Social worker and author, a Q&A with Rethabile Lenkoe
KayDee Mashile speaks to South African social worker and author Rethabile Lenkoe about her latest book, Mirror, her love for writing and the importance of self-forgiveness.
Bongani Madondo once wrote, “Writing is both an act of war and a practice of love”. It is war, both internally and externally, to write your version of the truth. It often calls for the crucifixion of self – one’s pride has to give in to one’s vulnerability. To Rethabile Lenkoe, a South African author, and social worker, writing is like stepping out naked and hoping that people will understand your motives and help you instead of condemning you. For Lenkoe, writing can be painful, venturing into the unknown, hoping for the best but secretly anticipating the worst. In anticipation of Women’s Month, The Journalist had the privilege of speaking to Lenkoe about her writing, her inspiration and mental health.
Who is Rethabile?
I am a social worker specialising in substance abuse, a mental health advocate, founder of Phoenix Rising Community, blogger and author of Stepping Out Naked and Mirror. Above all I am a mother. A grandchild, daughter and friend. A woman with a passion for helping others.
What inspires your writing?
My experiences and quest to live out my truth inspires what I write about mostly but I am also inspired by the resilience that is the human spirit, how people still find the courage to continue living even when life throws them to the ground. I am also inspired by my own healing and how it causes me to evolve and I share that in my writing with the aim that it will inspire others to seek their healing. My love for writing stems back to my teenage years and the ability to put into words what many people struggle to articulate.
Please tell us about your most recent book, Mirror.
Mirror is the everyday story of the battles that women face but seldom have the courage to speak about. It is about exposing what we go through or have gone through so that others can find hope. The book addresses amongst other things the burden that is placed on us by society to be strong women and how that sometimes leads us to compromise ourselves. It’s about the reality of broken dreams and the pain of starting over when we realise that the way our lives are is not something we are happy about.
The book tells the story of four women myself included and the experiences that have shaped us. The mistakes made in an attempt to seek the validation of others, abuse, trusting the wrong people and how that leaves one tainted. It’s the celebration of our strength as women but also a call to start looking within for what we lack instead of hoping to find it in others. The book is aimed at preaching self-forgiveness and the beauty of bouncing back and owning our truth instead of shrinking back and living in shame because of our wounds. Mirror is holding our truth up so that others can see their stories reflected in ours. And for that to cause a ripple effect of women living unapologetically.
As a young woman, what role (if any) have the stories of other women played in shaping the woman you are today?
Whilst my first book was only about my personal experiences, in the book Mirror I share the stories of other women because I believe that we have more that makes us similar than that which makes us different. The stories of other women have not only influenced my writing but they continue to shape my beliefs and perception and remind me daily to be thankful for my life. I have been encouraged, inspired and discovered possibilities because of the stories of the women in my life and those I watch from a distance.
Who are some of the women you look up to?
In my personal life I look up to the women I have found sisterhood in. For different reasons, but each woman in my life possesses qualities and strength that I drew from. I’m inspired by their diligence, humility and authenticity. I am blessed to be surrounded by women who push me to always strive to be the best version of myself. The very same women who are making strides within their fields and remind me that the possibilities are endless if one is committed.
Sarah Jakes Roberts is one of my favourite female authors. I love her willingness to be vulnerable and admire the work that she is doing through Women Evolve. Locally I look up to women like Azania Mosaka and Khanyi Dlomo who have remained grounded despite the success they have achieved.
What other books have you written and what’s next?
My first book is called Stepping Out Naked: Lessons learned from wounds exposed.
I have already done a few talks and I am available for more. I plan to grow Phoenix Rising Community and spread awareness on mental health issues, the help and treatment available and it is my hope that in the future, talking about mental health will not be such a taboo subject in our homes. For now, my focus is on promoting Mirror and whether there will be a third book remains to be seen.