Since the end of Ramadaan we are have been reminded of how much the world is divided. Some say that the world is black and white, others protest and say there are shades of grey. Ustadh Abdasamad Clarke says that it is nonsense, the world is a kaleidoscope of colors. So this month I had two interviews with two interesting women. The first a teen from the small town of Hammanskraal who is working with a medium considered white. And the other a young lady in her 20’s of Indian descent from the Suburbs of Johannesburg who collaborates with everyone. This is an exploration of the millions of colors that make the human story.
The African Manga
Once upon a time, the story goes, a cattleman called Hamman set up a stockade (a kraal) to protect his cattle from predators in area 40km north of Pretoria, the administrative capital of South Africa. Thus the name Hammanskraal was attached to this geographical space. Surrounding Hamman’s kraal is a number of villages which are collectively given the name. Then in the late 1960’s the Babelegi Industrial Park was built as part of Apartheid’s vision of industrializing South Africa and simultaneously keeping the African population far away from the centers of power – the cities. As a result, Hammanskraal has a subsection of an urban community called Temba.
As a result, today Hammanskraal is a strange admixture of rural and urban, tradition and modernism, working-class and lower-middle-class, provicialist, and cosmopolitan views. Sometimes these two opposites complement each other, sometimes they clash, sometimes they pollinate each other.
‘Of course, it is possible,’ I said to a friend. And I added, ‘but I have to check it out and I will tell you all about it later.’ These were the last words I exchanged with a friend who was in disbelief when I told him that there was a budding Manga cartoonist in Hammanskraal. And when I added that that the artist in question was a 14-year-old girl, he accused me of lying. I understood the disbelief, we both resided at the village side of town and are, by Pretorian standards, village boys.
Unsurprisingly the cartoonist in question resided at the urban side of town – Temba. I went to visit her to hear from her in hopes of learning something. I knocked on the door and her mother welcomed me in the sitting room. She was as big as her heart. She called the artist and moments later the 14-year-old girl came in, bubbly as all novice teenagers should be. And we had a chat, below are some of the things we talked about:
‘Hello, thank you for having me, please tell me a little bit about you.’
‘My name is Refiloe Angela Sono I am 14 years old. I was born here in Hammanskraal, then grew up in Polokwane for a couple of years and came back to Hammanskraal and I am still here. I like drawing and I would like to be a professional cartoon artist one day.’
How did your love for cartoons begin?
‘It started with my older brother, he introduced me to animation when I was in the First Grade. He used to read it online. Then he would print it out and I also liked it. Then I started to draw cartoons.’
But isn’t cartoons and drawing a boy thing? How come you chose it? And what did your friends say when you started to draw?
‘They thought it was cool and encouraged me to continue. My teachers were also supportive and pushed me to do more. But my parents were worried. They thought that I should do what other girls were doing and not what was usually done by boys. But soon they understood that this was my passion and they soon supported me.’
I see that your hair is dreadlocked, which is different. Most girls do not style their hairs in that way. Do you think that maybe you were born different?
‘I think that I am different. A lot of people have been telling me that. At first, it used to trouble me, but when my friends from school encouraged me to be what I like to be and to do what I like to do, then it longer became a problem.’
Where do you go to school?
‘ I go to Thornridge Secondary School’
‘That is in Montana? Is that not a school with mainly white kids from rich families?’
‘It is. But there are many black kids there.’
‘So, how do you feel about the differences in Hammanskraal, where many people are poor, and Montana, where many of the children are dropped of by their parents in fancy cars like Ferraris and the like?’
‘When we moved back to Hammanskraal, it was confusing. And I still do not understand. Some say that the problem started in apartheid, some say the problem is the corrupt government. I am not sure.’
‘A friend of mine said that your cartoons are white. What do you say to that?’
‘My friends also said that. And I am trying a little bit to introduce our stories, black stories, into my art. But that will come in the future. For example, the characters in my work have my friend’s hairstyles.’
‘…And all of them are female.
‘Yes, I want to show that heroes are not only boys. I want to show that women can be heroes. I think that is important.’
‘So, what are your plans for the future?’
‘Right now I am practicing my art. In the future, I want to go to Japan and learn to be a professional illustrator. I am also learning Japanese online. I know a few things, like ‘hello?’ and ‘how are you?’ in Japanese.
This has been a lovely chat. Thank you very much for your time and I wish you success in your passion for the future.
‘Thank you for coming.’
The conversation was not only a talk with a 14-year aspiring artist. But it was, for me, an insight into the ideas of the upcoming generation of South Africans and how they are dealing with the challenges and ideas they face.
Darren McGarvey, a Scottish writer said that less affluent communities tend to be anti-individualists. They tended to demand a more uniform behavior from everyone in their communities. Whereas more affluent communities tended to encourage individuality.
The weakness of the former is that it oftentimes stifles individual expression yet its uniform inclination makes it dangerous because when a working-class decide to change its conditions it usually snowballs into a large movement, oftentimes with devastating consequences. Such as the violent ‘I am fed up’ protests in Minnesota, the US.
The weakness of the latter is that, because it encourages individuality, it is difficult to unite the middle-class when one is aspiring to social change. Such as the ‘Not In My Name’ campaign that aimed to stop the US and UK’s invasions of Iraq. They protested then, everybody went home.
It is interesting to see an artist move in between these two worlds. Another famous artist comes to mind – Chris Rock. Chris Rock grew up in a New York working-class neighborhood called Bedford-Stuyvesant. However, he took a bus every day to white neighborhoods to attend school.
As a result, he has a detached view of both black and white culture. And through his comedy, he has expressed the ability to make the contrast and comparison of these two worlds by way of comic social commentary upon these two worlds.
We hope that Refiloe’s upbringing will help her to see the world in a unique way. Perhaps in the future, through her works, she will articulate new vistas of understanding. We can only speculate, we can only hope that God will guide her pencil.
Story By: Koketso Omar Masombuka
Edited by: Tokelo Hlagala