Pioneering while Black: Lights that never stopped shining

Sometime in early 2013 after the romance of private sector had worn off like a scent of cheap perfume, I began to seriously question myself about my future and my existence. What is the purpose of my existence, I would often ask myself. What am I doing here? By then I had devoured books as if reading was some sort of dairy product that would soon expire. From The Quiet Violence of Dreams by K. Sello Duiker, The Autobiography of Malcolm X with Alex Haley, Decolonising the Mind: The Politics of Language in African Literature by Ngugi wa Thiong’o to Phaswane Mpe’s Welcome to Hillbrow. Through the lonely, long and exhausting journey by train from Kenilworth in the scenic southern suburbs of Cape Town to the arresting winelands of Stellenbosch, my time was well spent. I had begun to feel angry and irritated in the passing months. Without knowing it then private sector was not where I belonged, at least not as an undervalued employee.

One day in the supermarket I came across a copy of Destiny magazine. On the cover was one Given Mkhari, armed with his usual calm, reassuring smile. I had read earlier about the trailblazing company – then MSG Afrika Holdings – he was leading with his two partners, Simphiwe Mdlalose and Andile Khumalo. Ravenous as I was for anybody who affirmed my being during that period, that I too matter, I began to crawl the Internet furiously in search of any piece that gave me information on these three lads. Where are they from? What did they study? What fueled their passion to be where they were? I was moved by their stories, the little that I could find, for the world is notorious for not appreciating and celebrating black excellence. But nonetheless, the scant information I found about these chaps inspired me beyond words. Thus, when I saw Given Mkhari on the cover of that magazine, I knew I had to buy it. My impression with Mkhari and his partners as individuals and businessmen fired my own passion.

Over the years as a student in Cape Town I had read about pioneers such as Mark Zuckerberg, Sergey Brin, Larry Page, Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and so on, and felt an undefined sense of urgency. But coming across the trio from the newly named MSG Afrika Group – Given, Simphiwe and Andile – my sense of urgency found direction and I knew then that reality is birthed by dreams; the trick being that you need to work hard on the latter to make the former possible.

In May 2013, I served a week’s notice and quit a promising career to start a web design company with a friend. Needless to say, in less than a month I ran out of funds and our company failed spectacularly. Humiliated, disillusioned and deflated, I was forced to take a bus home, travelling over 1000km north east of the Mother City, leaving behind shattered dreams and a life unfulfilled. As expected, my family was livid. Dropping out of school and quitting a job to chase ‘silly dreams’ is an act that calls for ass-whipping in the black world: you just don’t do it. Occasionally I would take out the magazine and read that piece on Given Mkhari. Despite the frequent scolding from my family, I remained stubbornly stuck by my decision. Six months later after languishing at home, I returned to the private sector; starting from the bottom as an Intern as if I was not riding high waves a few months ago. I stuck it out and told myself that I will build myself up. A year later I was thrown a fancy title with peanuts for a salary. Three years later my marriage with the private sector again collapsed due to ‘irreconcilable differences’ and I have since been running on the streets begging. I vowed to never go back unless on my own terms; until then I will stay in the streets and keep my pride, even if it means that I will beg for the rest of my life.

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In July last year one of radio’s hottest properties in South Africa Thabo ‘Tbo Touch’ Molefe suddenly announced that he was quitting the nation’s then premier radio station, Metro FM, after a decade hosting the station’s most successful afternoon drive show. A month later the outspoken radio jockey and businessman made another stunning announcement: he was starting his own online radio platform. Cynics, naysayers and pessimists, as it is their job, gathered around the fire to plot his failure. When the year 2016 was preparing to draw curtains, making way for the year of the centennial birthday celebrations of that outstanding African, Kaizana Oliver Reginald Tambo, Touch continued to shock and awe critics and fans alike with his indefatigable pioneering spirit. Touch Central, his new project cofounded with Gareth Cliff, was pinching listeners from his former employer.

In the twilight of March 2017, Tbo Touch began to publicly yet indirectly make a mockery of his former employer. Not only did he take the listeners with, he began poaching marquee radio jockeys from Metro FM, a move that has since set tongues wagging about the future of South Africa’s then second largest radio station. At the beginning of April 2017, Tbo Touch relaunched his Internet radio station, changing its name from Touch Central to Touch HD and adding to his platform revered names such as the legendary Glen Lewis. How this story ends nobody can tell for sure, but one thing is certain: Thabo Molefe talks the talk, walks the walk, and he does so in a big, flamboyant way whether you like it or not.

As of the writing of this piece in 2017 the three musketeers from MSG Afrika Group own two radio stations – Capricorn FM and Power FM – and they are reportedly set to launch two more in the near future. In ignoring critics, Given Mkhari, Simphiwe Mdlalose, Andile Khumalo and Thabo Molefe have instead immersed themselves in making South Africa a better place and left the politicking to politicians.

If you would allow me to indulge myself in a bit of statistics dear reader, I can say with certainty that these four pioneers – because that is who they are – between themselves, they put food on the table for over 20 families each and every day. That is more than you and I can say for ourselves.

Perhaps instead of sitting on the sidelines, playing the devil, we should encourage these trailblazers and more to follow in their footsteps. I am in no way suggesting that we should take out our pens and begin to write tomes of hagiographies in their name. No, I am not saying that. I am merely saying we should celebrate black excellence more, affirm our sense of being as a people instead of seeking to bring about the downfall of our own. We often complain that people come from across the seas to come and tell our stories. They will soon arrive aboard ships and planes, lugging laptops, drones, cameras and lucrative contracts to tell the stories of these pioneers if we continue to bicker like mindless creatures. To borrow from Seitiso Ntlothebe, Africa tell your stories. Pula!

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