Last month I watched Black Panther with my son. Awesome movie. We watched it on IMAX and it more than lived up to the hype. After the movie I asked my son who was the best super hero; Iron Man, Spiderman, Superman or Batman. He said Black Panther. I had not included Black Panther purposefully but he, at 9rys old, made that leap for himself. To think I wanted to be Rrabubi when I was kid, mnxh! Apartheid, you were truly an ingenious evil system.
Because the movie elevated what it means to be black or more importantly what black could be, had Africa not been colonized. I could understand when we arrived at the movies and we bumped into friends of mine who had already seen the movie. They had decided to sponsor underprivileged schoolchildren to come watch Black Panther. Yes, every child should watch the movie. Not just black African kids, all kids. Much in the same way my 9yr old has seen all other Super Hero movies. So I applaud my friends who took dozens of kids to see this movie. Whilst Black Panther is not life changing, I do believe it to be reality altering, especially for an African child.
But, I can’t help to wonder where has this Wakandan spirit been all along? Let me explain; I get a call from a principal of a local township school. The school is Phefeni High. It is on Vilakazi Street. This is one of the schools that was instrumental in the ’76 student uprising. This school is one of the reason that South Africa achieved its political liberation. When the principal calls and asks to see me, I won’t lie I rolled my eyes thinking she needed money or the age old computer donations story. I was not keen to go see her in fact I was dreading the meeting, almost the same dread as being called to the principals office when I was at school.
After procrastinating as long as I could, I finally made the time to go see her. After I sat down in her office, she looked at me and said ” my son I am principal Gasa. I was made principal of this school 14 months ago. Last year we had a 78% pass rate at this school. That Won’t happen again on my watch. To that effect all my 145 grade 12 pupils have to attend Saturday class.” I listened intently expecting her to say she needs computers…I was still waiting for an angle. She continued “I am currently buying food for the kids from my own pocket for all the Saturday classes. You see, the Dept of Education only gives us food parcels for during the week, and on weekends we are on our own. Almost all our pupils rely on the meals at school. In fact, for most of the kids this is the only meal they will see all day. So most days we can only afford to give Rice and cabbage or Amasi as it is all I can afford. The second challenge is that we cannot afford to pay for weekend tutors. DOE supports schools that achieve 100% pass rate with such things as paying for tutors and digital black boards. The better the school does the better the resources they get, however, the rest of us need to fend for ourselves”
I sat there in front of Mrs. Gasa with my mouth wide shut. You know having a business in the township has exposed me to things I would have never otherwise seen. I would have know they exist, but I would have never seen them first hand. We all know poverty, but most of us never get to see it as an ecosystem. You see, government does well to give food parcels to school kids. But this model is limited and to be frank unsustainable. The recent budget speech and Vat increase is a clear indication that it is unsustainable to feed a nation of grants with the fiscus that is dwindling due to low taxable base, because of a high unemployment rate which is as a result of poor education. The problem of the townships is the fact that there is no economy in the townships. My business during the week survives purely on Tourism. All working people in Soweto leave the township every morning and migrate to the north to work. They then buy food and groceries in the areas they work. They come home in the evenings tired only to repeat the same process the next day. On weekends they want to leave their depressing environment to go to Sandton as an excursion for their children and families. My weekend business services all the people who left the township and now live in the Northern suburbs like me. We come to Soweto to flaunt our wealth and to say “look Ma, I made it” success currently is leaving the township and coming back in luxury 4X4s on weekends. True success should be moving back to the townships creating businesses there and buying property there. True success, should be creating Wakanda in the townships. We should be using the same enthusiasm we showed for Wakanda and our culture over the last month to continuously improve where we come from. Else, all this new found benevolence is just another way of saying “kgali kgali” to the less privileged; regardless of the good intent.
After leaving Mrs Gasa’s office it became apparent to me that the people who are driving policy don’t live in the townships. They may have come from there but they don’t live there anymore. They don’t even work there. Truthfully, I wouldn’t have either, if it wasn’t that serendipitously I found myself having a business there. In fact, I didn’t want to have a business in Soweto. It was chance and circumstance that led me here. I realized that people who make policies for entrepreneurs have never run a bath let alone a business. This is why they keep focusing on giving entrepreneurs WiFi enabled hubs. In case anyone is listening ENOUGH with the hubs! Stop giving the money to ED service providers and give us the money. We will build 1 car garages, the same ones that are used for storage. We will use those as premises for entrepreneurs to come and actually build shit. We will open the roller shutter for air con. Actually (said in township accent), Why are there no corporate parks in the townships? Are you saying MTN, Standardbank, Hollard don’t need regional offices in Soweto where 40% of Johannesburg residents live?! Would it not make sense to put offices where people actually live? This would save time on commute. It would save money on commute, it would mean there would be income circulating in the communities that people live in. A sustainable ecosystem would ensue. This would mean businesses like mine would afford to pick up the slack where government can’t or can’t afford to. You see all middle income communities everywhere in the world including South Africa, it is often individuals that make an impact in the communities they live. They often raise funds from businesses in the community in order to impact changes in those communities. This how prosperity happens. This is not rocket science. I heard Anele on 947 raise over a million rands in hour on radio for under privilege kids to go watch Black Panther! And honestly kudos to her and her team. But I would like you to think of something for a moment; Black Panther will gross over a billion dollars this month. All this money will migrate from the continent of Wakanda to Marvel studios in the US. Why do you think it’s called Marvel studios? It’s a MarveloUS formula! See what I did there?
Whilst we have claimed ownership of Black Panther (and we should take all the wins we can) but the truth is Black Panther is not an African story. It’s not even African produced. It’s no Shaka Zulu.
According to Wikipedia; Cultural appropriation, often framed as cultural misappropriation, is a concept in anthropology dealing with the adoption of the elements of a minority culture by members of the dominant culture. It is distinguished from equal cultural exchange due to the presence of a colonial element and imbalance of power.Cultural (mis)appropriation is often portrayed as harmful in contemporary cultures, and is claimed to be a violation of the collectiveintellectual property rights of the originating, minority cultures, notably Indigenous cultures and those living under colonial rule. What is sad about Black Panther is that we can’t even claim cultural misappropriation. The movie didn’t even bother stealing from us, except selectively bastardizing our fashion, music, continent and skin tone. Last year I wrote a blog about the future of Africa in the 4th industrial revolution, Create-activity. I am not hating on Black Panther I am merely illustrating that when you have been starved so long that when you are thrown a bone, you are so happy that you don’t realize that it has no meat on it.
Speaking of meat, after leaving the head mistress I called a number of people in corporate SA and told them about principal Gasa. I am proud to say in a week I raised R30k, I then leveraged the R30k with our big supplier and asked if they could stretch the R30k by giving the school a discount in food purchase from their wholesale retailer. They did! Let’s just say it was the first time the kids ate meat today.
As with all things, no good deed goes unpunished, the word has quickly spread now we have two more schools that have requested that we please assist. So I would like to ask for the Wakandan generosity that I have seen in the last month to continue, but this time can it start at home. If you would like to assist with this initiative whether in funding or volunteering your time to tutor, please post a response below.
So we need to put food in the kids stomachs so that they can be artists so they can write our stories, direct, and produce global movies based on African stories.