YGK: Nwabisa Mda, Thembe Mahlaba & Bongeka Masango
by Veli Ngubane (@TheNduna) This Women’s Month we showcase three phenomenal young women — Nwabisa Mda (@NwiseWise), Thembe Mahlaba (@_Thembe) and Bongeka Masango (@IAmNotBongi) — who are changing how we consume content with an authentic platform that reflects the life and times of youth culture in Africa, in all its glory: Pap Culture (@papculturesa).
Veli Ngubane: How did you all meet and what keeps you together?
Pap Culture: Bongeka and Thembe went to high school together (Pinetown Girls High School) but went separate ways in varsity (Bongeka Rhodes University and Thembe University of Cape Town). Thembe then met Nwabisa in varsity (around 2011 / 2012) through a mutual friend and then, a year or two later, they lived together. So, when Bongeka completed her studies and moved to Cape Town in 2015, Thembe introduced her to Nwabisa.
What keeps us together is that we’ve really come to appreciate the power and strength we have as a team/unit. We are stronger together and every hurdle we’ve had to overcome has been that much easier to because we’re always able to count on each other to support one another. Where one falls short, there’re two others to fill that gap. But, more importantly, we’re friends [who] genuinely enjoy each other’s company. We’re always laughing, even over the most-random things. So, we’re able to carry that energy through into the work that we do.
VN: Please explain what you actually do and how an average day looks like for you?
Nwabisa Mda: I work as a strategist at a marketing communications agency based in Cape Town and an average day consists of a lot of emails, building presentations, meeting after meeting and [attending] to WhatsApp (because we have a group for Pap Culture and a lot of work-related chats happen in there). So, it’s a lot of juggling between these two jobs.
Thembe Mahlaba: I work flexible hours doing social media for an NGO. So, I don’t have to hustle in traffic in the morning but work from the confines of my flat, with wifi that sometimes doesn’t cooperate. Then the numerous back-and-forth messaging between the three of us about either about the episode(s) coming up that need(s) to be reviewed, etc. Answering questions and emails from potential clients, making calls to clarify messages sent in the group chat (there is A LOT OF CHATTING INVOLVED), as well as brainstorming on the move.
Bongeka Masango: I work in advertising. So, my day-to-day consists a lot on planning and executing advertising material for my clients.
VN: What is Pap Culture and how did you come up with the name?
PC: Pap Culture is a proudly South African entertainment hub that houses content [which] aims to be an authentic platform that reflects the life and times of youth culture in Africa in all it’s glory (highs and lows).
We want the platform to transcend the traditional world of entertainment, to solidify ourselves as credible online content producers. Currently, the platform is segmented into four core programmes: Pap Culture Ride Along (where we interview guests in a vehicle), Pap Culture On Location (vox-pop-style content that captures us at events or in and around different places across the country), Pap Culture Plays [very much focused on us competing against each other in a game we call “Guess The…” (eg Guess the TV Show, Guess the Song, Guess the Celebrity Ex)] and then Pap Culture Talks (where we often get to sit down with a number of guests and unpack a topic related to the theme of the month).
Then, from time to time, we produce special series under Pap Culture Presents. So, we’ve just come off a series of content called Sunday Lunch with Pap Culture. We dined in true Sunday-lunch style, with Thembe cooking us a meal (which we shared in a ‘How to Make…’ video that went live on Wednesdays) and then we were joined by some of our creative faves and just got to catch up and discuss a topic that was a heated conversation off-camera (this went live on Sundays). https://youtu.be/7u1mrc6v6uA
We aim to create fresh/thought-provoking content that leaves people with a smile on their faces and has them clicking pause to indulge in a good long laugh. However, more importantly, we want people to indulge in their own conversations off of our content to open up more dialogue about the things that matter to young people.
The name Pap Culture? Well, the story isn’t as profound as one would think. We had been meeting up a number of times to discuss the creators [who] inspire us, what we wanted this platform to be, what type of content we wanted to create and just brainstorming ideas of what we’d call the channel. So, Thembe, in one of our conversations mistakenly said “pap culture” when she was trying to say “pop culture” and we all just paused, laughed and knew that that had to be the name of the channel. It just made sense and felt like such a catchy name. Of course, the meaning in the world of our supporters has taken many different forms and it’s been amazing to hear what other people think.
VN: What is driving youth culture and what trends have you seen this year?
NM: I believe what drives youth culture is us seeing so many more young creatives take the plunge and starting their own creative hubs, be it through music, video content, photography, fashion, art — the list is endless. It’s seeing our peers really reaching for their dreams fearlessly and unapologetically. It’s such a motivator to see people just like you make the most of the little they have, so I believe this definitely inspires more young people to do the same… to just start!
As far as trends, I’d definitely say video content. I’m seeing more and more people stretch their creative muscles into video and diversifying their offering to incorporate video content. Whether through YouTube, Vimeo, Instagram Stories/Live and now IGTV, a lot more people are getting involved.
TM: It depends which lens you look at [through]. A single trend is not happening at one given time; a lot of things are moving at the same time. We continue to want to be heard in different spaces, from politics, fashion, the arts etc. We continue to spark vital conversations about mental health and the importance of debunking the black family stereotyping that comes with MH in those spaces. We want to talk about the high and rising numbers of femicide. We are talking about self-love and what that looks like; we are encouraging the importance of following your dreams and that unfortunately not everyone has the means to do that. But we also want to have a good time, which is fairly not a trend but sometimes that it’s the break we need from the sometimes harsh realities of South Africa.
BM: I think what’s been driving youth culture for the past few years is excellence. It’s a bit stressful because you feel so much pressure to be great but, at the same time, you’re watching your peers live out their dreams and you understand that anything is possible.
VN: Why do you think the industry is struggling with transformation?
NM: I think it’s struggling because the industry is still dominated by ‘old people’ who don’t want to let go of the reins (as DJ Khaled would call them: “dinosaurs”). There just aren’t enough opportunities being given to young people who have so much potential and are more than capable of stepping up and learning from those who’ve paved a great foundation for us to be able to take things to the next level, and allow us to also move up the ranks. There’s always comes a moment, a tug-of-war of sorts that wrestles between risk vs return, where it just becomes a safer option to go with existing systems, as opposed to opening up room for new ways of working, thinking, creativity etc.
TM: The industry continues to struggle because of who those [who] still ‘own’ and hold power in the industry.
BM: I think people just don’t want to let go and truly allow new people/thinkers in. The gatekeepers are so comfortable in the way things are, they don’t want to let anyone else in.
VN: What’s it like to work as females in a male dominated industry and how do you think the industry may attract more female creatives?
NM: Well, on the YouTube side, I don’t really feel I’m in a male-dominated space because our journey thus far has allowed for us to make our own rules and define our own path and future. Yes, there’s a shortage of females on the platform, but I don’t know that that’s only attributed to the platform being dominated by men. More than anything, I feel there’s not enough people of colour creating on the platform and I think a lot of that has to do with a lack of resources to create on the platform, fear of the unknown and data issues, just to name a few.
But on the 9–5 front, I do think I’m in a male-dominated space. When I started working, I was very intimidated by it and then coupled with the anxiety around the fact that I was young, black and inexperienced. But I had to rise above and constantly remind myself that I am valuable and I have a lot to offer. Overall, I do think there’s not enough of an even balance of women in the various departments and, more so, not enough women in leadership positions. So, as far as attracting more women, I do believe women are already interested and actively going out of their way to be seen and heard; there just aren’t enough doors opening up to welcome them in.
TM: In our interview with Neo Baepi last year, Neo said, “Which industry isn’t male dominated?” So, I guess it’s about pushing through and, when the opportunity presents itself, to make room for other womxn in the room. Create that job for her/them, hire her/them, recommend them for the job because I don’t think it’s that we think we can’t make it in those spaces; we just aren’t let in. So, if you’re already inside, girl, invite the rest of us in.
BM: I haven’t really felt like I’m a female in a male-dominated industry. Especially not in the arts. So far, I’ve experienced support from everyone.
VN: How does Pap Culture make money?
PC: At this stage, most of the money we’ve made has been through brand work / campaigns and we’ve invested our own money when we’ve needed to. But we’re in the process of looking for investors as we really want to create without limits while also building a more-sustainable working process. Brand work is great but it comes few and far between, and so we want to be able create as though we’re running a fully- fledged production house. We also make [a] very little money through YouTube but, to really make a lot of money there, you need to have high numbers in terms of views and subscribers.
VN: Where and when do you have your best ideas?
NM: Often in the late hours of the night /am. I’m probably on a WhatsApp video call with Thembe and we are going on and on about different ideas we want to do. Especially after watching content produced/directed by our favourite creators. But other ideas also come out of seeing my peers making great strides in their careers. I get very inspired when I see others succeed. It makes me want to achieve my personal goals even more.
TM: Literally anywhere. Then, if we aren’t together, I will WhatsApp them the idea.
BM: It’s such a clichéd answer but in the shower and in my dreams.
VN: What advice can you give to young women wanting to get into the business?
PC: This can be applied across the gender spectrum really but 1) just start, 2) consistency is key and 3) have fun. But specifically, to our sisters out there, we need your voices. Don’t be discouraged just because we are a minority in the creative space. You are enough and you are better off trying and failing, then to not have tried at all. There’s lots to learn in this journey, and don’t allow your ideas to just exist on the pages in your inspiration book and in your head. Take the leap of faith, it’s worth the ride.
VN: Tell me something about yourselves not generally known.
NM: Because I’m an only child, once upon a time I wanted to have five children (four boys and one girl) and I wanted them to be two years apart. But, after seeing a mother struggle just to buy food at McDonalds for her kids and their friends, I realised that idea had to die. She was so overwhelmed it literally put me off the whole thing.
TM: I love coffee.
BM: I used to really want to be a pilot growing up but couldn’t afford pilot training. I get so jealous when I go to the airport and I see female pilots.
VN: What exciting projects are you working on at the moment [at the time of this interview]?
PC: We’re currently working on content for Women’s Month (August) and Heritage month (September). We can’t say too much cause there’s many moving parts and we’re working different people as we go along. But the aim of all this content is to continue to build on the conversations we’ve started on the channel around reframing what it looks like to celebrate women and showcasing our power and how dynamic we are during August. Then further unpacking how we as young people are navigating our heritage and culture in modern times and the implications on the future.
VN: Please would you supply two or more pieces of work you have been involved in?
Veli Ngubane (@TheNduna) entered the world of advertising with a passion after completing his BSocSci (law, politics and economics) at UCT and a post-graduate marketing diploma at Red & Yellow, where he’s currently advisory board chairman. He also sits on the IAB’s Transformation & Education Council, is a DMA board member and has judged Loeries, Apex and AdFocus. He is the Joburg MD and founding partner of the largest black-owned and -managed full-service agencies in the country, AVATAR. He is also co-founder of M&N Brands, which is building an African network of agencies to rival the global giants. In his monthly column “Young, Gifted & Killing It”, he profiles award-winning, kick-ass black creative talent in South Africa.
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