Social Revolutionby Tseliso Monaheng / 18.04.2014
Red Bull Amaphiko is a social entrepreneurship workshop that ran from 4 – 13 April. Innovative and inspiring South Africans were carefully selected to take part by a panel of “awesome people,” according to project leader Ian Calvert. The application forms were released in November last year through social entrepreneurial organisations like the Bertha Centre and Ashoka.
The 18 entrepreneurs that made the final grade each had projects that are already underway, but will benefit greatly from networking opportunities and the chance to interact with people that share a similar vision. Projects included a mobile tutoring app developed by Zakheni Ngubu; a Gugs and Valhalla Park-based skateboarding project called Nebula Youth run by Rayne Moses; and a project set up by Moegamat Ganief Manuel to help the people of Ocean View in CT by creating spaces where communities can grow their own food, since food security is a huge issue there.
For 10 days, participants attended lectures given by experts from various fields. These sessions were followed up by small group tutorial/workshop sessions where participants were given the chance to learn practical life skills and business skills from expert mentors.
I arrived on the Friday at Uncle Tom’s Community Hall in Orlando West, just in time to hear Mundano speak. His Carroceiros project has helped change the negative connotations attached to being a recycler in São Pauolo. Mundano paints the recyclers’ carts, oftentimes with colourful captions suggested by the carroceiros (recyclers) themselves. The project has been running for five years and has created a growing sense of public appreciation for the often marginalised recyclers. More artists are now getting involved in the cart beautification project.
The recyclers of Jeppestown, Hillbrow and Newtown come to mind, when thinking of this issue in a local context. How does their community perceive them and how could their lives be improved? What makes these sorts of presentations powerful is that they tend to take you out of your comfort zone and change your perception of the world around you.
Martha Cooper joined Mundano on the couch during a Q&A session. She’s real OG and it’s her constant thirst to learn about communities and cities by interrogating the politics of space that makes her so inspiring. She has an ability to break the laurels of comfort and explore the unknown, which renders her work as relevant and important today as it was when she started photographing the graffiti scene in grimy, gritty New York in the 70s – for which she gained international acclaim.
Despite her age, Martha is as subversive and revolutionary as ever: “Painting your name is a political act,” she says. “Look at advertising as an example; in New York City right now they’re covering entire buildings with advertising; they’re ruining architecture… go put your name on the walls, I’m all for that!”
The ugly face of xenophobia reared its head when I began a conversation with a curious bystander – an elderly lady who used to run a business from her house, helping her put her kids through school. She made a pass at Nigerian nationals and blamed them for the demise of her business. She ranted on in an endless cycle of blame, with overtones of the classic THEM vs US mindset.
I brought up what Marlon Parker, social entrepreneur from the Cape Flats, shared with us during one of the workshop sessions: “The greatest entrepreneurs are mothers who run a household,” I quoted.
She smiled one of those sad smiles, beneath which lie deeper truths and, oftentimes, great pain.
I wanted to spend more time with her, and let her know that there’s still time to revive her home business. But she started heading off, and all I could do was smile and mumble something about God.
Chatting to Zakheni Ngubu of Siyafunda and other participants, I gathered that the workshop was a great success and “Every minute was well worth it,” as Zakheni put it. However, I did get the sense that the schedule was quite overwhelming.
According to one of the coordinators, the participants literally worked endlessly for the duration of the workshop. There were talks, one-on-one sessions with outspoken innovators (Greg Maloka of Kaya FM, Marlon Parker of RLabs to name a few), various exercises and writing blog entries for the website.
Perhaps Red Bull could re-think how they schedule the events so that participants don’t end up feeling disoriented from the information overload!
Martha Cooper and Social Change
Martha Cooper has been going around the hood documenting peoples’ lives through her lens. Some of her work was on display at a house converted into a gallery in Kliptown. The house is a few minutes’ walk from the hotel where the participants stayed. It’s located on the other side of the tracks both literally and figuratively.
It’s always a mind-fuck to see how borders of any sort can shape peoples’ destinies while delineating the good and bad parts of town. As I walked over the bridge that leads over the train tracks, I’m struck by the sight of decrepit houses built on either side of the dusty main road. It’s an eerily familiar site; – a spaza shop blaring traditional Sesotho music through fong-kong speakers; a speakeasy patronized by people in their forties that look 20 years older than they are; and kids, lots of them, just running freely, unaware of their social condition.
Turning left onto a narrow pathway, I see graffiti by Falko, Breeze, and Rasty, which lightens my mood. For a moment, the colours, sounds, and smells erase the very immediate reality of poverty and hopelessness within this community from the mind. And maybe that’s what it’s all about… maybe initiatives like Amaphiko are a part of the solution, a catalyst for the necessary social revolution.
**Supplementary images © Tseliso Monaheng