Sandile Memela
Sandile Memela

Why are the young, gifted and black rallying around skin colour in a non-racist era?

This is about the new cool and black.

I have rarely attended a classy function at a state of the art venue filled with talented young black professionals who not only look beautiful but are trying to redefine the meaning and purpose of their life.

Much as I did not know what to expect as this was held on what is commonly known as Phuza Thursday — when the black youth indulges in the self-destructive behaviour of drinking far into the night like there is no tomorrow — I must confess that they turned out be an inspiring and disciplined crowd.

The event was held at Moloko Hotel and Spa in Sandton with the master-mind behind it, Lerumo Maisela of Kena Media making two significant points in his opening address:

  • The purpose of the event focused around the book launch of Cool and Black — the directory is to highlight and celebrate black African talent in the creative arts.
  • There is no exhaustive source of information available to make South Africa aware that talented blacks actually do exist.

I was invited two days before to be guest speaker to flesh out the meaning and significance of this achievement. I felt that there were only three important points:

  1. Black talent is condemned to marginalisation or suicide in South Africa.
  2. Black creative intellectuals exist and have always existed in this country, in spite of the denial.
  3. Cool and black creative intellectuals are a formidable force that possess incredible spiritual resilience, talent and prophetic visions that comes from their African DNA.

Perhaps what we need to note is that this significant development may draw knee-jerk condemnation from people who see it as an ill-advised ‘racist development’. It depends on how you look at things. What we need to ask is: Why are young talented blacks rallying around their skin in a post-apartheid society that is supposed to be non-racial?

Is this development taking place simply because they desire to highlight, mainstream and consolidate their talents and thus create an exclusive black network. Or are they responding to something else that has been pushed under the carpet in the name of non-racialism and reconciliation?

I guess I am in a position to give insight into this profound question and that may be the reason why I was asked to speak.

Firstly, to be young, black and gifted is to be lonely.

Not only that, you are rendered invisible.

In 2012 — 18 years into freedom and democracy where we should be working together to build a new society — you still hear people who insist that there are no black creative intellectuals and professionals.

“We cannot find a suitable black,” is a refrain that some are too familiar with.

This is enough to drive anyone who is sane crazy as it condemns black talent to loneliness and banishment worse than what Mama Winnie Madikizela Mandela was subjected to in forsaken Brandfort under apartheid. It is blatant rejection of black talent that desires for nothing more than integration and acceptance into supremacist, racist, patriarchal and capitalist structures.

In a changing but untransformed South Africa, there are thousands and millions of gifted creative people who are assaulted by the social and economic condition for being who they are: young, black and gifted.

In fact, to be young black and gifted in South Africa today is to belong to the most rejected group in our society: unemployed, marginalised, plagued by disease, victim of crime, ill-educated. No purpose and meaning in life.

There are more than enough reasons why the black and gifted should scream and lash out. Sometimes they do under the pressure of trying to fit in a world that rejects and discriminates against them. This supposedly new world may not judge them by their skin colour but the clothes on their back, the cars they drive and the addresses of their apartment which reflect their economic status. It is a sick world that is worse than apartheid.

It is not odd for any young, gifted and black person to suspect that there is something wrong with them. You tend to think — especially when you compare yourself with your counterparts — that everyone is living happily-ever-after 1994 while you can find no centre of power or self-fulfilment.

I believe that Lerumo, Nyeleti and their team were inspired by the spirits of those who have been here before. They started to watch, listen and talk about how it felt to be young black and gifted. The birth of Cool and Black can only have been conceived by young black and gifted people who are, first, connected with themselves and, secondly, who are intuitively connected to the muted but rising voices of black African creative intellectuals who are taking their rightful place in the world.

It happens casually in clubs where people drink far into the night or morning. It happens over the cell phone. It happens in malls while hanging out. Or the street corner. Sitting in the back seat of a car or taxi. At meetings in church or homes. In your bed even.

When you are spiritually connected not only do you see and hear but feel your own reflection in many other young, black and gifted who also see you as the mirror of their plight. In the Africa that these young stars represent, there is no me without you and there is no you without me. It is this pain and trauma, this intuitive connection that makes you realise that you are not alone, or invisible or crazy to think or feel that you are a foreigner in your own country.

There is a whole nation of young, gifted and black young stars, the future of this country who feel invisible, rejected and crazy. Of course, this is a definition of a problem. The question is: What is to be done? Where do we go from here? Most importantly, how can young talented black people save themselves?

The answer was the launch of Cool and Black that marks a significant achievement in efforts to connect young black people, turn their similar lives and share their concerns to highlight and celebrate themselves. It is a paradigm shift to self-affirmation and self-definition.

It is about acknowledging and recognising the formidable power of the talented that are not victims but have turned their own lives around to become agents of the change that we all want to see: Young, beautiful black people infused with a spirit of independence and self-determination.

Cool and Black, I believe, is an important business enterprise that has seen and chosen to tap into the commonality of experience, attitude and world view among the young black and gifted. They are tired of complaining because they have always made things happen, taken responsibility for their fate and future. Let us pause and think about that.

The media-created lack of unity and direction among the black youth may make sensational headlines. It is not only intended to sell newspapers but to perpetuate a negative stereotype about the black talent.

But what Cool and Black recognises and asserts is the unity, resilience and determination among the black youth that is veiled, quiet, happening in the dark corners of this country.

There are thousands and millions of young black and gifted people who realise that Steve Biko was correct: You are on your own. And they have chosen to take charge of their lives and hold themselves responsible for everything that happens to them, both the good and bad. And these are the young, black and gifted young people who are winners, the pride of this nation whose story is not told.

These are talented people who know that as much as their mothers and fathers and brothers and sisters hold political power, they do not own the corporate wealth. These are creative people who, most of the time, feel that nobody represents their interests. These are gifted people who have embarked on changing this country by changing their own individual lives.

No single individual can change the whole world. Mandela did not change the world, for instance. It would be wrong for anyone to say he did not change anything. But if you want to change the world, you must begin by changing yourself.

Cool and Black recognises not only the potential but the power of this enormous, disorganised army of focused, disciplined, hardworking and ambitious young gifted and black people.

Cool and Black knows that these talented, brilliant people are without a collective organisation, voice or agenda. But they have ties of blackness — which is not about skin colour and victimisation.

The ties that bind these black and gifted people who are featured in its pages are that they do not see and have never seen themselves as victims. Blackness, in their terms, is a positive state of mind that begins, first, with self-love and, secondly, unavoidably results in defeating the greatest enemy known to man: your personal fears and self-doubt.

They are strong people who possess positive qualities and a deep individual self-consciousness that makes them demand that the world recognise that they don’t just exist but are here for a purpose. They love themselves and appreciate the talents that have been bestowed upon them by their African DNA. They are responsible and determined to be somebody — irrespective of their background — because they know that they are not only the hope but future of this country.

This self-responsibility, these ties are what Cool and Black understands and has re-created and used strategically not only to break the black image out of oppression but highlight and celebrate those gifted and black who have not only been rejected, but overlooked and ignored by the supremacist and capitalist economic system.

But Cool and Black is not about writing the story of victimology and growing up a helpless black who blames apartheid and whites. It is an effort to fight the invisibility and rubbing out the resilience and power that is inherent in black women, men and children. In its own terms, it is introducing a new narrative, telling a story of the new South Africa that is seldom told and, most often, is fictionalised.

This is a giant step to highlight the alternative way of life that is represented and presented by the new black person who defies suicide, hopelessness, personal defeat and going slowly crazy.

If you will allow a short commercial break, I should know because I have written a mesmerising book, His Master’s Voice that is a psycho-analysis of what it takes to be gifted and black and remain alive and sane in a crazy white-controlled world.

Cool and Black has given a new face, voice and power to what the young gifted and black are capable of. They do not black out. They are very much alive, alert, very sober and focused.

I want to conclude by saying that the motives and thinking behind Cool and Black represent the best values that come from the history of struggle: African independence, freedom, responsibility and, above all, self-determination.

It is not only aligned to where government thinking is through the department of arts and culture’s Mzansi Golden Economy (MGE) strategy — to help artists to save themselves — but encourages and affirms a spirit of individual self-responsibility and commitment to use talent to create jobs for oneself and make money at the same time.

The MGE strategy not only emphasises the mainstreaming of the role and contribution of the sector to the economy but encourages the talented to create employment for themselves and empower each other through skills development.

As we speak, the department is working on finalising its strategy to that effect and a special summit to report back to the sector will be held in the second half of 2012.

We cannot demonise black people as victims who solely rely on state hand-outs because of feelings of inferiority, dependency and laziness.

There is an army of talented and responsible people who are willing not only to create a powerful network that defines who they are but are inviting others to set and define a new standard for anyone who wants to consider themself as black and gifted.

Presumably, to be featured in Cool and Black, there are two requirements: you have to know who you are, where you come from and secondly, and most importantly, what you do must create waves in society because you know where you are going.

In fact, it does not matter where you come from, as long as you know where you are going and what you are doing, you may qualify to get into Cool and Black.

I was in Soweto not too long ago and found one of the most brilliant men I know staggering drunk in broad daylight. I told him that drink was the worst enemy to talented people.

“Yes, I know,” he said. “But, in the new South Africa we all have to love our enemies.”

Those who think strengthening black unity is a threat to non-racialism need to think again. Before you judge, let these young blacks present their own case. They have a right not only to be black but to be heard.

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