Young, Gifted & Killing It: Justice Mukheli
by Veli Ngubane (@TheNduna) Artist/filmmaker/photographer Justice Mukheli (@justice_mukheli; IG: @justicemukheli) is too humble to brag about his achievements and accolades, so I will. This Bomb director has just been invited to be a Young Guns 18 judge by The One Club for Creativity, with 31 other top young creatives from around the world. This Soweto-born creative also has much to say about how the industry should nurture, grow and celebrate young black talent in the industry.
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Veli Ngubane: No conversation starts these days without mentioning covid-19, so let’s start there. How have the past few months been for you and how have you reacted to the crisis?
Justice Mukheli: The past few months have been interesting because covid-19 [has] forced me to relook at my view of my own life, to relook at what is important in my daily routine, what is important in my professional life and, most importantly, what is important in my life in general. So, I find myself in a space where [have] I needed to remind myself to just breathe, to be present in each moment of my life, to be present in every interaction I have with other people, to be intentional with my actions.
VN: Now let’s get to know you better: where did you grow up and what was your journey into the creative industry?
JM: I’ll drop in Soweto — Phumzile, to be specific. I am one of four kids; my twin brother and I are in the middle. So, it is a beautiful place, especially for a curious mind like mine because there were so many interesting things [worth] interacting with, seeing, and experiencing. Among [them] was fashion; see[ing] my father and his friends and my uncles and their friends was the most-beautiful thing to witness as a kid growing up because they were so dressed up every day in their fancy Brentwood, Crockett & Jones, Dickies and more.
I grew up in a house with creatives but [my mother was] a non-conventional creative because she used to make jerseys with interesting patterns, and she used to bake cakes with innovative recipes. And my father is creative but I only experience his creative side once when I was young, I think I was six years old and my twin brother and I were listening to a jazz record with him and he made a drawing of the three of us sitting around the table listening to jazz.
I didn’t go to any art school — I didn’t even know that there were art schools when I was young until I was in late high school and I realise[d] that[’s] my interest because I was doing graffiti design, murals, portraits for people and more. And that sparked my interest to build a portfolio that later got me into advertising by chance. And I got in through Neo Mashigo, who was working at Draftfcb at the time. So, I got an internship there and that’s how my journey to what I am growing to be began.
VN: The #BlackLivesMatter movement has impacted brands. How do you think South African brands fared in reacting to the race and gender issues?
JM: To be honest, I didn’t see much engagement from the brands; maybe this is because we see what we follow. Especially now that our lives are very much on social media. So, based on who I follow, I didn’t brands engage this subject.
VN: How do we attract, grow, and keep young black talent in the creative industry?
JM: This is a good question. I think we have amazing young black creatives on the come-up but we fail them because most creatives in the position of power fear to empower the young ones, because they are afraid to lose their positions — and this is a whole other conversation — but I feel that stating this is enough for now.
So, when you ask how do we attract them, my answer is: We attract them by giving them opportunities that we fought long and hard to get to. We attract them by helping them occupy space in a way they can benefit, and this is done by equipping them with the most-important tools. These tools are: reminding them [to] be humble and let the work speak; [to] forget about the company politics and focus on refining your skills; [to] remind them that they must be patient because their time to shine will come; [to] remind them that success is not an overnight process.
I believe that, if we teach most young creative the above tools, and others I didn’t mention, the industry will grow and more black creatives will stay and also grow beautifully.
VN: Why do you think the advertising industry is struggling to transform and what do you think should be done to fast-track transformation in advertising?
JM: I think this industry needs to realise the urgency to prioritise black creatives because, in 2020, we still see commercials or rather communication that is still triggering by not representing black people the right way — we still see communication that is not respectful of our culture. This can only be corrected by the industry prioritising and include[ing] black creatives and let[ting] them have a voice.
VN: I’m interested in your thoughts on how black people are portrayed on TV and in adverts, and what needs to change to reflect the realities of our black communities?
JM: I think the issues are not as bad as they used to be but the most common issue is when ads make black people caricatures or exoticise black bodies.
VN: What advice would you give someone running a creative business in this time of crisis and what is this “new normal” that everyone talks about?
JM: Be open to new ways of working. The idea of offices might not be the way to go in the future.
VN: What do you feel is missing in the advertising industry today and what should the future look like in South Africa and the rest of the continent?
JM: Consideration of black creatives and giving them the opportunities to grow and occupy the position of power and decision-making, because the consumers and target audience for most brands are black people. So, creative communication should speak to consumers the way they speak.
VN: Where and when do you have your best ideas?
JM: Hahaha, damn, I’ve never thought about but I think it all happens between 2 and 4 in the morning.
VN: Tell us something about yourself not generally known?
JM: I speak 10 of South African languages. I can paint, draw and sculpt. My first passion was programming. I used to be a “street gymnast”.
VN: What exciting projects are you working on at the moment?
JM: I am finishing post on two short film music videos for the band, Urban Village. The production for Shaka Zulu is beginning and I am very excited about that. I am currently writing my [first] short film with a friend of mine.
VN: Brag a bit, don’t be shy — tell us about your career highlights so far and the awards and accolades you’re most proud of?
JM: Haha… I don’t know where to start.
VN: You wake up tomorrow and you’re the president of the country. What measures and laws would you pass to build the creative industry for future generations?
JM: I think the creative industry must be identified as an essential industry in this country and [I would] prioritise and include our industry in the development funds and more.
VN: Please would you supply two or three pieces of work you have been involved in?
- Young, Gifted & Killing It: Tebogo Malope
- Young, Gifted & Killing It: I See A Different You
- Columns | Young, Gifted & Killing It – Veli Ngubane
- #OpenForBusiness — Radar
- #CoronavirusSA — Radar
- #CoronavirusSA – Special Section
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 Loeries, APEX, Pendoring, Bookmarks and AdFocus. He is the group MD of AVATAR and co-founder of M&N Brands, which is building an African network of agencies to rival the global giants. In his monthly MarkLives.com column, “Young, Gifted & Killing It”, he profiles award-winning, kick-ass black creative talent in South Africa.