Cultural activist Kgomotso Le Roux decided to do her part to enact the change she wanted to see in our society by establishing Khwela Factory, a clothing and textile manufacturing company that focuses on African heritage.

For the majority of the population, seeing the names of Captain America, Superwoman or Thor on merchandise conjures up images of power and strength. Not too many people would know what to think if they saw Nomkhubulwane (the Zulu deity of nature, fertility and rain), Strike Guard (the West African, Yoruba-inspired superhero) or Kwezi (a young, Xhosa man who discovers that his superpowers come with cultural responsibility), emblazoned onto a garment.

“I constantly battled to find a character with whom my daughter would identify on clothes, so I decided to create an African superheroine and named her Umamelwa. With her dreadlocks and boyish looks, she is a 13-year-old girl who breaks the stereotype of how a female superhero is meant to look. She doesn’t rely on her cleavage or sexiness in order to help African communities from disasters, but rather draws on the continent’s rich heritage and vast history to save the day. For example, in drought-stricken areas, she practises the ancient tradition of being a rainmaker,” explains Le Roux.

On most of the garments she is printed on, Umamelwa can be seen wielding a spear and shield. Le Roux is passionate about promoting Africa’s heritage. She even extended her passion by completing a degree in ethnomusicology at Wits University, learning how to dance malende and tshigombela from rainmakers in Limpopo.

Le Roux’s passions come together perfectly when her bespoke African designs are used in artistic performances, such as last year’s Pula Festival of African Music, held at the State Theatre in Pretoria.

“Whether it is through the textiles and clothing that we manufacture, or the music I make, I am always trying to ensure that artists in various disciplines are always supported. That is because they are the custodians who are responsible for spreading Africa’s tales and rich heritage,” says Le Roux, who is also a composer, singer, mbira player and producer.

*Catch Kgomotso le Roux performing on the first Sunday of every month at The Cullinan Hotel, east of Pretoria. Her music video for the track Nkosi Sikelela can be seen on Youtube.

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