HOW MANDOZA CHANGED THE GAME
N THE 1990s the South African music industry was taken aback by a new sound that drew from international house, yet situated its attitude and forms of expression in the newly-liberated black youth.
Quickly rising in popularity, by the late 1990s kwaito had become the second highest selling music genre in South Africa.
Kwaito culture spawned a number of cultural industries including magazines, fashion, radio stations, websites and television shows. It also set the template for the contemporary youth cultures that currently dominate SA.
The recent passing of musician Mandoza is an opportunity to reflect on the legacy he left.
For many, kwaito became an emblem of freedom. But the rise of kwaito as a musical genre and the importance of Mandoza as a key figure in it were not uncontroversial in newly liberated South Africa. For some, kwaito represented all that was wrong with black youth with its supposed glamorisation of violence, explicit sexuality and consumerist celebration.
Through his music and persona, Mandoza performed a tsotsi masculinity”. This legitimised and provided space for the black township thug, a figure of post-apartheid trauma, to be understood as a complex , fully human person. He resisted elite narratives that position working class and poor black township men as irredeemable tsotsis, best managed by the criminal justice system.
In post-apartheid SA kwaito occupied a contested space because its lyrics and imagery appeared to glorify forms of toxic masculinity. Toxic masculinity can be defined as a set of societal norms that define and celebrate masculinity based on violence, sexual aggression, objectification of women and lack of emotion.
Although the tsotsi label was used to exclude it, it also became a symbol of qualified inclusion. It represented a commodified authentic black masculinity that could be reformed and turned towards the needs of both capital and government.
Inclusion rested on notions of rehabilitation. But a reformed tsotsi still had an air of authentic cool and sexy desirability.
Tsotsi masculinity (in its redeemed form) could thus also be presented as a symbol of capitalist consumer success.
The poor, black man from the ghetto who reformed his life, had made it” and possessed the consumer products to prove he belonged to the middle class.
This popular narrative of postapartheid obscured the systemic forces that made such a rags-to- riches narrative unlikely in the first place.
Yet, as a story it was an ideal marketing tool that served the ends of consumer capital by using it to sell products.
Mandoza rejected the inhumanity of the tsotsi as well as the notion that he needed to be completely rehabilitated.
He consistently reminded South Africans of the value of his tsotsi origins, and on inclusion in society as a tsotsi. Mandoza argued that his financial success made him a family man. Yet he was also tsotsi yaseZola” (a tsotsi from Zola, in Soweto).
Mandoza forced South Africans to reckon with the underbelly, and to respect it, turning the tsotsi into a figure of respect, if not an entirely respectable figure.