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5 Young South Africans owning the cultural space

5 Young South Africans owning the cultural space

by: Mayuyuka Kaunda - 15 June 2017

We’ve come across a range of young people throughout the year who’ve entertained and educated us in equal measure. We highlight five shining stars of the South African cultural sector. Celebrating their contributions from vlogging to fashion with Youth Day upon us, here’s why you should get to know them.

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THATO MAHAPA – lifestyle blogger (Bearded Muse)

Being conscious of his appearance stems from a young age for Thato Mahapa, who dressed up in a suit and tie on civvies days during his schooling years. Now he’s the Creative Director of Bearded Muse: a lifestyle blog, created last year, which caters to young South African men seeking lifestyle advice.

The site provides a fresh perspective on the field, and came about after Mahapa noticed a glaring absence of such platforms. “I felt we didn’t have enough bloggers putting out word on how to dress, what to drink and where to hang out,” he says. Bearded Muse addresses that by providing grooming, fashion and experiential advice for aspirant young men. The blog’s success has seen recognition from brands which has led to interesting collaborations, most recently with Spier Wines.

These brand partnerships tie in with Mahapa’s personal views as much as they compliment the blog’s positioning. The stylish aspiring lawyer shares how “it helps to learn as much as you can about key places to hang out, what to associate yourself with and what to avoid”. This also shines through in his view of style representing much more than meets the eye; he expresses how he wants to “show people the psychology behind living and dressing well and also the benefits of doing so”. It boils down to a “conscious decision and a little bit of effort” according to him. He explains how this psychology is tied to how people treat you based on how you’re dressed, the conversations you engage in and how you carry yourself.

By ticking all these boxes himself, Mahapa is representative of the suave, new South African man. The greater drive behind his fashion sense, effortlessly classy and elegant, is how he sees style as an important part of promoting youth culture. Mahapa believes that “youth culture contributes to the creation of jobs, changing the status quo through entrepreneurship and the deconstruction of problematic societal norms.” In a time where care – that of those around you or yourself – is becoming increasingly important, his social awareness is reassuring. The Bearded Muse is shaping how South African men carry themselves and view the world around them and its founder ascribes this to a rise in ‘wokeness’.

“The youth has been opening their eyes to oppressive systems and social constructs, and in the same breadth we are working on dismantling these systems and beliefs: re-educating ourselves to provide for a more equal society.” Mahapa sees the role of style as central to re-imagining ourselves and shares his vision through his blog. His emphasis on young people curating all areas of their lives makes his endeavour deeply symbolic of the route young South African men are taking today.

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SHIBA MELISSA MAZAZA – podcaster, voice artist, curator (Unknown Union)

Shiba Melissa Mazaza is a podcaster, music curator and voice over artist responsible for spreading all sorts of joy in the South African cultural marketplace. Often heard and seen in both the background and at the forefront of several platforms, she has an irrepressible eagerness to constantly contribute to the cultural sector.

Seeing her voice as powerful tool is what attracted her to these fields as she views radio, voice and music leaning against the same wall, so to speak. “The right sounds and the right silences can stir up a lot in people” she says, and she’s been stirring since her introduction to the industry in 2010. Mazaza has lent her voice to a wide array of platforms such as the Encounters Documentary Festival, Okayafrica, Itsahouse, Design Indaba, Weheartbeat and Littlegig.

She has also contributed to various festivals and creative spaces, striving to share the quality work of other young artists from across the continent. Her understanding of youth culture is rooted in her belief that carefully curated self expression can lead to young people having important conversations in a productive manner. To her, the youth carry new ideas and ways of thinking that help the world evolve and pose questions about who and why we are. “Now more than ever we need experimentation, to challenge norms and use our collective voices to find new ways of facing old problems” she says. This involves interacting with older generations, and her first-hand experience on a Woolworths campaign working alongside Hugh Masekela and Pharrell Williams is an example of this.

Since then, she’s become media manager for creative brand Unknown Union, run by Jason Storey and Yasiin Bey fka Mos Def. This has been an awakening experience as she’s been able to test the power of podcasting whilst producing them for their independent radio station, The Eye. Having access to such a platform allows her to provide an outlet for other young people’s voices. She lives by the expression ‘you don’t have to be a voice for the voiceless… just pass the mic‘. “That’s what I try to do every time I get into the booth, write a feature or produce a show at the station” she says. With this country’s history of silencing the voiceless, Mazaza is acutely aware of the responsibility that comes with her mission, particularly in relation to providing opportunities to young women who can’t always access them.

“It’s harder for women to elbow their way to the mic throughout life in general” she says, and hopes speaking first and showing someone else that it’s possible makes the task a little less daunting. Following in the footsteps of great women who’ve made contributions before her, her journey has always been about using her voice to reach people. What makes her initiative essential is her desire to cordon off a safe enough space for folks and saying “this is ours… stand back and listen to the future take shape.” Here’s to her, and the countless other voices standing for a positive contribution to society.

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MERCIA TUCKER- arts journalist (The Plug)

Mercia Tucker is a music journalist who contributes to online platform, The Plug magazine. She has raised the level of documenting South African hip hop by dissecting both the music and the context within which it is made. Her in-depth features are eye-opening and are as entertaining as they are educational.

Although she comes from a commercial background, in the words of Kwame Nkrumah; she believes that “you’re not born a writer but writing is born in you”. Her decision to take a leap into this field has challenged other writers to provide long-form commentary on contemporary youth culture. Managing to utilise music as a driver of conversation is a particular strength of hers with topics ranging from Africa’s influence on international hip hop, to questioning whether socially conscious hip hop has a market in today’s culture.

Mercia sees her digital contribution happening in an exciting space as she believes youth culture is the driving force behind everything. “We’ve seen political hopefuls tailor their campaigns to the youth not only with the backing of pop culture icons but also in marketing and expression” she says. This intersection of youth culture and sociopolitical aspects of society is largely driven by the proliferation of digital media, and a plethora of social media platforms. Mercia is at the forefront of young South African women lending their voices to these digital spaces. She reflects how “platforms for youthful engagement were once whimsical and playful (but have) become one of the most powerful mechanisms for social discourse and political commentary”.

“One of the more important ways we’ve seen a cultural revolution has been young people crafting careers out of the arts” she says, expressing how “the arts and youth culture have given young people a new kind of freedom, both artistically and financially.” This freedom is apparent in the quality of her journalism which is of an inquiring mind, not afraid to ask the hard questions and equally adept at providing light relief. Also central to her work is the idea that women of colour should be adequately represented, not just in terms of self expression, but for structural reasons too.

“The Plug has a team of contributors that is overwhelmingly representative of women of colour,” she shares proudly. This affirmation reminds her of a favourite quote of hers coined by Danielle Bowler; “Everytime I see a powerful black woman slaying, I feel like I can stand a little taller, work a little harder, dream a little bigger.” How apt that sentiment is on a day like Youth Day.

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OKAY WASABI – sketch comedian

George Mnguni is the up-and-coming comedian bringing laughs and music to his audience through his alias, Okay Wasabi. His popularity is steadily growing, as is his catalogue; which now includes his debut mixtape titled Lost in Atteridgeville. When not making original music, the 24-year-old is a maestro at parodies and has developed a healthy relationship with his sizeable following on social media.

He engages with his audience by innovatively using trends like his All You Need Is Love hashtag. The sketch comedian also uses his video skills, obtained from The Academy Of Television and Screen Arts to keep us entertained. The interpretation of music into comedy is quite the challenge it turns out, as well as having access to resources to conduct his craft. This, however, hasn’t stopped him from producing hilarious renditions of local songs and we hope to see more from the young comedian soon. Tickle your funny bone by revisiting our profile on him here:

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SIBU MPANZA- youtuber

Entertaining, lively and sometimes-controversial YouTuber Sibu Mpanza has had a bumper year so far and proved that following your passion is never a bad idea. He’s appeared on television on SABC 3’s Real Talk with Anele Mdoda and worked with a range of brands. He’s also collaborated with fellow South African YouTube sensations such as Pap Culture and Microwave Boys and boasts a total of 350 000 people having watched his YouTube channel. The former University of Cape Town student put his studies on hold to pursue his career and hasn’t looked back since.

A couple of years ago the mere suggestion of placing all your bets on such a career field would seem facetious, but Sibu and countless other young South Africans are making a pretty good go at it. The 22-year-old has since relocated to Johannesburg to pursue his calling but hasn’t left the teachings of varsity too far behind him. His exposure to BSocSci Social Development and Gender studies is visible in the topics he chooses to address in his vlogs. From the recent racist incident at Pietermaritzburg Girls High School to exploring white privilege, queerness and religion.

It’s the whimsical and downright hilarious ways in which he explores complex topics that make this young vlogger an online star. That, along with his 6000-odd highly engaged Twitter followers. Sibu represents the perfect example of the new landscapes young South Africans can explore and excel in. These ventures are charting an exciting future and show that the youth is building on the struggles faced by previous generations.