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Change the world

16/08/2021

Yolanda Bukani is a finalist in The Herald Citizens of the Year Awards in partnership with Nelson Mandela University.

“Too athletic, too masculine, just one of the boys.” These may have been silly, meaningless words coming from her schoolmates, but to Gqeberha entrepreneur Yolanda Bukani, who was constantly on the receiving end of them, they were the descriptions that broke down her confidence and forced her to quit sports.

She would later battle lymphoma in her early 20s, a struggle which knocked her confidence even further.

Now that she is older and more self-aware, the 32-yearold finalist in The Herald Citizens of the Year awards in partnership with Nelson Mandela University, wants to protect as many people — young and old — as she can from allowing society to break them down.

Bukani recently established the fast-growing Black Excellence Modelling Academy, which houses models of all shapes, sizes and races.

The models are trained in public speaking, pageant and photographic modelling, selfconfidence and life skills.

The Black Excellence Academy is open to all and encourages people to “Come as You Are”, as its slogan suggests.

“I was a tomboy when I was younger, so I didn’t walk or stand like the other girls and I was very athletic and fit,” Bukani said.

“Because I was teased a lot about that, I ended up with confidence issues.

“I remember in school when Valentine’s Day came, my friends would receive flowers and I never received anything.

“My friends would tease me and say I was one of the boys so the boys in school didn’t look at me the way they looked at other girls.”

Bukani said the comments had affected her so much that she quit sports.

“When I matriculated, I thought I had left all that bullying behind, but even at university, similar comments were made when I wore shorts,” she said.

Bukani was diagnosed with cancer at the age of 20 while studying at Rhodes University.

“I lost all my hair, including my eyelashes, and my whole image changed for the worse.

“There were times when I didn’t even want to look in the mirror.

“I wore a wig to campus, but I would miss lectures on windy days because I was scared the wind would blow my wig off,” she said.

Now in her eighth year of remission, Bukani has not only regained her confidence, but she looks at pictures of when she was sick and is able to see the beauty she never saw in herself at the time.

She established the Black Excellence Modelling Academy in March after her events staffing company, Black Excellence Events, went out of business due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

She said modelling was the obvious choice to branch out to because she had loved it from an early age.

“I’ve always loved the idea of modelling but thought I could never be one doing the modelling because I wasn’t good enough according to the stereotype.

“That’s why our slogan is ‘Come as You Are’.

“We want people to feel that they are good enough and they don’t need to tick all these [metaphorical] boxes.”

In less than six months, Black Excellence has signed 70 models across the Bay, with a 56-year-old women being its oldest.

She said some of the academy’s models had already been scouted for gigs by local companies.

One of the academy’s younger models, Mampho Mkopane, 11, joined as a shy girl in March.

In just a few months, Mampho’s grandmother, Maureen Vellem, said, she had transformed into a confident girl.

“Before we signed her up, Mampho was a very shy girl who hardly interacted with anyone.

“She usually just stayed home and kept to herself.

“We signed her for the academy to try to get her out of her shell.

“In the last few months, I have been in awe of her transformation.

“She is a lady who takes good care of herself and has gained the confidence to interact with other children in the street,” Vellem said.

Bukani is also the founder of the Yolanda Bukani Foundation, which offers support and empowerment to people and families affected by lifethreatening illnesses such as cancer, TB, HIV/Aids and blood disorders.

She registered the foundation in 2016 and shares her story and information about life-threatening illnesses in schools and communities.

Bukani is a finalist in the entrepreneur category.

Winners will be honoured during a hybrid gala at the Radisson Blu Hotel and online on September 10.

This article appeared in The Herald (South Africa) on 16 August 2021 written by Zamandulo Malonde malondez@theherald.co.za. Nelson Mandela University is the main sponsor in the Citizens of the Year Awards 2021.

Contact information
Ms Zandile Mbabela
Media Manager
Tel: 0415042777
Zandile.Mbabela@mandela.ac.za