Towela Tembo enjoys contributing to the social development of Africa through photography and documentaries. She explains that she is most content when she elevates vulnerable, social groups through her work.
“I am Christian and a firm believer in faith, hope and love. I believe in social justice as this translates directly into everything I do,” she says. Towela notes that it has however been difficult to re-introduce photography as an influential tool for social change because many perceive photography as part of pop-culture. “The nature of my work is mature, sensitive and far from trendy. I want to be an influential photographer. I am proud of the work God has done through me at such a young age. If anything, it has taught me to work hard and strive for excellence in order to exhibit my passion for photography and professionalism.”
She is just 18, and her talent and wisdom belies her age. Towela, a naturalised Motswana originally from Zambia, was born and raised in Gaborone. She completed her secondary education at Rainbow School, attaining 46 points. She completed a short photography course in Cape Town and returned to Botswana. Towela says she had a dull life before she started photography. “When I realised potential in photography as a hobby, it was a very exciting venture.” She spent hours on end perfecting her craft. “After sharpening my skill for over a year, my mother purchased the camera that I still use today, a Nikon D5200. She told me to turn my ambition into a business and explained that she viewed buying me the camera as an investment and therefore wanted to see the fruits of it.”
That is how PBTK (Photography by Towela Kams) started. The photography business, that caters for families, couples and corporate businesses, has proceeded to exceed Towela’s wildest expectation as she now lists the United Nations Organisation among her regular clients.
Towela spearheaded the HBINY (Her Body Is Not Yours) Campaign, which was birthed from a tragic, real- life experience that happened last year. “I was in a cab and the driver began to narrate explicitly how he and his friend rape school girls. I was not touched or raped that day – it was a situation I prayed myself out of, but it did raise concern surrounding the reality of the issue of sexual assault in Botswana.” She held a photograph exhibition in May at the Botswana National Museum with over 50 attendees that were each given the opportunity to psychoanalyse. She says this powerful exercise was carried out to hold attendees accountable to their thought processes that lead to the continuity of rape culture in Botswana. She adds that the mandate of the HBINY Campaign is to raise consciousness on sexual assault through the medium of photography. “The photographs are meant to raise eyebrows, cause alarm and compel a call-to-action.”
Towela also worked on the Without Borders documentary alongside five other African immigrants from Zambia, Nigeria and Ghana: Sheba Kapambwe, Ketty Mphande, Kwasi AD, Godwin Ifez and Kafui Adjah. They unraveled being bicultural and learning to redefine their meaning of home. She says that working on the documentary was inspired by her own search for cultural identity, “especially nowadays, where the youth including myself tend to be less vested in earning their cultural roots.” She adds: “The cultural dynamic is faced by immigrants across the continent and I felt the urge to address it to improve immigrant - citizen relationships, promote African diversity and share on the immigrant’s perspective of home.”
The documentary will be released on Friday, June 22, 2018 at 6pm on her YouTube Channel: Towela Kams. Towela has also been commissioned by UNHRC SkillShare International to conduct a photography workshop at Dukwi Refugee Camp. “I enjoyed teaching refugees how to photograph manually like professional photographers, and was very impressed to see the work of SkillShare International in the development of skills and elevation of wellbeing in the lives of refugees, considering that I am a social activist myself.”
To view some of her work visit Facebook page Towela Kams and Instagram (@hbiny.campaign)