Photo by Rufaro Samanga
Lesego Tlhabi is Coconut Kelz: "We need to keep the Blacks away from our suburbs."
Coconut Kelz is the hilarious political satirist shaking up all things to do with race in South Africa.
Three years ago, Black students at the Pretoria Girls' High protested after they were told that their natural hair was not in line with the school's obviously racist hair codes.
Thirty-year-old Lesego Tlhabi, whose day job was a television script writer at the time, found herself seeing the same old tired comments on social media, especially from white people. She posted her own long rants hoping that people would see why the high school was being racist. It wasn't until she created the over-the-top character that is Coconut Kelz that she started gaining traction.
If you haven't come across one of Coconut Kelz's videos on social media yet, you're missing out on South African political comedy and satire at its very best. The wig-wearing, white-people-can't-do-no wrong Coconut Kelz is the poster child for the White political party, the Democratic Alliance (DA).
Once you get over the ridiculousness of Coconut Kelz, you begin to see how she attempts to highlight a variety of South Africa's social and political issues in a way that people can easily understand. For those who find themselves scoffing at her comedy, it's usually because she's white (I mean right) and has probably hit a nerve.
We ventured to the suburb of Sandton to catch up with both Lesego and Coconut Kelz.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
How would you as Lesego describe Coconut Kelz? Give me just three words.
She's passionate, ill-informed but likable.
I think South Africans and Africans in general are familiar with the concept of a coconut. For everyone else, what is a coconut, especially with reference to Coconut Kelz?
Coconut Kelz is Black but her political affiliation and standard for herself is all Caucasian-inspired. It's all to do with White people. She thinks how they vote, how they speak, how they think and what they say is the best. She just doesn't identify with anything to do with Blackness. I went to school with a lot of Black people like this.
Coconut Kelz x H&Mwww.youtube.com
What was that one thing you wanted to become and is it in contrast to Coconut Kelz?
From the jump, I knew I wanted to be on stage, I just didn't know how. When I was six, I used to make my parents sit down and watch me do a show at home for the family and when my grandmother would come visit. Everything that has led up to this moment has been in my dream journal, in the bucket list, in my vision board—everything. I just think it's weird because I didn't think my career would be in a character.
You were told to rather stay behind the scenes and yet you're so insanely talented. Where do you think the industry is getting it wrong?
In South Africa, it's really about the looks which is also not to say that people in the industry don't have talent. I automatically get the role of someone's funny or sassy best friend. I think that they get it wrong in terms of plus size women can't be lead roles. And so many comedians will have a set that sounds self-deprecating because it's a defense mechanism in a way and I get it.
But personally, none of my jokes are about weight or size. I won't allow myself to be a punchline.
Tonight with Jane Dutton | Coconut Kelz discusses the state of the nation | 18 March 2019www.youtube.com
Usually when South Africans think of political satire, Zapiro and his racist cartoons come to mind first. Do you think you have peers in the political satire game?
If I were to say I have a peer, I would say it's more something like Chester Missing, I guess, although he's a puppet and Kelz is a real human being. I think Evita Bezuidenhout passed the baton to the two of us in a sense. And maybe even Trevor Noah now that he's doing The Daily Show.
I didn't set out to be a comedian and I think that's okay. I just wanted to comment on politics but in a satirical way.
Our national election is on the 8th of May. We all know who Coconut Kelz will vote for. What about Lesego?
I just think we need to shake up the majority shareholding, if you will. When I look at Ramaphosa and the ANC, I feel like there's something suspicious if White people like you a lot. Who is he protecting? I think even though Zuma was as corrupt as he was and I really didn't enjoy his time in power, his Blackness really irritated White people.
I kind of had positive things about the EFF when they first came out. But for me, a party that starts from a jilted ex-member doesn't really bode well. Same with Patricia de Lille and the DA.
I'll never, ever, ever vote for the DA. That just will never happen. I think my vote is leaning somewhere at the United Democratic Front. I just don't want to waste my vote.
Coconut Kelz x #PresidentsKeeperwww.youtube.com
As Lesego, do you think that Apartheid would come back under the DA as some Black South Africans fear?
Not really, well economically speaking. I do think there'd be a lot of things that would make life super itchy for us though. I know that a lot of people who work at certain companies wouldn't even look at a Black person's CV. I mean most of the Black people I know are twice qualified at the minimum and yet some white people don't even have a Matric and they would still be looked at first.
And as Coconut Kelz?
I don't mind watching it come back. I think it was wonderful actually because it just kept the Black's away from our suburbs. Now look, you just came here with your scary dreads and security didn't even ask me. The DA would clean up the streets and make South Africa great again.
On that note, what are you hoping to achieve with your election special with BET Africa?
First and foremost, I always want to make people laugh. I mainly just went around the different neighborhoods (as Coconut Kelz) and just spoke to mainly young people about who they want to vote for and what is it they want in a government.
There was some playing around with them calling them maids and whatever. Some people knew me before the interview, so it was playful. But, one girl wanted to fight me because I told her we were both wearing wigs because we both wanted to be White.
COCONUT KELZ ELECTION SPECIAL PARKHURSTwww.youtube.com
A number of White people really don't find you funny. Why do you think that is?
I actually deal with more White people who enjoy the content than those who don't. But I think the honest reason why they don't find my content funny is because they may see themselves in it and they don't want to change their thinking and are of course offended by it. Black people also get very offended because they think I'm making fun of Black struggle. And I'm not. I'm actually using Black struggle as the content, but making fun of the White upper-middle class.
What are your big plans for Coconut Kelz right now?
Donovan Goliath was the person on my list and I worked with him this weekend and he was so dope because I've always been such a fan. That was the bucket list moment of my life. Obviously, I'd like to work with more female comedians like Celeste Ntuli and Tumi Morake.
I'd love to do a daily show of sorts on a weekly basis. I would love to interview people as Coconut Kelz because she's a lot more fun. I've also been asked to do this gig in Botswana with SADC region comedians from Zimbabwe, Namibia and Zambia. I want to broaden the audience and maybe even have an American segment and make fun of them too, you know.