The importance of safe spaces is increasingly an important conversation around the world, and in South Africa, with the alarming rates of gender-based violence and violence against the queer community, there is no better time than now to highlight those playing their part in achieving this.

This is What Makes Us Girls* started out as a zine created in response to the lack of platforms willing to showcase the work of young black, queer, femme, and womxn artists. The zine, founded by Boni Mnisi and Wesley Leal, both multi-disciplinary artists in their own right, launched its first issue in 2017 and focused on works by young womxn and non-binary artists living in South Africa with the sole purpose of inspiring contributors to continue creating whilst simultaneously breaking down systemic barriers.



We caught up with the duo to find out more about the project, their successes thus far; and what the future holds for ThisIsWhatMakesUsGirls: 

On October 30th we launched the zine with a party at the Waiting Room which I can – without a doubt – say was one of the best nights of my life. For womxn and queer people, clubbing is an exercise in surveillance. Because of the constant threat we’re under, we have to be aware of so many things happening around us,  we sometimes miss out on the enjoyment of being out because we’re too focused on some guys who’ve been looking at us for too long.

Our zine launch was the first time I didn’t feel that.
Not once throughout the night did I feel that I had to be hyper-aware, not once did I feel unsafe.
As I began walking around I realised that a lot of people felt the same way. I got up to the roof and walked in on a huge topless photo shoot. About 5 girls were lined up with their tops up while someone took a photo. That’s probably my best memory from that party!” 
On the future, this what they had to say:
“The future is really uncertain at point. We’ve decided to stop hosting parties as frequently because we feel that there are better and more practical ways to educate people about intersectionality. Wesley and I recently hosted our first evening of panel discussions under the alias “Mr & Mrs Leal” which was by far one of the most rewarding events we’ve ever hosted. We’re definitely looking to make a move into the art world as we’re both artists before anything else so hopefully you’ll be seeing us exhibit everywhere in the city by the end of this year!” 

The duo has since collaborated on a Womxn’rs Day party with established DJ duo NoDiggity; recognised by the British Fashion Council; Boiler Room; and Redbull.


Words: Boni Mnisi

Images: Boni Mnisi + Lilu van Rensburg

Author: Musa Nyangiwe