These uniquely South African toys teach kids to take pride in our diversity

 
 
 

Baby Thando doesn’t look like the other dolls on the shelf. Nonhlanhla Mthethwa has made sure of that. Dark-skinned, with distinctly African characteristics, the baby doll stands out among her pale companions. She was born out of frustration, when Mthethwa couldn’t find a baby doll that her daughter could relate to. So the inventive creator set about making her own – until a lack of funding put her project on the backburner. Very soon other toy-makers began to create similar versions, but none as distinct as Baby Thando. Her point of difference? She doesn’t just look like the kids in South Africa – she sounds like them too.

Mthethwa’s creation comes with a built-in voicebox that speaks and sings nursery rhymes in a number of South Africa’s official languages. The dolls help children in early development stages to familiarise themselves with their mother tongues. The linguistic exposure is useful in cultural development, particularly if schools enforce English as the medium of learning. Visual representation matters too. When so many people turn to harmful skin bleaching products in an attempt to look like an artificial idea of what is normal, an early introduction to a likeness that kids relate to can instil pride and confidence in their authentic selves.

As the co-founder of Girlz Ink, which manufactures Baby Thando, Mthethwa is building an empire that promotes black pride and entrepreneurship. Following her initial success, she created a cartoon version of the doll and expanded with a line of clothing and accessories that feature the character. As the business grows, she plans to open a manufacturing plant in South Africa. Her entrepreneurial drive is setting the foundations for her daughter’s future and representing the diversity of our nation.