2019 Rising Festival speaker Loveness Mangezi shares her story
Ahead of the 2019 Rising Festival – a day of talks and workshops designed to help women realise their potential, supported by the Cambridge Independent and Velvet magazine – Alice Ryan meets one of the speakers.
Loveness Mangezi can pinpoint the moment her family life fell apart. She was 7. She heard her parents fighting and, venturing out of bed, saw her father first attack her mum, then stow a kitchen knife under his pillow. At 5am, her mother woke her, hushed her out of the bedroom window and, still in dressing gowns and slippers, they walked miles across Harare to the safety of her grandparents’ house.
“The violence got so bad, my father actually cut the ligaments in both my mother’s forearms. He would get into such a rage, he’d drive to the school where she was a teacher and drag her out of the classroom in front of the children. But it was never spoken about. It left its mark, though. For a long time, it cast a shadow.”
To see Loveness now – happy, strong, bright, beautiful – it’s hard to compute the suffering she’s been through. “I realised we have a choice in life,” she says, matter of fact. “You can spend it blaming others, or you can take charge of your own choices, your own direction. And that’s what I decided to do.”
Loveness will be appearing at Cambridge’s Rising Festival on March 9: a day of inspiration, talks and workshops held to mark International Women’s Day, it aims to help women to realise their potential in every area of life, from relationships to careers. She’ll be taking part in the What Next? session, which looks at coping with life’s curveballs.
“I say I’ve already lived at least three lives,” laughs Loveness. “The most important thing to realise, I think, is that a loss, whatever form it takes, is actually an opportunity: an opportunity to sift through our experiences, learn lessons, then move forward.”
By then living largely with her grandparents, aged 8 Loveness suffered another life-altering trauma: left in the care of an uncle, she was sexually abused. “Again it wasn’t discussed. But I started acting out: I dressed like a boy, I’d start street fights with boys. . .
“Years later, my uncle passed away in front of me. I actually saw him die of a heart attack. Part of me was happy that I could see him dying; the other part was angry that he was dying without owning up to what he had done.”
A successful health consultant, entrepreneur, speaker and now author - her memoir, Much From The Losses, comes out in spring – Loveness moved to the UK, from her native Zimbabwe, 10 years ago. Having just lost her mum to skin cancer, she felt in need of a fresh start.
“For a long time I hated my mum. If I was her, I’d never have gone back to my dad, but she did – they went on to have my brother 12 years after me and I was so angry! But I went to boarding school, I went to train as a nurse, and my perspective changed. By the time she died, my mum and I were best friends.”
Though coming to the UK was a new beginning, Loveness brought her emotional baggage with her. “It came out in my relationships. Things a boyfriend did or said would trigger memories and I’d be convinced he was going to be like my dad. Then my childhood sweetheart let me down badly; we were engaged, buying a house. . .
“It was after that I started journaling. I wanted to talk to someone who wouldn’t talk back, didn’t have an opinion or a judgment. So I talked to my journal.
“I wrote in it for a whole year without reading a word, then decided to face it. I was so bitter and angry. I thought ‘This is not the person I want to be. I can’t be this person’.”
Around the same time, Loveness was being treated for suspected appendicitis – which turned out to be a 5kg tumour. Though benign, it had adhered to her organs; a scar, running the length of her abdomen, is the relic of day-long surgery to remove it.
“It was while I was recovering that I realised I had to heal my mind as well as my body,” says Loveness, who says reading, writing and positive mantras all played a part. “I had this huge physical scar and emotional scars too,” she explains.
“I’d stand in front of the mirror three times a day and say ‘Loveness, you are the best version of the person you were created to be. You are perfect in every way, even in your flaws.’ I’d really encourage people to try it. You feel uncomfortable the first time you do it, yes, but gradually you start to believe.”
Keen not only to help herself, but also to help others, Loveness styled herself as the Game Changer Junkie, becoming active online, via blog and social channels, and starting to do media appearances and talks. “I’m not a motivational speaker, I’m more of a strategist. I give people strategies to try – like journaling, like positive mantras – which I’ve found helpful myself.”
As part of the healing process, Loveness developed her ‘sensual collection’: sold under the label Loveness London, it’s a range of fragranced candles, reed diffusers, bath salts and massage oils. The scents are evocative for Loveness – “a smell can take you to a different place” – and are designed to encourage both moments of mindfulness and body confidence, too: “It’s about feeling good in your own skin.”
With her book, inspired by her journals, publishing in April, Loveness hopes to spread her word even further and wider. “If I had just one message to give, it would be about loss,” she concludes.
“The loss of a child, a parent, a relationship, a home – all can be paralysing. What I’ve learned is that, however uncomfortable it may feel, uncertainty is actually the key to growth, because it gives you the energy to want to change.
“My life now compared to my life five years ago is radically different; I’m radically different. That’s proof that positive change is possible.”