These holidays, Sevingwani Nkateko Mathonsi, a stylish young hairdresser and the owner of a salon called 10ingheads, made her way home to Ka-Mzilela, a village of about 600 houses that lies 34 kilometres outside Giyani in northeastern Limpopo.
Leading up to Christmas, Mathonsi, 23, treated orphaned and impoverished children in Ka-Mzilela and neighbouring villages to free hair makeovers. From 20 December until Christmas Eve, in the three-room house she shares with her brother, Mathonsi braided and styled the hair of children between three and 18 years old. She styled 10 children’s hair per day but because of a shortage of resources, she was able only to do straight-up and straight-back types of braiding.
Mathonsi’s decision to do her bit for these village children was sparked by her personal experience with financial hardship after losing both her parents last year. “I know the difficulty and the pressure of wanting to be beautiful around the December festivities, only to find out that no one is there to take care of you,” she says. “I want to help anyone who deserves this. They only have to bring their clean heads and I will do what I am good at – making them look beautiful. At least helping them out with hairstyles will be minus one problem.”
Mathonsi is a biomedical technology graduate from Vaal University of Technology (VUT). She lives in a rented room in Soweto and runs her salon out of friends’ dormitory rooms at VUT, offering her services mostly to students.
“I never thought I would make a living out of doing people’s hair,” she says. “I learnt this from playing with dolls and sometimes I would call my aunties and other people to come do their hair.”
Mathonsi grew up in Ka-Mzilela with her only brother, Pfunani Mathonsi, 22. Their mother, Winnies Ngobeni, 43, left them for job prospects when they were in primary school. “My mother found a job in 2006 and moved to Mpumalanga. I have been living with my brother since I was doing grade 4,” she says.
She went to Mzilela Primary School and matriculated at Ndhambi High School in 2013, both in the area. “I did sciences in high school. Here, when you choose science subjects people respect you and think you are the brightest learner,” she says.
Last December, Mathonsi and Pfunani, who sells chicken feet and popcorn on a street in Ka-Mzilela, spent their first Christmas without their parents. “We tried to avoid meeting other people so that we wouldn’t hear of their Christmas and New Year’s plans,” she says, recalling the pain of losing their parents.
Both parents died within three months last year. Her father, Giyani Mathonsi, 43, lived in Pretoria and died in March. “I was closer to my father than my mother,” she says. “His death is the one that I am still struggling with,” she says and pauses, overcome by sadness.
After working as a security officer for many years, Mathonsi’s mother returned to the village in 2015 to live with her children. In 2016, she took ill while Mathonsi was completing her second year of studies. “He [Pfunani] was taking care of [my mother while I was at school],” she says as her eyes well with tears. Her mother died in June, a year later.
Mathonsi and her brother are still reeling from the loss of their parents. “It is so painful to lose a mother because you want to call her so that she can give you some advice and only to find that she’s no more,” she says. “My mother loved dancing so much. Every time when I was home my brother would take videos of us dancing.”
Mathonsi’s mother left her children before they were able to show her how much they appreciated and valued her. “I wanted to build a house and buy a car for her. She did not know how to drive but I would have loved to see her with a car. Anyways, I am still going to buy it regardless of the fact that she’s no more. My brother will be the one to drive it.”
For Mathonsi, helping the children with Christmas hair makeovers also served as a form of therapy for her, as she learns to cope without her parents.