Meet the 23-year-old thug navigating the world of finance in style.
Words: Afrika Bogatsu | Photography: Size Mbiza
Affectionately known as 'Mamthug', 23-year-old junior accountant Mbalentle Liziwe Kwanini was born and raised in Soweto Mzimhlophe. Raised in a female-led family, Liziwe was raised to be tough. If you’re lucky to know her personally or have interacted with her, you can tell just how much her upbringing comes through even in the way she speaks: blunt and straight to the point, almost crass at times.
“I was a tomboy from day one, and I looked at a lot like my father as a kid, “intombi yaka ise (my father's daughter). I always chose sneakers over sandals, baggy boyfriend jeans over hip-hugging skinny jeans, hoodies over tank tops.” In university, she was the embodiment of carefree, especially in her thrifted oversized clothes. “Looking good for other people didn’t matter, I would wake up, throw on a pair of sweats and go to class or the library, my motto was 'comfort'.” She says she gained quite a bit of weight in those three years but it didn’t bother her, because she was comfortable as she should be.
She studied a BCom Finance at the University of Johannesburg. She describes having completed her 3-year degree and made it out alive as something similar to a miracle. “Being black and being able to get an education, is one of the most liberating experiences that anyone can afford you. And with all the circumstances that we have to go through, my being able to be the first in my family to achieve that brought immense pride and joy. Add getting employment after that… I often find it difficult explaining how that feels or what it means. Something that is and should be a very standard thing for other people, is not for us (black people) and every time something like this happens (and we witness it on the timeline on Twitter) it’s a celebration for us all.”
With growth and maturity, she settled into her mother's features, and started exploring her femininity through style, something that was escalated by the pressures of the professional world.
The transition from life as a student to the professional world is a struggle for most young people. Liziwe knew that things would of course change but she hadn’t quite expected it to be such culture shock. After experiencing office dress codes, she bought her very first pencil skirt and pumps in the very first week of work.
Beyond a change in her physical appearance, she describes being a young educated black woman in a white-dominated company as a challenge. “it was a volatile space where you have to quickly learn that the world isn’t as jazz handsy as you had imagined. I’ve learned to deal with things like ageism, sexism and racism in its purest form. And in a way, it’s enhanced my confidence and resilience and reminded me of my worth and in turn made me unapologetically demanding of my space.” She knows that she’s qualified and capable, so she’s not too phased by any discrimination or shade thrown her way.
Also, her creative outlook in life helps her adapt very easily in different spaces. “I’m a bit of chameleon, I fit in pretty well everywhere despite the challenges and difficulties”
Her ability to adapt is evident in her style, which she describes as 'open to interpretation', and 'versatile'. She gravitates towards functional clothes, like relaxed fitting shirts, slim cut cropped pants that can lend themselves to a number of different looks, for work or dinner and dancing, with a simple swap from brogues to sneakers. “I love clothes and fashion so while living on an intern salary for a year, I learned how to be very frugal and adjust my budget to make it match my style. I’ve found ways to stretch my buck and take it further than it should. I know where to look and how to look for things that I like.” Letting us into her shopping secrets, she says there is a sacred section between the pyjamas and maternity wear, where you’ll find unwanted gems waiting for someone like her with an unconventional sense of style.
Her style has been inspired and influenced by the women in her life, particularly her aunts and mother. “What I love about them is that they can be a tracksuit and sneaker type of girl and still wear a three-piece suit with the highest high heels. You can never box them in. ” When it comes to her favourite pieces of clothing she says any matching two-piece set is guaranteed to make her feel good “Two-piece sets are my ‘siyabangena’ outfits, my jump starters, my confidence boosters, they are me. For my 22nd birthday, I themed it around two-piece sets because I wanted all my friends to feel as good in them.”
While she obviously has to adhere to the strict dress codes that are commonplace in formal industries like finance, she still manages to stand out and never looks like she’s wearing a uniform. “My style is quirky and a little street, I don’t look like anybody else in the office, and that raises a lot of eyebrows.”
When not in the office, she’s pursuing her true and deep passion for creative arts. “When I was younger, my uncle introduced me to the local live music and poetry scene in downtown Joburg. We’d take a train and go to sessions. Since then, I fell madly in love and have been obsessed with poetry and art.” She even tried her hand at it but admittedly she says she was horrible at it and chose instead to be an appreciator and avid support of art instead of a creative.
You’re bound to catch her at a music festival, live gig or out at an exhibition on First Thursday, or on the dancefloor on a Saturday night.
Based off of Liziwe’s charisma and unique style it’s very easy to assume that she’s a creative as she doesn’t look like what you would expect from an accountant or anyone else in the financial industry. “People get really shocked when they find out that I’m not a creative, they even refuse to believe it, so often I just don’t tell people what it is I do.”
She uses her Instagram for storytelling purposes. “I’m a bit of a jack of many trades, still trying to master one but I’m really passionate about the work that I produce with Size Mbiza. I really enjoy and conceptualising shoots (like this one). I describe them as my extramural activities.”