Valery Shaninga

“Do not live someone else’s life and someone else’s idea of what womanhood is. Womanhood is everything that’s inside of you.”

VIOLA DAVIS

Being a black womxn …(complete the sentence).

…is a gift. Being a black womxn is the only thing I could ever be, I cannot see myself any other way. Being a black womxn means being the ‘pop of colour’ that so many people search for.

A great black poet once said:

“here you are,

black and woman and in love with yourself.

you are terrifying.

they are terrified.

(as they should be)”

― Upile Chisala, soft magic.

Do you think the idea of a role model is outdated or has the idea evolved and if so how? 

I don’t think the idea is outdated, but I don’t want any parts of it right now. I don’t like that society seems to decide who should be a role model for who, which ends up dictating the way someone leads their life.

The idea of role models has not necessarily evolved, its just that people now understand that it isn’t something people actively seek to fit into the mold of.

Would you consider yourself to be one? If yes, what do you hope people learn from you?

I have no interest in being seen as a role model for anyone, and I don’t allow the view that “people look up to you” to affect the way I live my life and the choices I make for myself. Until I have children of my own, I am no one’s role model. And even then, they would not be obliged to see me as one.

Corona has paused the world for a while now, what has been holding you together during this time and what have you found most difficult about what we are experiencing?

Prayer: I pray and pray and pray. For peace, hope, faith and better days. It has been proving to be a bit difficult sometimes, but that’s when I get my “best prayers” out.

Writing: I’ve always enjoyed writing, but slacked for a while. The time spent indoors has led me back to my pen and paper, which is the best form of therapy for me. I express myself best in writing. This has been through journaling, blogging ( I run two blogs, a lifestyle one and a newly launched book blog) and simply jotting down my thoughts.

Thinking: I’m an over-thinker. Always have been and will probably always be. Being alone has allowed me to think deeper than usual, which has led me to realising and confronting things I have avoided.

Reading: I have always loved reading but have really become an avid reader in recent years. I have been able to read a lot more of my books during the lock-down period, and it has given me so much peace. Books give me the ability to live through the eyes of someone else, or simply escape life for a little bit. And with all that has been happening in the world, a little break is something we could all do with.

I have done an unimaginable amount of work in those four areas of my life.

Mental health in the black community has not been discussed at great lengths however we are slowly opening up about it. What has your experience been personally regarding your own mental health? Or if you have not personally been affected by it do you think the environment you are in is creating a safe space for the conversations take place and provides enough support?

Growing up, mental health was never discussed around me. Not with family, not with friend, not at school. But the older I got, I started seeing more discussions on TV, reading about it and so much of it resonated with me. That’s when I started paying attention to my own mental health, and doing work to deal with it.

I think mental health still isn’t openly discussed in black communities, as we are mostly reliant on religion. That’s not a bad thing, but we need to understand that you can pray and still seek professional help to deal with mental health. There might be a struggle in understanding that you can’t simply pray everything away, and that prayer also requires work from within.

I have however created my own safe space to discuss mental health. I do mental check-ins with myself, My family is slowly but surely coming around to understand that discussing mental health isn’t taboo, and I have a handful of friends that I know understand and deal with mental health. Mental health has so many possible roots, such a family, friends, jobs, relationships, genetics and just life in general. So acting like it doesn’t exist or not prioritizing it does nothing for anyone.

Where are do you find the most peace? (the world can seem very heavy for us so where do you get a chance to breathe and just be?) 

I find so much peace in words. Be it reading books, poetry, blogging and just writing down my own thoughts. There is something about being able to express myself in words and understanding other people through their words that give me peace. Any concerns or burdens that I feel I’m carrying can be put on paper and suddenly make me feel a little lighter.

How do you want the world to remember you?

Do I even want to be remembered by the world? I struggle with this a lot. Sometimes I do,  other times I feel as though those who know me will always remember me. Is it necessary for ‘the world’ to know you? What for? 

I’m still undecided on this. What I do know is that I would want to be remembered as me, the soft, sensitive, introverted person that I am. I want those who know me to remember the love I gave to them, if nothing else.

What do you love / celebrate about yourself?

I now celebrate the things that I was shamed for as a child and teeneager. 

-I love my quiet nature: I don’t think noise is the only way to be heard. I’m never one to be the centre of attention, or be the loudest in a conversation. i’m more a “speak when spoken to” type of person. I enjoy comfortable silences.

-I love my sensitivity (I cry for just about anything that makes me feel happiness, sadness and everything in between). I feel everything, and deeply so. I’ve always been emotional, and that’s not something I hide anymore. It is probably the greatest part of being me.


-I love my introverted being: I’ve never been much of an outgoing person, and I now know that’s ok. I’m a homebody, and I can create a fun, safe and simple space for myself in my home.


Being a woman to me means being human. It means learning to love myself when the world doesn’t seem to. It means learning not to look for my worth in worldly pleasures, and in the acceptance of other beings. It means understanding that I am enough. Enough within myself. 

It means having to constantly fight. Fight for peace, for protection, for opportunity, for respect and for choice. It means having to wake up to the seemingly never-ending fight to be seen as human.

I have learned that struggle love isn’t love and I never have to accept or tolerate it. The words “strong black woman” are not necessarily a compliment to me, and I don’t have to live up to them. I understand that I have one life to live, and the only person who should control that is me. In the same breath, being a woman means knowing that you are beautiful. In all ways possible. You can be anything you want to be… majestic, simple, powerful, sad, successful, complicated and everything in between. You can be as much or as little as you want to be.

A big thank you to Valery for being part of #31BlackWomxn project.

Published by Thando

A young black woman in her 20's living in South Africa documenting her life experiences.

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