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Elegant, Sexy And Fierce

Her great-grandmother nicknamed her Mukwasi—meaning long elegant bird in her mother tongue, Shona—and elegant she grew to be. Nyasha Matonhodze has taken the fashion world by storm and the top spot in FORBES AFRICA’s Top Models of 2011-12

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Nyasha Matonhodze was born on July 31, 1994, in Zimbabwe. Her mother was just 18 years old, so she was looked after by her grandmother and grew up bathing outside in the sun and falling asleep in the sand in the rural areas around the capital, Harare.

At the age of eight, she went to join her mother in England, who was working in the small midland town of Northampton. It was here where Nyasha became aware of herself and her dreams.

“I was never a girly girl, but I did really like make up and watching America’s Next Top Model,” she once told Fashion TV.

It was the show that drew her interest in modeling. She decided at 14 that it was something she’d try out. Her parents took her to an open call at Elite, after which she won the Elite Model Look competition in the United Kingdom. Two years later, at the tender age of 16, she walked her first runway. “It really teaches you how to present yourself; what elegant, sexy, fierce is really about,” she says about her job.

It’s extremely hard to pin her down for a chat because of the breakneck speed of her new life.  She went from shooting in London to castings for New York Fashion Week and was later on her way to Milan. You could almost say that the model is elusive and there are very few interviews with her in existence.

Nyasha—whose name means mercy in her mother tongue—is now at the mercy of a tough business while she is still a teenager. Modeling is not for the fainthearted. The rewards may be high, but the risks are great. You have to miss sleep for months on end shuttling from one capital to the next. Your face can fall and your fortunes can fall with it. Often, your name can be on everyone’s lips one minute; the next, you are in obscurity.

Despite Nyasha’s tender years, she appears to have her head screwed on with a healthy grasp of the misfortunes that can haunt her chosen career.

“You never know what’s next. One minute you’re good and the next is a bit of a… I’m just making the most of the time that I’ve got,” she smiles.

For now, she is most definitely a rising star. She has walked in more than 90 shows since her debut, with more than 80 in the last year. She has been on the cover of two magazines and is represented by Elite Model Management in London, Milan and Paris, and the by Marilyn Agency in New York.

Her career highlight must be her earning a spot in the Louis Vuitton advertising campaign. It’s made sure that anyone who hadn’t heard of Nyasha Matonhodze won’t forget her anytime soon.

After the announcement, she told the Daily Telegraph in London that tears had welled up in her eyes.

“I thought ‘Lord you are lucky!’ It didn’t actually hit me until I was in a Rolls Royce sitting eye-to-eye with (renowned fashion photographer, Steven) Meisel.”

She’s also done advertising for Topshop.

She has a pleasing disposition, carries herself with elegance and still maintains that childlike sparkle in her eyes and playfulness.

The cut-throat world of beauty leaves most to think that there’s little room for friends, with plenty of young hopefuls being discovered—and vying for the same jobs. Matonhodze’s warmth has allowed her to find a best friend in Ajak Deng—who is number eight on our list.

“I love what I do,” she says.

The question which remains is how long will this dream run last? In the meantime, you can be sure this potential future-Iman or Naomi Campbell—who has traveled a long journey from the Zimbabwean bush to the heights of sophistication—will enjoy every last minute of it. 

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