‘South African women are loud in their articulation of their heritage’ – Carol Bouwer on women making a mark in the arts and the upcoming Mbokodo Awards


She’s one of SA’s most well-known faces, having made a name for herself as a presenter, producer and then CEO of her Carol Bouwer Productions, which produces various shows, including the two-decade-old SABC 2 talk show, Motswako, The Mix. She's also a Unicef SA special advocate, among other noteworthy roles.

My first encounter with this dexterous businesswoman was through her role on Generations back in 1994 when black women were often cast as characters who played to the stereotypes of the day - in the kitchen and pregnant.

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This was not the reality of the characters of the much-loved soapie, women on Generations lived in what, to my young mind, seemed like a whole other world where they could be both mom and CEO, villain and hero.

Even back then, 25 years ago, Carol played a dominant role and started influencing young minds for greatness through her craft. Nowadays, she expresses her passion for the arts by providing a platform for the recognition of women in the creative industries.

The founder, convener, and producer, of the Mbokodo Awards speaks to W24 about her role in the awards and her hopes for upcoming artists.

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The recipients of these esteemed awards, to be conferred on 7 November in Melrose Arch, range from the visual arts, theatre, media, film, traditional and indigenous arts, and humanitarians. Past recipients include the likes of Napo Mashiane, Zanele Muholi, Tumi Morake, Terry Pheto, Nomzamo Mbatha, and Nadine Gordimer. 

Carol’s track record casts it in stone that she has staying power even in a time where the country's economy has a negative outlook. Speaking about what keeps her consistant, she says, "I believe in an empowered female population; you can’t keep giving men honour and ignoring women.”

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The women who are earmarked to receive Mbokodo Awards are not only exceptional in their work, they also contribute to society beyond their performances and artworks.

Carol explains the kind of women that the judging panel will be recognising, “My sounding principle, which is shared by all the judges is that it (the winner) has to be someone who uses good to benefit South Africa, someone who takes their art and thinks: how is my nation going to be better because I have been given this talent?” 

There’ve been various instances of elation since the Mbokodo Awards started in 2012.

Reminiscing about those moments of sheer joy, Carol says, “The big ones for me were Sibongile Khumalo and Napo Mashiane’s speeches at the first awards in Soweto [at the Soweto Theatre]. It was momentous, sitting in that theatre that could sit anywhere in the world, that almost looks like the Guggenheim (one of New York’s most iconic events venues, which hosts various cultural events of international acclaim). Knowing that black women designed this theatre held so much resonance for me.”

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On the same night, acclaimed author and activist Nadine Gordimer received an award. “This is the last big occasion that she attended [before her passing] because she felt it was significant that she comes herself,” Carol says.

It's been eight years since the inception of the awards and it’s clear, this is a woman on a mission – to empower women to reach “self-actualisation in their lifetimes.”

A number of women who have been awarded Mbokodo Awards have gone on to receive national orders, something which demonstrates the awards' role in setting the agenda and preparing the ground for the recognition of women.

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It's no coincidence. Carol emphasises the care that goes into conscientising the nation about the need to celebrate all our artists. “We have been very conscious about reminding the country about the heroes that we just can’t forget,” she says. 

She feels privilaged to work in a space where women are creating thought-provoking pieces, whether it’s on stages, on canvasses or in literature. “South African women are loud in their articulation of their heritage. It has been a privilege to be led by Shado Twala, who has given so much to the industry,” Carol says. 

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Speaking of the illusory world that the Mbokodo Awards, and other similar initiatives, hope to bring to realisation, Carol shares her vision. “In an ideal world, there wouldn’t be a conversation about women in the arts. The fact that we must make a distinction is because of this disparaged look at the different genres, genders, and persuasions of women within the realm of women – we have women who are transexual, transitioning, heterosexuals. We would arrive at a place where those distinctions are not even having to be made. Ideally, we would live in a world where we talk about African arts as a whole concept on its own.” 

For young women who hope to live a self-actualised life, Carol has this to say, “Live as authentically as possible. Never mute your voice to accommodate what others think, you need to be able to share your talent and dreams with the rest of the world. That should be the dream, not awards, not money, not fame; those things should be incidental.”

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