the reader in until their own emotions are in questions, My moral campus was shaken when I read ‘Lolita’ by Vladmir Nabakov,  Nabakov was insainly mesmerizing, I felt something of an anger, irritability, and and endless  inquisitiveness. That Nabakov continuously pleads with the reader to stay with him is the precise art of writing, creative writing at its best. The Poison Wood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver, is up there with my favorites, I loved how the father was such a significant figure, yet the reader doesn’t  actually get to meet him.

On the Zimbabwean scene many writers are breaking ground, despite and perhaps even because of the challenges. The art of writing comes from something deep within. I absolutely love Petinah Gappah’s work and cant wait to read her new book ‘In Search of Livingstone’ Companions‘  For mesmerising and intoxicating poetry and writing without limits or fear, I run to Philani Amadeus Nyoni.

Writing  is art, it has the ability to invoke feelings and gives the writer freedom and permission to explore and draw the reader in, thats why I return to it again and again, and why I sponsored the Zimbabwe National Merit Awards in  the category of Outstanding First Creative Published Writing.

From the nominees, Kelvin Mangwende’s story touched my heart. 

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“I was born in Murewa at St Paul’s Mission, I attended several primary schools namely Chiremba, Nyandoro, Mabvuku and Farai Primary School in Chitungwiza” Kelvin begins his story.

“I migrated one place to another because of the difficult circumstances that I was living in. My parents divorced when I was 4 years old, I lived with my step mother for two years but the environment was harsh, my mother came and took me then I was living with her mother in Chitungwiza. My secondary education I attended Seke 4 high, Zengeza 4, Cecil Hardy High School then Herentals. I passed my O’levels, but I didn’t  proceed to A’level. My mother passed away in 2002 after she divorced with my step father. I continued to stay with my grandmother unfortunately she too passed away soon after,” Kelvin says.

“The property that my mother has left for me including the house was taken by my grandfather leaving me without a roof over my head. I started writing in Grade 6 composing poems even at a Secondary School I was a Play-Write, writing drama scripts for the school,” Kelvin adds.

As a reader and a lover of arts, I wondered how distance and travel influenced the writer, or to a deeper extend how loss and grief had shaped his writing. Kelvin was keen to share his story, he wanted to share this journey, the journey of a young Zimbabwean writer, who had experiences layers of looses, travelled around Southern Africa, in search of himself and a place to call home. A writer who had been nominated for a NAMA Award

“I went to Namibia looking for a job but it was not easy that time,” Kelvin continued. “I started to sell brooms and mops in the street, I was writing my books in the street even under a tower light in the evening. I wrote the Rainbird is Dead and Chaminuka in Namibia. I still remember when I submitted my manuscripts to a local publisher in Zimbabwe in 2002 they didn’t bother to look inside or read them because they were looking for big names, they gave me back my manuscripts back in 2010! It was a huge set back how come a manuscripts stay such a time without a review? I found a part time job in Namibia as a Pre-School teacher. I was a story telling residence teaching English, I continued to write on the streets of Windhoek walking with my manuscripts in the sapping sun.”

“I am a Play-Write, essayist, and poet. I published my book Chaminuka when I was in South Africa, I wrote Chimurenga in Mozambique. I published The Rainbird is Dead an anthology of poems when I was in Angola, I wrote the  The Black Stars and Sons and Daughters in Namibia,” Kelvin adds.

“I travelled a lot experiencing different cultures.  The Rainbird is dead was featured in the best 100 African PoetsI have featured in several anthologies across the globe. My book ‘Misodzi Yerombe’  was nominated for the NAMA 2017 Award. I was ecstatic, it was a great step ahead.  I wrote that book when my relatives didn’t care about me especially my biological father. That book touched my heart it portrays the life that I had lived, the pain, suffering and the isolation,”  Kelvin adds.

“I wondered about the lack of female nominees this year?” I asked Kelvin. He laughed off my question then said, that is bizarre because most of my writing had largely been influenced by female writers.

“My latest publication of 2017 is a collection of short stories named Runako they is four short stories Mhindupindu, Runako, Akava Matindingoma, Kudzingirira Mhepo,” Kelvin concludes.

Kelvin Maputo

I am very grateful to Archie Mhone and Mr Nicholas Moyo at the Ministry of Arts and Culture for smoothing every process. I look forward to further collaborations. 

Thank you to Professor Diane Jeater for her insights, I am honoured to be in your circles.

Well done to all the nominees for in the category of NAMA First Published Creative Writing. Nominees were:

Tears and Scars by Penjeni Madzikangava

Behind the Wall Everywhere by Farai Mungoshi (Winner)

Misodzi Yerombe by Kelvin Mangwende


Dorcas Gwata

Director of Tribal Sands

All rights reserved. 2017

Her name is Marion Boehm

Marion B picm1

I gracefully strolled into Marion Boehm’s art space and Parisian time seemed to stand still. My entire world was instantly drawn to the most magnificent piece of art I had seen in a while.  In this drama of a community that the artist had created, a group of African women stood tall in their elegance, their long colonial dresses hiked up to their breasts,  giving way to their wide hips.

This was no ordinary art. Imaginary soft winds seemed to whisk the delicately entwined  indulgent natural fabrics, revealing mysteries of under layers worthy of  huge ceremonial events. These women had a presence, they were there and I was one of them, I was amongst them. I moved closer to the piece, my consciousness slowly bringing me back to my surroundings. I was reminded of the Herero women of Namibia who adopted their colonialist style long after their freedom. Culture and conflict whipped into voluminous long wide dresses that hang on layers of wide petticoats, the kind that demands grand postures, good mannerisms and certainly no running or fretting.

Artists and art enthusiasts  mingled away in whispery conversations at the  Paris Art Fair.  Oblivious of their presence, I moved my gaze from one art piece to another, only to return back to that one piece within the gallery. I was in conversation with this community:  I heard their laughter, not their suffering, I saw their vulnerability and their resilience, I knew of their grief; and yet their compassion and beauty outweighed their struggles. The artist had gone a long way in validating their humanity.

“Who is the artist?” I asked around.

Marion Boehn stood  in her truth and presence. She was friendly and accessible,  her art work much more pronounced  than the tone of her voice, artists are introverts like that, leaving all emotions to splash out in their work.

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I stumbled on my speech, reciting my Southern African heritage, our collective colonial history and a culture that has remained somewhat unshaken in the face of a dark history. Marion knew what I was on about, of course she did, she had lived in Southern Africa for years observing African lives and cultures and summing them up in her art. I was immediately at home with her, I felt I could trust her with our culture, that she would always portray the truth, even if the truth is not always pleasant.

In documenting the stories of these communities, Marion did not seek to invoke pity or misery, she wanted to tell the story of their beautiful natural skins, their hair, fabrics and smiles, the kind you may never see in a glossy magazine, and in doing so she shaped the narrative of everyday African women and who we truly are.

“How much is this piece?” Emma Menell from Tyburn Gallery asked me the next day when I returned for another dose of Marion’s work.

“Are you sitting down?” I turned to look at Emma and smiled.


Marion B 2

Above photo credit to Art-Co Gallery and top photo credit to Marion Boehm’s FB page.

Thank you to Marion Boehm and the team at Art-Co Gallery

Dorcas Gwata

Director of Tribal Sands

April 2017.

Marion B 1

Above photo credit to Art-Co Gallery

Paris Marion



Interview: The Heroine Collective on Humanitarianism

This year, I was hugely honoured to win the Zimbabwe International Women Humanitarian Award (ZIWA), I was totally humbled, I cried. I cried to all the work that I continue to pour into my work in Global Mental Health and my grassroots work with young people affected by gangs in London. I cried to the sadness that my mother is sadly no longer with us to share these beautiful moments, I also cried with joy, sheer joy and gratitude for the journey I have walked. Humanitarian work is taxing and is selfless, as  humanists our compassion has no boarders of boundaries, we care because it is the right thing to do. Any validation is extremely heart warming and pushes us to do even more for vulnerable people. Below is my  interview with The Heroine Collective.


LSHTM Uganda 2-2

As a Public Health Specialist, Dorcas Gwata’s work is wide-reaching. Recently awarded the Zimbabwe International Women Humanitarian Award, Dorcas is connected to a large range of mental health projects across the UK, Zimbabwe and Tanzania; she works to safeguard and raise awareness on issues like FGM, HIV and AIDS, as well as the health impacts of gang culture.

“I come from a family of grassroots civil-servants,” she says when I ask her about her early influences. “My mother had great compassion for helping vulnerable groups – particularly women and children. These humanist seeds were planted in me long ago.” From her studies at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, to working as a cleaner in an Edinburgh hospital – where she got first-hand experience of the issues faced by low-income groups – she is passionate about equality. “I advocate tirelessly for these groups because I understand the issues,” she says.

After her studies, Dorcas worked as a Mental Health Adviser for AFRUCA (Africans Unite Against Child Abuse), a charity which was formed as a response to the Victoria Climbié case in 2000. Victoria, an 8 year old Ivorian girl, who’d been suffering severe abuse without appropriate social-care intervention, was eventually murdered by her guardians in 2000. The case was widely reported by the media. Dorcas says it “struck a code”, resulting in much-needed change across care systems, and raising questions on the role that religion and culture plays in shaping cultural practises. At AFRUCA, Dorcas explored African cultural practises such as FGM, Human Trafficking, Witchcraft Branding and child chastisement. “Working here shaped my understanding of advocacy in terms of looking at what makes policies successful at grassroots levels.”

Despite the notable health improvements in the African population in the last decade, the continent still faces enormous healthcare challenges. “There is no health without mental health,” Dorcas explains. “Physical health is intrinsically tied to mental health and in low-income countries these challenges are compounded by poverty, poor access to healthcare, and poor healthcare systems. Mental health across the globe receives very little recognition and funding – and this is even more the case in low-income countries.”

But Dorcas says she is always moved by the resilience of people who are so disproportionately burdened with such challenges. “I think communities in high-income countries could learn so much from those who have so little – they’d do well to adopt their models of social and cultural cohesion.”

Dorcas was tasked with evaluating the African Ebola crisis of 2013-16; she describes it as one of the most striking epidemics of our time. “Viruses don’t respect borders,” she says, acknowledging the speed that the disease travelled across countries. “I learned – more than ever – that the best of our scientific knowledge is not complete without a robust understanding of local cultural practices. I also learned that communities have capacity to mobilise themselves, even when governments fail to do so. And it’s important that Africans take ownership of our own challenges, and provide better healthcare for the African population. Equally, we need to credit the African response to the Ebola crisis – Nigeria was Ebola-free before the U.S.A. was.”

Dorcas is currently working on mental health interventions in London for young people and families involved in gangs, and also young girls affected by sexual exploitation through gang culture. Her current research supports adolescents who often have high exposure to trauma, and are often stigmatised and/or isolated from their wider society. “My work takes a broader approach to understanding the push-and-pull factors that drive young people in and out of gangs,” she says and notes that a significant proportion of young people involved in gangs come from minority backgrounds and suffer high levels of poverty. “My role challenges the notion of ‘Hard to Reach’ groups. It adapts culturally-adjusted methods of outreach engagement – we’ve taken the clinic to the streets, for example. It’s our priority to keep young people safe from knife-crime and to keep young girls safe from sexual exploitation.”

I wish my mother were alive to see the seeds she planted. I miss her dearly. I blame her entirely for my restlessness in seeking a better tomorrow.

Winning the Zimbabwean International Women Humanitarian Award in 2016 was one of Dorcas’ career highlights, and she notes the responsibility that comes with it to mentor others. She was also named Nursing Standard Nurse of the Year 2015 for her work with young people involved in gangs. “The real heroes of that award are the young vulnerable people I look after – people who are striving for a better and safer life, often with little acknowledgement,” she says.

But it isn’t just the awards that inspire her; she loves the arts. “I believe the arts have an important place in people’s recovery and well being,” she says. “What would it mean for patients in a mental health hospital to hear a few lines of poetry or the thump piano?” She feels the arts ground her, and often looks to women in this field for inspiration. “I love Ngozi Chimamanda Adichie’s writing,” she says. “I remember meeting her briefly once, and she said to me: ‘We need to hear about Zimbabwe. Keep writing about Zimbabwe’. And Arundhati Roy – her pen knows no boundaries. She’s unapologetic about advocating for the voiceless, for the forgotten groups in her society. I take a leaf out of her book.”

I am grateful to The Heroine Collective for featuring me on their sacred space.

Dorcas Gwata

Tribal Sands 2017

Philanthropy: NAMA Awards 2017


This year, I am incredibly proud to a sponsor at the National Arts Merits Awards (NAMA) in Zimbabwe.  My brand, Tribal Sands is sponsoring the category of ‘Outstanding First Creative Published Writing. I love reading, so much can come from reading. Books are growth, reading is development,  we must all do all I can to foster Zimbabwean talent. Beyond sponsorship, I am looking to run yearly writers workshops that provide a space for upcoming writers to to grow and share their work.

Thanks to all who support this important work.

I am very grateful to LSE Academic, Dalia Majongwe and Zimbabwean Poet, Philani Amadeus Nyoni for their active support on this project.


Dorcas Gwata

Director Tribal Sands

February 2017


‘Writers are craftsmen’ Caine Prize nominee Abdul Adan speaks.

He is young and transient, the kind that would write a letter in one continent and post it in another. I first got of wind of Abdul Adan’s writing through Philani Amadeus Nyoni, a fellow countryman whose ideas and pen are equally off the radar.  I met Abdul at the 2016 Africa Writes Festival, an encounter months in the planning. He is warm, his mannerism reflects a cultured upbringing, yet his writing is unleashed. Writers are the most insecure and vulnerable creatures, he once acknowledged. I push boundaries and insist on calling him Adan which he allows. Adan embodies all that is global, an undeclared nomad he pitches his tent as he wishes and articulates the world through inquisitive anthropological lenses. He takes the reader along, and holds them in a suspense that lingers way beyond the last page.

Abdul Adan talks to Dorcas Gwata, Director of Tribal Sands

Abdul you were shortlisted for the Caine Prize Award 2016, how did it feel to be nominated?

I was very excited at the news of my nomination. It meant I will get a  trip to England, meet people who are passionate about what I do, and get to learn more about myself in the process. This is the first literary shortlist I have been on, and the second time the Caine Prize took me on a trip—for almost making the 2013 shortlist.

The Caine Prize 2016 ultimately went to a South African writer, should writing be competitive?

Writing, being art, shouldn’t be competitive. Prizes, though, will have to be won by one writer at a time, so that there’s a reason for curiosity, suspense, and a means to give money to a writer every year. Who is to say for sure the five of us wrote the ‘best’ stories submitted? It was a strong list but still… Any shortlist is a reflection of the collective tastes, experiences, or even politics of the judging panel.

Adan 1.3

In your short story ‘The Lifebloom Gift’ you lead the reader through comfortable and uncomfortable conversations about  sexuality and mental illness … what inspired Ted’s character?

I drove a medical transportation car back in 2011. One day I took a middle aged woman from a St. Louis hospital to a small Missouri town where she lived. Her place was behind a small Episcopalian church and her overweight son of about 25 lay outside in the yard, stroking a dog. The details are now sketchy but he looked really well rested. Something about his eyes stuck with me, and he ended up becoming Ted Lifebloom three years later. His particular disorder came out of my own loneliness those first years in America. People seemed too cold and detached for me; I couldn’t see at what level I could connect. I had just come from this other part of the world where people are more demonstrative, and where even a quick chat with a stranger carries with it some genuine emotion. I was really confused by all the airy polite smiles on the faces of people who really barely acknowledged me. By the time I wrote the story my earlier confusion had long ended, but the memory of it had to be pumped into Ted for preservation but also for my own self-education.

Would a female African writer been able to write the same story with the same level of autonomy and authority?

Of course. I don’t see why not, but I am inclined to think African critics might be harsher with her.

Africa writes

How and why did you give yourself permission to write the narrative of character completely different from your own cultural background?

Well, by 2014, when I wrote the story, I had made so many American friends and was just about getting to feel out America’s cultural core. I had undergone my fair bit of Americanization already. I was even understanding their humour, something that eluded in the years prior. And when you feel the humour of a place, you know you are home. I should also add that we are not the only ones who are exotic. White people too can offer plenty in the same regard. They have written about us for ages, perhaps its time we returned the favour, don’t you think (smiles)

You embody many different cultural backgrounds, Somali, Kenyan, American and recently Kazakhstan, who do you pledge your heritage to?

I don’t care much for flags and borders. I only acknowledge them as far as staying out of trouble. I love all these places equally, but I can adjust faster into some than others. In the US for instance, it took me years to feel the humour alone, while in Kazakhstan, my Kazakhanization was well underway within months. Speaking of heritage my nomadic roots is probably what I hold in the best regard.

In 2015 you attended a Writing workshop in Zimbabwe, what did you make of the country?

Harare looked like a cleaner less populated version of Nairobi. People were very friendly. In fact, this is the friendliest country I have visited. Barbara Mhangami, a fellow participant at the workshop, took me to Harare’s city centre where, while she tended to her business in the shops behind me, I listened to a young, thin, street preacher most intently. I remember that we went to a tailor’s shop, too, and saw nice, hardworking godly women whose mere sight invokes their country’s innocence and the day to day mixture of optimism and just cold discipline. We have lost that innocence here in Kenya. I miss it actually.

In ‘The Somalification of James Karangi’ you tell a hilarious, and somewhat disturbing tale about a Kikuyu suitor who must go through painful experiences like chewing khat and wear ing a noose around his neck in order to be ‘Somalified’. Was this a critic of Somali conservatism and African tribalism?

I suppose so, but I can’t say criticism of Somali conservatism was on my mind as I was writing. I was just having fun, and trying get James to undergo something darkly comical. Generally though, I do keep a keen eye out for prejudices against anyone, even from my own people.

Who do you read and how do other writers inspire you?

I am a very slow reader and only pick up a book if I really believe in it, usually through a friend’s recommendation. I read a lot of short stories back when I was starting out. Among those I read extensively was Anton Chekhov, Guy De Maupassant, Chinua Achebe, H. H Munro, and Bessie Head. I am not reading anyone now in particular. I just open random excerpts, stories, and read to the end if I like them. I think am one of the least read people writing today.

Chekhov, Achebe, and Munro, pretty much taught me how to write stories. I don’t bother with their themes when reading as a writer. I only pay attention to the flow, and the transition between scenes, diction, etc. Writers are craftsmen, and all craftsmen have secrets; I try deciphering their journey in a story, undo their knots, and suddenly the whole thing isn’t that mysterious. This is when I jump up and say, ‘So that was it? I can do that.’ The only problem is that sometimes the English is just not enough. The really worthy ideas, though, compel me to find ways of skirting around the English problem.

Tell us three random things we don’t know about you?

a) I am a recovering chess addict. I can’t go cold turkey, but I am playing less than I used to.

b) I got my first ever smart phone four months ago. It’s an old Samsung, gifted to me by little brother. I still don’t know how to use it well.

c) I get lucid dreams quite often. Sometimes I would ask the people in my dreams if they know I am dreaming them up. Other times, I would run around and engage in little mischievous exploits—stuff I thought about in the real world but couldn’t do—telling everyone, ‘It’s just a dream, folks. All is legal. Chill out.’

Abdul Adan, thank you for talking to me on Tribal Sands


Dorcas Gwata

Director of Tribal Sands November 2016.