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Freedom Day: The Faces of South Africa's Freedom.

Freedom Day: The Faces of South Africa's Freedom

As South Africa celebrates Freedom Day, nine citizens with different lived experiences open up about what freedom looks, and feels, like for each of them.

South Africa's Freedom Day, celebrated annually on April 27, is a national holiday that commemorates the first democratic and post-Apartheid elections that ushered in its first Black president, the late Nelson Mandela. And while South Africa has been 'enjoying' its fledgling democracy for 27 years, freedom remains a markedly varied experience for different South Africans.

From differently abled individuals and Black women to members of the queer community, we spoke to nine South Africans from multiple walks of life to find out what freedom looks like for them and others like them. We also asked whether they feel free in South Africa, and what the country can do better going forward to ensure that the freedom they have always imagined can be realised during their lifetimes.

Responses have been edited for length and clarity.


​YoungstaCPT​ on South Africa's race-based freedom 

YoungstaCPT, Rapper

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"Freedom is a state of mind but also a very real reality. What freedom is, is a multi-loaded question and answer depending on which side of the fence you're standing on. Sadly, a lot of the answers are based on race, especially in South Africa. Personally I've only ever seen it in other parts of the world when I have travelled. Granted there is systemic oppression and inequality everywhere in the world but none quite like South Africa where it seems we keep going back further into turmoil.

Individually I feel free, but not as a people. All you have to do is look at the housing development crisis and the prison system to see who's free and who's not. Based on my observation, people of colour across the world are still very much oppressed, mentally and physically.

My 2019 album 3T spoke a lot about this but sadly, as a young man, I'm not even sure where to start sometimes. I do think our governmental structure has to change. At some point, those in power need to take responsibility for the nation's problems. If finances can be used for their actual purpose and put back into infrastructure, resources, education and healthcare, people will be able to overcome their daily challenges."

Thandi Skade on the strong link between freedom and inner peace

Thandi Skade, Content and communications specialist.

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"For me, freedom means not only finding, but attaining inner peace. Growing up, I can't say that I felt truly free. I only started experiencing true freedom the moment I let go of my constant pursuit of approval from others. That desperation to fit in and be accepted disappeared and suddenly I was comfortable in my own skin. Freedom, for me, is not being weighed down by the shackles imposed on you as a result of others' beliefs.

From a human rights perspective, I am free because I have access to certain liberties that were previously denied but speaking as a woman in this country, I don't feel free at all. With the scourge of gender-based violence occurring every single day, I feel that my agency to do live out my desires as and when I want to, has been taken away from me. I have to think through potential scenarios and weigh up the risks just to decide whether I should leave the house or not.

I think the journey to freedom is constant. It evolves and it requires continuous learning. It also requires a willingness to be open-minded and willing to try and see life from a wide range of perspectives."

Phuti Mosetloa on freedom being synonymous with access 

Phuti Mosetloa, Founder of Boswa Ke Bokamoso, an NGO that aims to bridge the gap between basic education and higher education, particularly in rural areas.

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"One thing I've learnt is that you never really see yourself as lacking until you learn of other people's experiences and compare them to yours. Poverty may seem normal. As a child, of course, you're not conscious to the concept of lack because a lot is provided for you and your sole purpose is to be a child.

I only became aware of what I had and what I lacked in high school — that five rand pocket money you received once, or twice, weekly and had to save in case there would be no pocket money the following week or those school trips that made you feel out of place because you were wearing your only 'good' clothes from last Christmas. Now as an unemployed graduate and single mother, I constantly have to negotiate between buying data and a pack of diapers.

For me, freedom looks like access — access to information, resources and opportunities. I want to walk into a local library and find content that speaks to me as a Black womxn. I want internet that connects effortlessly regardless of my geographical location. I want job prospects that are considerate of my socioeconomic background. I don't feel free with a life where I have to constantly negotiate living and surviving.

What this country needs is to account for its blunders and see us as worthy. Worthy of quality education, worthy of security, worthy of financial freedom and worthy of good healthcare."

Makgosi Letimile on the urgent need for accessibility and inclusivity

Makgosi Letimile, Disability Inclusion Consultant and Intergration Consultant.

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"I'm not free as a disabled person and Black woman in South Africa. Freedom is supposed to come with some sweet rewards but I don't get to enjoy any of those privileges. South Africa is not free for people living with disabilities, especially if you're Black. My hope is accessibility — I could never say this enough! Accessibility to everybody else might be just be about the road, the store or the area that you live in, but true accessibility also encompasses conversations, businesses and inclusivity in decision-making.

At the moment we're waiting for vaccines. The government had promised that the disabled, those living with co-morbidities and the elderly would be prioritised. However, our current reality has made me realise that it was all talk.

Accessibility is good for everybody because inclusivity means that the able-bodied get to live in our spaces without treating us as tokens or "feel-good" stories. When we're included as human beings, they'll see that our existence is a human experience as well. Disability is not something inspirational or that people need to be cautioned about. Being unable to leave the house, or to cross the streets, just because I'm in a wheelchair shouldn't be something that I contend with when I wake up every morning.

Freedom is accessibility and inclusivity. Until I'm able to access any place in Cape Town, or South Africa, without worrying about hurting myself, ruining my chair or not even being able to do it, I can never ever say that I'm free."

Keenan John Meyer on how liberating the mind is a pathway to freedom

Keenan John Meyer, Prized pianist.

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"Freedom, to me, is the epitome of enlightenment. If I am living free from attachments and the need to operate from a place that prizes the ego, then I am free from suffering. I am, then, exactly where I need to be with my deep faith in the Divine as my guiding light.

I don't believe I am free in South Africa. Until we are willing to accept the bitter truth regarding our relations with each other as a people, we can't be free because we are slaves to a system, and a way of thinking, that seeks to entrench divisions between us. As a queer and Coloured person, the intersectionality of my oppression in this country is not prioritised by those in power. It is utterly disgusting that President Cyril Ramaphosa has not uttered a word on the inhumane killings of members of the LGBTQIA+ community in recent weeks. Why has he fallen silent? If the person with the highest honour to serve the country can't even defend me in my time of need, then I am not free.

We have multiple bodies of work at our disposal which speak to the liberation of the mind as a means to accessing freedom. One of them was written by the late Steve Biko and that gospel still rings true — our power starts with a shift in how we view and think about ourselves."

Rofhiwa Maneta on the ever-elusive nature of South Africa's freedom

Rofhiwa Maneta, Writer.

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"Attuned to Fanon's definition of freedom as mapped out in Alienation and Freedom: "The disease is alienation. The cause is colonialism. The cure is revolution. The destiny is freedom." This is going to be a frustrating response but I don't know what freedom looks like — I'll probably know when we get there. I just know that it doesn't look like this. But, maybe in short, it's a life unencumbered by racism, capitalism, patriarchy and [insert any other -ism of your choice].

I feel free to some degree — and in some weird and perverse manner. I'm able-bodied, straight and middle-class. That makes maneuvering the world a whole lot easier. But that's also not real freedom because its foundation is made up of the bodies and lives of people with less privileges than me.

There's an album by Shabaka and The Ancestors called We Are Sent Here By History. The title alludes to the fact that history is circular — bound to repeat itself. The album ends off with a call to burn everything to the ground; burn every social structure that exists and just start from zero. I think that's the only way. There's nothing about South African life that can be reformed."

Janine Jellars on freedom being the ability to exist peacefully

Janine Jellars, Author of The Big South African Hair Book.

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"Freedom, to me, looks like living an existence free from anxiety around gender-based violence, crime, unemployment and poverty, and the rising cost of living. Freedom wouldn't feel like we're constantly being crushed by this massive capitalist machine. Freedom cannot be this level of despondency, pessimism and anger I feel at people in power for squandering so many opportunities to actually serve the people of South Africa. I think freedom is being able to sleep peacefully.

I don't feel free. I've said it a million times — a woman's body is one of the most dangerous places to be in South Africa. This is not to take away from the fact that the LGBTQIA+ community here is under attack. Until I am free to do something as mundane as taking an evening stroll without being accompanied by anxiety, a taser and pepper spray, how can I claim to be free?

I have little faith that any of our political leaders – across parties – have the ability to actually deliver meaningful change. Too many are in it for themselves. I think we'd need a massive change in how we think about leadership and citizenship. I was 10 years old when we had our first democratic elections in South Africa, and I remember the excitement as my mother and grandmother cast their first vote. This Freedom Day is probably the most pessimistic I've ever felt about the state of our nation."

Candice Chirwa defines freedom as a lack of worry around existence

Candice Chirwa, Menstruation Activist.

Image supplied.

"Freedom means leaving the house without thinking about whether this is going to be my last day. I am able to get in the back of an Uber or walk without having to worry about being physically assaulted, or attacked, based on my gender or appearance. I'm a very anxious Black woman who is living under the guise of being free when, in fact, that's not the case.

Freedom for me is, actually, the ability to just be free and not having to think about my existence. In the context of Freedom Day, we are all free from the the shackles of Apartheid which limited us socially and economically based on the colour of our skin. However, I think women are still experiencing some form of Apartheid based on our gender. We are told that we are free but the numbers and statistics tell us otherwise. The way we experience patriarchy tells us otherwise. The fact that a man can drive a whole car into a restaurant in Rosebank, because he can't handle rejection from his ex-girlfriend, tells you otherwise.

We need new leadership representation! I'm tired of old leaders rotating the same status quo — giving us the same responses when asked about women and young children dying at the hands of men. More than anything, I would love to see a fresh form of leadership that is young and representative of the youth's experiences and narratives on the ground. In terms of policy, I would love more regarding menstruation, better access to health in general, and sexual and reproductive health too."

Karabo Kobue on how a fresh start could lead to meaningful freedom

Karabo Kobue, Student leader.

Image supplied.

"Freedom for me is when, one day, the people of this land will be able to enjoy the fruits of this land — when people are given an opportunity to become anything they can possibly dream of.

I'm free to be an individual, but my freedom is restricted and threatened by various socioeconomic barriers. This shows that freedom is more than just liberation from racist past laws. For our country to achieve meaningful freedom, it means that we must start afresh. The end of Apartheid marked the first step in the realisation of freedom. For meaningful freedom to exist, we need to see more people like us being afforded opportunities to conqueror industries and spaces that are resistant to change.

We need transformation in all spheres, from our universities to the work spaces we hope to one day join. We need equity to help explore our potential and equitable socioeconomic support overall."

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Photo Credit: From Taamaden

10 Upcoming African Films to Look Forward to in 2022

From Nigerian thrillers to South African documentaries, here are 10 African films we are looking forward to in 2022.

The glitzy and glamorous Durban International Film Festival (DIFF) recently returned for its 43rd edition. The eight day festival, which took place in Durban (KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa), featured an embarrassment of riches on the program, from around the world. The festival is a good indicator of what we can expect from African cinema for the rest of 2022.

The 10 films on this list were all screened at the festival. These films managed to stand out for reasons that have been explained below. (One of those films, Robin Odongo's Bangarang from Kenya, won the Best African Feature Film award at DIFF.)

Do not miss these movies when they come to a theater or streaming platform near you.

1960 (South Africa)

This pleasant, King Shaft directed period musical centers a heroine who may have been inspired by the life of the late South African icon Miriam Makeba. 1960 opened the Durban festival this year and set the tone for what would come after. Lindi (played by both Zandile Madliwa and Ivy Nkutha) is a singer who in her twilight days digs back into her past to shed light on the murder of an apartheid-era police officer when his remains turn up in Sharpeville some six decades after the infamous massacre of 1960.

African Moot (South Africa​)

There are plenty reasons to be hopeful for the future of the continent. According to Shameela Seedat’s African Moot, the educated youth are leading the way. This fly-on-the-wall documentary follows a group of bright law students who are participating in the annual African Human Rights Moot Court Competition. Seedat, a human rights law specialist turned filmmaker, heads to the University of Botswana with her subjects. Her film details the interesting ways the students approach the fictional case of a people crossing fictional African borders to escape oppression.

​Bangarang (Kenya)

Inspired by true events, Robin Odongo’s chaotic feature expounds on an earlier short film. Bangarang’s protagonist, Otile (David Weda) is a graduate of engineering who has failed to secure decent employment a decade after university. He makes a meagre living as a bike rider instead. When election violence erupts after the disputed Kenyan presidential elections of 2007, an embittered Otile leads rioters on the streets of Kisumu. Before long, he is on the run from the law, accused of murder.

Collision Course (Nigeria)

A frustrated young man collides with the brutal power of the police force. Can a tormented official stop the descent into carnage? The third feature length title from Nigerian director Bolanle Austen-Peters (The Bling Lagosians, The Man of God) is a propulsive thriller set over the course of 24-hours. Starring Daniel Etim Effiong and Kelechi Udegbe, Collision Course digs into the underbelly of urban crime, law enforcement gone rogue, and the desperate victims that suffer the consequences.

The Crossing (La Traversee) (Burkina Faso)

After years in Italy, Djibi returns to his native Burkina Faso and begins to mentor a group of young people whose sole purpose is to leave for Europe. Djibi prepares them for this crossing through a tasking physical and intellectual program that helps bring them personal achievement and may end up neutering their resolve to migrate. Can he make this difference? Irène Tassembédo’s social drama embraces the complicated nature of the immigration experience.

Lesotho, the Weeping Motherland (South Africa)

Told interchangeably between South Africa and Lesotho, this Lwazi Duma-directed documentary engages with the effects of climate change on the agricultural sector, a key income earner in the region. Duma follows Khethisa Mabata as he attempts to revive his father’s farm. The film uses Mabata’s personal story as an entry point into the larger national crisis that has taken Lesotho from a thriving food basket to one suffering extreme drought.

Skeletons (South Africa)

Conceived as an experiment in theatre-making during the COVID-19 lockdowns, this magical realist expression was re-written for film and now sits somewhere as a hybrid between theatre and film. Set in the heart of the Maluti mountains, Skeletons grapples with the issue of land and ownership as told through the lives of four characters. In an environment of scarcity, these four people wrestle to break free from the vicious cycle of oppression. Skeletons confronts notions of home, belonging, and identity.

Streams (Tunisia)

Amel, a married Tunis factory worker is imprisoned on charges of adultery and prostitution following an assault. Upon release, she attempts to put back the pieces of her life and reconnect with her teenage son whose life was derailed by the scandal. Director Mehdi Hmili comments on the decay, contradictions, and hypocrisies of contemporary Tunisian society with this engaging drama about the breakdown of a working-class family and the state’s unwillingness to protect the vulnerable.

Taamaden (Cameroon)

In Taamaden, Mali-born filmmaker Seydou Cissé paints a uniquely intimate portrait of immigration and zeroes in on spirituality. Taamaden, which is the Bambara word for traveler or adventurer, presents two different points of view. The first is that of Bakary, a young Malian preparing for yet another attempt at crossing over to Europe. The other is a motley crew of West African immigrants struggling to survive in Spain. They are united by their ties to their spiritual clairvoyant.

You’re My Favorite Place (South Africa)

Jahmil X.T. Qubeka (Of Good Report, Knuckle City) is one of the most exciting and original cinematic voices on the continent. His latest, which closed the Durban film festival, is a change of pace attempt that also carries some of Qubeka’s slick imprint. On the last day of high school, the young heroine of You’re My Favorite Place and her three friends embark on an unforgettable road trip. They steal a car and head to the remote Hole in the Wall, a landmark that according to Xhosa legend, enables communication with the dead.

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Photo Credit: Adedamola Odetera

An Inside Look Into the Underground Queer Party Scene in Nigeria

As a result of the laws and law enforcement bodies in the country, queer nightlife in Nigeria is shrouded in secrecy and has been forced to go underground.

A few minutes before midnight on a June evening, there was a line of people attempting to gain access to an unmarked apartment block in Lekki Phase 1 — a suburban neighborhood in Lagos State. To the uninitiated, it was a regular house party in the heart of Lagos Island, which is populated with young people in their 20s. For the attendees who had a flier on their phones and a passcode on their lips, this was an event they had looked forward to for weeks. When they arrived at the doors, they were all asked for a passcode which transported them into a vibrant pulsing party which had drag queens walking across the room and men in shorts that barely went past their crutches gyrating on other men while afrobeats blared. Welcome to queer nightlife in Nigeria where, on weekends, apartments turn into gay clubs, barred with passcode-guarding doors to protect against homophobes.

Party people hugging each other

Secret house parties, discrete raves, and clubs are now becoming increasingly popular amongst young queer Nigerians.

Photo Credit: Adedamola Odetera

Across the country, especially in the big cities like Lagos, Abuja, and Port Harcourt, lounges, clubs, and bars dedicated to the LGBTQ+ community have started sprouting despite legislation that makes it illegal for them to exist. In 2014, the Nigerian government passed the highly controversial and homophobic Same-Sex Marriage Prohibition Act. Despite the name, the law would go on to criminalize many other aspects of queer existence and not just marriage between people of the same sex. The far-reaching law criminalized queer social spaces, groups that advocate for queer rights, and even individuals advocating and supporting queer rights. The law also went on to prescribe a prison term that could go up to 14 years for those who were found guilty of these crimes in southern Nigeria. However, in Northern and mostly Muslim Nigeria, where Shariah law takes pre-eminence, these crimes could lead to death by stoning. While there isn’t an extensive record of people being found guilty for these crimes in Nigeria, these laws emboldened many homophobic mobs who took the laws into their hands and would beat individuals who they identified as queer and destroy spaces and parties that they suspected were hosted by or for queer people. One of the most infamous instances was a 2018 case where 57 men were arrested at a party in Lagos under the suspicion of being initiated into a gay club. While this particular case garnered significant press coverage as the men were made to go to trial, it is far from being the only case of its kind. It is fairly common for the police to raid suspected queer parties to arrest everyone in sight — often with little to no proof of the suspects being gay.

As a result of the laws and law enforcement bodies in the country, queer nightlife in Nigeria has been forced to go underground. Bars and clubs are left behind for parties in apartments. Recent years have seen a resurgence in the public profile of queer nightlife in Nigeria — partly thanks to a rise of resistance against oppressive systems within Nigeria that have been supported and have originated on social media, more queer people are becoming brave and open about queer nightlife in Nigeria. Secret house parties, discrete raves and clubs are now becoming increasingly popular, especially amongst young queer Nigerians. Creative collectives like hFactor and Pride in Lagos have pushed the narrative even further by organizing pride-specific events and raves in Lagos over the last few years.

Man making out with man

"‘‘I had been to clubs before but this was different. There was a freedom I didn’t feel in other parties."

Photo Credit: Adedamola Odetera

‘‘My first time at a queer party in Nigeria was in 2021. A friend invited me to a hFactor event and It was such an experience,’ Peju, a 23-year-old bisexual man tells OkayAfrica. ‘‘I had been to clubs before but this was different. There was a freedom I didn’t feel in other parties. Guys were grinding on guys, girls were flirting with girls. There wasn’t a need to pretend to be something I’m not.’’

However, attending these events comes with specific risks. Guests often took precautions — attending the parties with friends, letting their friends who weren’t there know where they were at and confirming there were accessible exits at all times. For many of these attendees, they may have never had to use those themselves but they know of people or at least have heard of people who have had to. Tamuno, a 31-year-old gay man, tells me of a near-capture experience when he had gone to a party in Port Harcourt in 2020.

‘‘There was this party that happened weekly. It became kind of popular and more queer people started coming. What we didn’t account for was that neighbors had realized it was full of queer people,’ Tamuno said. ‘‘One day, we were all at the party and they surrounded the house. Some of us managed to escape, others weren’t as lucky. I wasn't lucky.’’ Tamuno recounts that after being taunted and shamed and then stripped to their boxers for a relatively long time, the police then came. ‘‘The police coming to carry us was what saved us because then my brother, who I called, was able to bribe them to let us go. Whenever I think about what would happen if the police hadn’t come, I experience a full body shudder.’’

a group of people taking photos

Organizers have to find ways to limit people who can gain access to these parties.

Photo Credit: Adedamola Odetera

To help combat this, organizers of these events prioritize security and the safety of their guests. It is important that attendees feel safe from homophobic attacks from civilians and the armed forces. To achieve this, organizers have learned to deploy multiple guards.

‘‘Everyone’s safety is a priority to me and this means that multiple channels of security are constantly put in place to help safeguard our guests.’’ Kayode Timileyin, one of the organizers of Pride In Lagos tells OkayAfrica. ‘‘The first of which is the fact that all our events are only by a registration and verification process. Also, external security guards are made available. Lastly, we go all out to look for a real safe space.’’

It doesn’t end at just verifying the identities of the guests. Organizers have to find ways to limit people who can gain access to the location. This might mean generating a password only verified guests are given or keeping the exact location — and sometimes even date — a secret and only given to the verified guests. For these organizers, these security measures are put in place, not against potential miscreants or robbers but instead to keep off the police force and homophobes.

woman wearing black smiling

Despite dangers, the queer nightlife scene is bustling and thriving.

Photo Credit: Adedamola Odetera

The underground nightlife scene in Lagos is bustling and thriving — despite the laws that criminalize it and the constant danger. This illustrates the spirit of resilience amongst queer Nigerians who choose to reach for any semblance of freedom they can find even if it is on the dance floor for just a night.

‘‘My experience getting arrested traumatized me. It scared me. I was getting beaten, and paraded and I was so scared that they would kill me. But they didn’t so of course, I’ll party again," Tamuno said. ‘‘I still go to these parties and I’ll still keep going. It’s not that I’m scared. It’s just that when I’m on the dance floor surrounded by other queer men, I feel like my true self. I feel happy. I feel content. And that’s what I want out of life. If I die because I am seeking that, that’s fine.’’

a group of friends taking a photo

More queer people are becoming brave and open about queer nightlife in Nigeria.

Photo Credit: Adedamola Odetera

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Photo Credit: Ian Nnyanzi

Ugandan Designer Bobby Kolade is Resisting the Secondhand Clothing Trade

We talked with designer Bobby Kolade about his experience working in Uganda and his perspective on industry and community.

In 2018, Bobby Kolade moved back to Kampala, Uganda — where he grew up — with a dream of creating a brand that used sustainably grown Ugandan cotton. Having been away for 13 years — making a name for himself in the European fashion world working for high-end brands like Balenciaga and Maison Margiela — his first priority was to engage with and learn as much as possible about Uganda’s textile industry.

But, after a little research, he found that the country’s textile industry no longer had the capacity to support such an endeavor. In the 1970s, Uganda was producing 84,000 tons of cotton yearly and processing 85% of it for local consumption. Today, only 5% of Ugandan cotton is consumed by its own people, with the rest being exported in its raw form.

Chief among the reasons for this decline in industry is the large-scale import of second-hand clothing from the Global North. Each day, millions of unwanted clothes from thrift stores and donation bins in Europe and North America land in cities across Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Their low-cost and sheer abundance leaves little room for local designers in countries like Uganda to thrive. Even worse, the vast many of these clothes are ultimately discarded, overwhelming African landfills with the waste of western nations. In Accra, Ghana, for example, 40% of the 15 million used garments that flood into the city every week are deemed worthless upon arrival.

Responding to this crisis in his local fashion industry has been at the center of Kolade's work and research since he returned home. Between 2018 and 2021, he frequented major trade points like markets and boutiques, textile mills and even worked for two different cotton processing companies.

The data that he compiled — alongside his research partner, Nikissi Serumaga — ultimately turned into a limited series podcast called Vintage or Violence.Released in 2021, the podcast brilliantly tells the story of Ugandan textile, the essential arm it has historically played in the nation's progress, and the sinister implications that the second-hand hand clothing trade has on youth unemployment, education, national morale, and Ugandan society at large.

Buzigahill green and black shirt

Photo Credit: Ian Nnyanzi

Alongside this research, Kolade also inadvertently found himself at the helm of Aiduke, a non-profit organization dedicated to empowering Ugandan fashion and textile practitioners. He also joined the Uganda Fashion Council as one of three directors responsible for sourcing funding for local fashion projects. But after two years of struggling to create exposure for their projects, the other two directors quit within weeks of each other, leaving Bobby alone at the reins.

As he sees it, the council failed, mainly because it was a council — a foreign concept that didn’t work in the Ugandan context. He rebranded it as Aiduke Clothing Research and switched its focus to learning and experimentation. Their first project was a pop-up shop that ran from December 2021 to February 2022 in a corner of a Japanese restaurant in Kampala. It featured a mixed selection of vintage pieces with accessories and crafts by local designers.

Kolade's latest act came with the launch of Buzigahill, a brand with a mission to “return Uganda‘s textile industry to the peak levels of the early 1970s, when more cotton was processed than exported.'' Their first collection, Return to Sender, responds to Uganda’s secondhand clothes crisis by “treating them like raw material.” They source bales of clothes from markets across Kampala, then combine and reconstruct them into distinctly new garments to be sold to customers in countries like the US and UK, from whence the discarded clothing first came. The collection further illuminates the devastating effects of the second hand clothing trade on countries in the Global South and points the conversation towards accountability by making western consumers reckon with the effects of their over-consumption. Following the success of their first drop, Buzigahill just released a second collection as part of the Return to Sender series.

The collection embraces an elevated yet playful streetwear aesthetic with an emphasis on comfort. Each piece is unique to itself, but there is a prevailing spirit that all the garments embrace: multi-panel t-shirts made from pieces of other t-shirts stitched together; mis-matched hoodies; track pants partially fashioned from denim jeans; and elongated t-shirt dresses.

We caught up with Bobby Kolade ahead of Buzigahill's second release to talk about his experience working in Uganda and his perspective on industry and community.

Buzigahill hoodie

Photo Credit: Ian Nnyanzi

How has the transition been since you moved back to Uganda in 2018?

The first three years, I went through a series of disappointments because I realized that it wasn't going to be possible to do what I had come back home to do. Our industry is not as far as it needs to be in order to set up a brand with a diverse collection that can compete on a global scale. But that’s life in Kampala — a series of disappointments that you make work for you somehow, especially if you are trying to set up something in a professional manner. So, the transition for me was having to adapt into a designer who repurposes secondhand clothes.

Along the way, so many beautiful things have happened and they overshadow the disappointments. The sense of community here is much stronger than I had in Europe. I feel like because of the scarcity of certain cultural activities, almost all the creatives stay on one side of town.

What is the significance of the name Buzigahill?

Buzigahill came about at the beginning of lockdown. I realized that all the people who inspire me — DJs, filmmakers, journalists, artists — all lived in this bubble that was on Buzigahill. One day, in our WhatsApp group, I joked that we all needed Buzigahill e-mail addresses. I love domain hoarding so I said, "you know what? Let me actually get e-mail addresses for everybody." So I bought [the domain name] and a couple of weeks later I registered the business.

What has shocked you most over the course of your research?

The biggest shock was the realization that we are in an industrial regression. I do not see any signs whatsoever that the cotton industry is going in the right direction. During my time here I've seen decline in industry [and] production. I've seen textile production decrease [and] cotton facilities shut down. That was bitter for me. I felt naive because I wrote so many pitches and I had this grand vision of a brand based around Ugandan cotton and it just couldn’t come to fruition.

Our educational institutions are also not training people to produce clothing for global markets. There is no clear distinction between a tailor and a designer. You study fashion design for three years but at the end of the day, you end up sewing a few custom dresses for clients.

Buzigahill sweater

Photo Credit: Ian Nnyanzi

What is the distinction, for you, between a tailor and a designer?

A tailor is a service provider for a designer (or a custom client). It's a craft. A designer spends time thinking about form, color, function markets people, culture, and not necessarily sewing.

So you feel that so-called design institutions largely only equip people to do the technical work of creating the clothes and not necessarily the bigger picture thinking that it takes to be a designer?

Absolutely! Also our textile knowledge is not to the standard it needs to be. I visited a textile university where they were still using manual sewing machines. We need to be using the latest technology. We need labs, we need people to be experimenting. The abundance of raw materials in this country is crazy but we're not using them to the extent that we could be [because] our institutions haven't modernized.

What do you think about the rate of secondhand clothing being bought?

I don't see secondhand clothes going anywhere. There are more and more shopping malls. More boutiques are opening up, run by people who purchase second hand clothes from markets and present them better and make it more comfortable for people who are not interested in going to Owino because of the hassle. We have imported a culture of overconsumption and ultimately it will lead to a culture of over disposal. People own much more than they used to in the past because these things are dirt cheap.

Buzigahill jumpshoot

Photo Credit: Ian Nnyanzi

In 2015, the member states of the East African Community pledged to ban the import of second hand clothing, but after the US threatened to revoke the African Growth and Opportunities Act, which gives African countries duty free access to export certain products to the US, only Rwanda ultimately followed through with the ban. Though it was tough at first, their local textile industry has since grown 83% between 2018 and 2020. Do you think that Rwanda’s success might influence Uganda to revisit those sentiments of 2015?

What's the population of Rwanda?

About 12 million.

So 12 million people. Uganda has 47 million people today. Think that answers the question. I don't think our local textile industry is anywhere close to being able to cater to the demands of the market right now. Secondly, I don't think we have the same strength as Rwanda does when it comes to talking to the US. What I would like to see happen more is what Buzigahill is doing; embracing the fact that we have all these second hand and treating them as a raw material to develop our industry.

If at some point raw material production, in terms of linen, silk, and cotton, does catch up and we can integrate them into the production systems that we've set up using secondhand clothes, then that is all well and good. But the key issue here is that African countries need to be treated as industrial resources, not just as a source of materials that need to be extracted.

Tell me about your experience speaking at the Global Fashion Summit.

There was a lot of talk. It was a lot of rich companies from the Global North telling us all the great things that they were doing. I went on stage and just said my truth and. It was well received but a part of me also felt like I was on stage performing a theatre piece. You kind of feel weird when people congratulate you for what you've said on stage because I wasn't performing anything. I was telling the truth. We have a serious problem and it remains to be seen if more African voices will be given the platform that I was given. Although it was the most diverse and youngest edition of the global fashion summit, there is [still] a lot of work that needs to be done and more voices need to be added to the conversation.

The highlight for me was the OR Foundation announcing the EPR fund with Shein. Ghana has the biggest secondhand clothing market on the continent and they experience the [most] devastating side effects of clothing waste disposal. The OR Foundation signed an agreement with Shein to receive funds to alleviate the effects of second hand clothing in Ghana at Kantamanto market. It’s the first time that a fast fashion company has acknowledged the fact that their products are part of the problem on the African continent. It's a model that should be replicated by all the other huge brands: H&M, Nike, Adidas, Topshop, Primark — the ones that are suffocating our markets.

Buzigahill pants with jeans

Photo Credit: Ian Nnyanzi

Other than upcycling, what ways do you think that designers can strive for sustainability in their work?

Sustainability, for me, always comes down to the raw material. The most obvious thing is using natural fibers. We need to see more designers interact with local craftsmanship. I love it when I see a designer carry something that is considered artisanal and use it to make something contemporary that appeals to a youthful market. We don't need to be using fabrics imported from other countries. I don't want to see Ugandan politicians wearing three piece suits and a tie. It's ridiculous.

How would you describe Kampala's sense of style? Do you think there is an essence that generally informs the way people dress throughout the city?

No, I don't think so. There are many different scenes which don't really mix very well. Each borrows a lot from their counterparts in the Global North. In my opinion, the best dressed people in the city are the boda boda [motorcycle taxi] drivers. They have an understated sense of swag, mixing things up unknowingly. It's innate. You can find somebody wearing cowboy boots, Adidas track pants, a beanie, and then a really cool jacket. It's all over the place, but it's special. It's unique.

Buzigahill women

Photo Credit: Ian Nnyanzi

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Photo Credit: Adayliving

Chopstix on Crafting Burna Boy’s Biggest Hit "Last Last"

We spoke with Chopstix, one of Nigeria’s most in-demand producers, about his career and working on Burna Boy's smash 'Love, Damini' album.

Much of the credit for Afropop's rise over the last decade is usually credited to its artists. Thanks to their chart-topping singles, propulsive personalities, and swell catalogues, these acts are bringing popular African music to the attention of a global audience. The hyperfocus on these musicians often means that other participants in the music creation process are overlooked.

The rise of super-producers like Sarz, LONDON, P.Priime, and Chopstixis quickly refining the future of the genre as they receive more attention for their critical role in shaping the direction of our contemporary pop sound.

“Times are changing, before now producers didn’t have access to all the tools we have now,” Chopstix told OkayAfrica during a Zoom early in in August. “We’re receiving more recognition for our work and that’s a great thing.” At the moment, Chopstix is one of Nigeria’s most in-demand record producers, serving as a link between the heady rush of the hip-hop-inflected sound of early 2010s Afropop and its more recent iteration.

Born as Malcolm Kolade Olagundoye, Chopstix got his start in music production as a student attending St. Murumba College in Jos, the alma mater of iconic Nigerian pop duo P-Square. The music-loving principal of St. Murumba had set up a studio in the school and established a music and drama club to get students engaged. “We had a live session part and a recording session where computers and software were set up to record and produce music but I didn’t know about that session for a while, I only knew about the live session part,” Chopstix said. “One day, while rehearsing, I was hearing music from the other room and I found an older guy producing music all by himself. That was my lightbulb moment and I just knew it was what I wanted to do with the rest of my life because he looked so good and was so in his zone.”

Introduced by a friend to music production software FruityLoops (now known as FL Studio), Chopstix dove head-on into music production, experimenting widely with the tools at his disposal. Those early days spent sleuthing around in FL Studios also helped crystallize his affinity for the innovative sampling technique that gave birth to his producer tag. “When I first got my FruityLoops installed, it was just a couple of sounds that came with it but I didn’t want to use those stock sounds because everybody had them and I wanted my music to sound different,” he said. “So, what I’ll do is listen to songs by [hip-hop producers] Kanye West, DJ Premier, and Timbaland and listen for places where a kick or snare stands out and chop it. I spent hours of my time chopping up those samples and stacking them up. At the end of the day, I had tons of samples that I had taken from different places. Those were the samples I was using to produce at the time and when people heard my beats they were always asking where they came from because it didn’t sound like the usual stuff people used.”

Chopstix wearing a suit

Photo Credit: Adayliving

Around 2009, Chopstix met fellow Jos-based musicians Ice Prince, Yung L, and Endia, coming together with the latter two to form the music collective, GRIP Muzik, that helped to refine an era of Jos’ music scene. “At the time, we were just remaking global hit songs,” Chopstix said. “We would go on radio and have people request that we remake a song and we remade it. We were mostly remaking music and putting out our original songs occasionally. When we saw the traction we were getting, we figured that we could do it bigger than we were doing it and that’s when we moved from Jos to Lagos.”

The move to Lagos came with its unique challenges as the rising producer had to face the unrelenting pace of life in Nigeria’s entertainment capital. He took time out to understand the pulse of the city’s entertainment structure and the industry that had grown around it, taking a backseat from active production for close to a year. In Lagos, his relationship with Ice Prince metamorphosed into a full-blown creative partnership that saw him produce hit singles like "Aboki" and "Gimme Dat" while helping Ice Prince complete his sophomore album, Fire Of Zamani.

“At the time, we made 'Aboki,' we were trying to experiment with the traditional sound because I always like to push people out of their comfort zones," Chopstix said. "The first few days after the song dropped, it got a lot of backlash on blogs but a week after that, it just switched. The reactions were great and the song just went viral and blew up... That was my first hit single after coming to Lagos. It introduced me officially as Chopstix.”

Working with Ice Prince meant that Chopstix was always collaborating with some of Nigeria’s biggest stars. He remembers officially meeting Burna Boy, when the Port Harcourt-born star came to record his verse for "Gimme Dat." That meeting started off a working relationship that continues to this day. “The first song I did with Burna was 'Rockstar.' it was the first time I recorded one-on-one with him after 'Gimme That,'" Chopstix said. “I think we connected instantly from the first time we met and it’s still the same to date. It hasn’t shifted and it’s only become stronger. There’s always been an understanding between both of us of what type of musicians we are and the connection just happened seamlessly.”

The connection between both musicians has deepened as they have ascended to new levels over the last five years with Chopstix being a part of the four-album run — from Outsideto Love, Damini — that has catapulted Burna Boy to international fame. (Another album, Gaddafi, which Chopstix worked heavily on was put on hold. “It’s probably one of the hardest projects I’ve worked on sonically but I don’t think it’s something that the world is ready for now because he was talking about a lot of real facts and global political stuff that I’m not sure people are ready for,” Chopstix said of that project.)

In July, Burna Boy released Love, Damini with "Last Last" as its lead singles. The song, which samples Toni Braxton’s "He Wasn’t Man Enough," was recorded one month before its official release and has become the most commercially successful song of Burna Boy’s career, peaking at No. 70 on the Billboard Hot 100 and No. 4 on the UK Top 40 Chart. Despite the heavy thematic references of the song, Chopstix says he was sure it was going to be a global hit record.

“Bro, as soon as this song was done — as soon as I hit export — Burna and I had a moment where we looked at each other and we knew that we had caused trouble,” Chopstix said. “He knew instantly and we were already talking about how he was going to perform it and what the performances would look like on stage. That’s how much he is into his craft. When he says he put his life into his job, it’s not just lyrics — it’s facts. That’s why I enjoy working with people that take their work seriously because I take my work seriously. He called up the video director that same night, the director pulled up at his place the next day and the video was shot there.”

According to Chopstix, the decision to sample "He Wasn’t Man Enough" wasn’t a spur-of-the-moment decision; both he and Burna were huge fans of the song. “[The sample] was specifically picked out by Burna Boy himself," he said. "And it happens that I've always wanted to sample that particular song as well so the stars basically aligned in our favor.” A lot of the recent online chatter around “Last Last” has focused on Burna Boy’s comment about Toni Braxton receiving about 60% of the royalties on “Last Last” but Chopstix insists that this is the way such collaborations work.

“Sampling is a culture in music that has been around for decades,” said. “After 'Last Last' was done, the rest were label and management talks and Toni Braxton's team had been contacted for clearance. When a song is sampled and done right, it is indirectly a feature or collaboration. This automatically bridges gaps between the artists involved. It will introduce African artists to new territories and also their music is not completely alien. This means more listeners, and African artists can easily tour the new areas and further spread our music and culture.”

While still basking in the success of Last Last, Chopstix is working on bigger projects, viewing the success of the single as a portal for the next phase of his career. “I’m just super excited because 'Last Last' has just opened a door for the journey to start," Chopstix said. "I feel like I’m just starting right now. All I’ve experienced till this moment has just been preparation, this is just the starting point. I can’t wait for the next record and the next record and on and on.”

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