The Oxford dictionary defines an activist as a person who campaigns to bring about political or social change. There are those who lead protests and marches, sparking structural change through revolution. But more commonly you will find quiet activists, individuals who look at the world around them as it is and are not satisfied with this. Instead of accepting things as they are, they push for the change they want to see. 

I got to speak to Mantedieng Mantis Mamabolo-Cunningham, a gender-queer business analyst living in Cape Town and author of a children’s book. Their published work, ‘Boipelo’s Family Tree’, is a book about a black girl who is being raised by same-sex parents. When asking Mantis what inspired the book, they shared how they found it disheartening to see there was no representation of queer families in children’s literature in South Africa. So Mantis took it upon themselves to change this. 

The protagonist, Boipelo, has changed schools as she was being bullied for having queer parents. At her new school, the teacher gives the class a project to work on…each student should compile and share their family tree! You can imagine Boipelo’s apprehension, but the teacher encourages her to share. The beauty of this story is it highlights the diversity of families in South Africa. We do not only see Boipelo’s two mothers, but single parent households, children being raised by grandparents and even a child who has been adopted. When asked if there is any significance to the protagonist’s name (mind my ignorance), Mantis confirmed, sharing that Boipelo means Pride in Setswana.

Mantis mentioned the support role their family played in getting the book published. 

‘The struggle in writing the book was making sure it was relatable to children whilst also being educational for the parents reading to their children.’

What highlights that this was indeed a family supported initiative, the illustrator, Yamkela Mayisela, is Mantis’ Nephew. 

When asked whether they have seen a change to the landscape in South Africa since the book was published in 2019, Mantis acknowledged that there has been an explosion of children’s books with black protagonists, but we still have a way to go when it comes to queer representation.

Mantis has played the role of pioneering in the children’s literature space in South Africa, by putting out work that our offspring can ingest and find home in. This is activism that will leave a legacy. If you want to access the book, there are a few copies available, which you can access by reaching out on the ‘Boipelo’s Family Tree’ Facebook page. Mantis is planning to publish a follow up, so stay tuned. 

Since the publishing of Boipelo’s Family Tree, Mantis met their partner and has since married. Mantis and their wife are now expecting a child come October 2022, what a blessing that they will have a book to gift their child with. Congrats, may your family stay blessed. 


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