An Accountant in Adland: “This is family business” [S1 E7]
by Siwe Thusi (@Siwe_Thusi) The title of this month’s piece is a line from one of my favourite artists of all time, Kanye West. No judgement, please: ‘I miss the old Kanye’, too. Family Business, off the album College Graduation, is the track in which this line sits snug and poetically. I’ve always believed the same things that play out in his African-American family which he raps about in this track play themselves out in the black South African families here. I thought it would be interesting to analyse some of his rap lines in parallel with some familiar scenes.
Why? Two months ago, I had my traditional wedding, naturally a large family (and friends) affair. Now, nothing can prepare you for how strategies and numbers play themselves out in family situations. And nothing prepares you for how important families are, regardless of the different shapes and sizes that they come in — much like every single biscuit in that Choice Assorted box is at Christmas. The lead up to my traditional wedding found me observing families: how they crawl, walk, run then fly; how the disappointments walk hand-in-hand with the joys; and how every character has its place. Even at imisebenzi*.
“And this is for the family that can’t be with us…”
There’s something so telling about reconciling the number of people who rock up to a family event against the invites sent. It’s an immediate signal of who’s still around and who’s not — the voids left by death, a fallout or a sincere “I really can’t make it”. Obviously, death is a strange one because you can’t even send out an invitation and, as the years pass by, the numbers of older family members seem to dwindle. I got married with none of my grandparents present, which was pretty rough… but the irony is that, as their memory fills up our events space… their ancestral presence is multiplied.
“Sitting here, grillin’ people like George Foreman”
Kanye refers here to an endearing act of hitting a family member with your wit while you tease them.
When my family gets together, it might as well be the National Grilling Championships. Smart-mouthed wit is served hot between breakfast, lunch and supper by everyone to anyone. That’s a lot of servings, divided by roars of kitchen laughter, all from a very loving and endearing place. But the trick is to have a “Weeeehhh” and rapid-fire response to make it onto the imaginary rebuttal leader board.
Another irony: During a wedding, this grilling is the energy that is needed to keep the momentum going, the time ticking and spirits high during the many tasks that need to be done.
“Fit 3 in the bed if it’s 6 of ya’ll / I’m talkin’ about 3 by the head and 3 by the leg…”
When the family comes together, it means that there are many more people in the four-bedroomed house that you grew up in. Sleeping arrangements become mathematics problems because, even though extended family is implored to find accommodation, it won’t happen. Much like RSVPing. The numbers that rock up need to be accommodated. At my house, we were critical but stable. I didn’t have the pleasure of waking up with someone’s ‘gelish’ pedicure in my face but I assure you that it’s a reality for other brides.
“Why Uncle Ray and Aunt Sheila always performin’ / The second she storm out then he storm in.”
Look, what’s a wedding without drama? Not a wedding. It’s very easy to fall into the trap of thinking that a family event like a wedding suddenly has a cloud of kumbaya that settles over it but, nope, you would be wrong. A family shows up as it is, no airbrushing and definitely unedited. You will come across a screaming match and dirty laundry being aired in the lounge while silently eating umdoko** for breakfast in your favourite spot on the couch. The irony here is that a black family will never let this same scene play itself out publicly. Many black families still suffer from very strong cases of “Bazo’thini” (what will people say?). Which means that laundry can air itself out internally but never externally. Externally, the family’s honour comes first.
“You know that one auntie, you don’t mean to be rude…”
There are family members that you have to plan for. Strategise for. When they ask this, say that. When they do this, do that. Because, unfortunately, not every family member is your friend. Deep but true. As the old adage goes, you can’t choose your family. So, you have to manage the “When are the children coming?”; “What are you earning now?”; “Where in Joburg do you live (so that I can come crash)?” and things of that FAQ nature. The best thing to do is to always arm yourself with the standard answers to the FAQs and live your best social media community manager life. Yes, FAQs in black families do exist, but it’s how you swerve and plan around them that makes all the difference.
The beauty about family is this: we always find ways for um’sebenzi play out successfully… and that realisation is only made when the crowds have gone and we are washing dishes in the kitchen into the night. The politics of black families (all families, actually) at events will be around for generations beyond us. But ok’salayo***…
“When they get together / they be electric sliding…”
*imisebenzi: traditional family gatherings (weddings, funerals, tombstone unveilings, thanksgivings etc)
**umdoko: Zulu sour breakfast porridge
***ok’salayo: the fact remains
Siwelile Thusi (@Siwe_Thusi) is a qualified South African chartered-accountant-turned-creative-strategist who’s just joined M&C Saatchi Abel from FCB Joburg. She is also a working photographer and writer. Since mid-2015, she’s been in strategic planning, working on some of South Africa’s big brands in different categories and industries in the ATL and digital spaces. She contributes the monthly column “An Accountant in Adland” — exploring where, when and how the two ‘disciplines’ overlap… and why they should! — to MarkLives.com.