These young Africans: finding a voice among the broken and angry

These young africans

I have been talking to a lot of people about young Africans. So much so that in my circles we have adopted the term, ‘these young Africans’ as a way to contextualize our conversations. The basic definition, young African professionals (25-40 years) who live in urban areas and making their way through the world. These are Africans determined to make a mark in whatever industry they are in, some of them are first generationers. First to get a college education, first to get a corporate job, first to live in the city, first to ‘make it’ as were. First to figure out life in a rapidly changing world.

There is a fundamental shift that is happening in Africa and the world in fact. While the past had parents determining the future of their children, especially in Africa, giving us a generation of doctors and lawyers. Something happened, perhaps we realized there were too many doctors, lawyers and engineers so parents decided their children needed to be business leaders and investment bankers. Then came the generation of Business School wunderkinds. Then something happened, a generation of Africans rose up and decided that their futures needed to be determined by them, enter the time of the artisans and the entrepreneurs – because let’s face it no African parent will encourage entrepreneurship straight out of college. This is where ‘these young Africans’ come in. Yes, they too have corporate jobs but it’s jobs that defy their parents understanding. Like that guy whose job is to manage the brand identity of shoe laces.

A generation of Africans as exciting, innovative, hardworking as it is problematic (stay your pitchforks, please). This is the generation that spends money as quickly as it makes it. This generation lacks basic education in wealth and asset building. This is a generation that knows how to be rich but not wealthy, just ask a Nigerian celebrity. This is the generation that would rather wear their wealth than think about tomorrow. While traveling across Africa, finding out what makes us tick, I learnt that the future isn’t really all that important. The common mantra, is life is too short and you might as well enjoy the fruits of your labor today. Makes sense, what happens if tomorrow does come? Do you start all over again?

The general consensus is that these young Africans are shit hot. Everyone wants us, all the multinationals want to see what we can do, investors are warming to our ideas. The world is both waiting for us to succeed and fail at the same time (haters gonna hate). The bulk of us aren’t prepared, no one told us that wealth and impact takes time. No one told us that credit cards are only good for the credit card companies. No one told us that liquid assets isn’t all that useful when a recession hits.

This is a generation that will work hard for their passion, we are excited about what we do and who we are. We like nice things and are willing to work for them. We dedicate ourselves to projects, companies and causing, we don’t easily fall for brand messaging. We want products we like and we are willing to pay premium for it as long as it is convenient. Our mobile phones run our lives, we work from it, play from it and connect through it. We like our Moet, Hennessy and Louis Vuitton.

This is a generation that often battle through the murky definitions of what it means to be African and what it means to live in a contemporary world. A generation of people defining equality where traditions dictate certain things. A generation finding their voice in crowd of broken and angry people. One that must take responsibility for its own future regardless of what is ahead. A generation intent of fixing an embattled legacy left to them. We are so desperate to prove that we can take control of our lives, pick our legacy yet when the time comes the shadow of our parents linger as we decide – that ever present hand of ‘guidance’. A generation that defies definition.

These are mostly thoughts in my head that needed to get out. I’m doing a series of talks in the coming weeks on the subject, likely there are more pieces to come, unpacking segments on this. Africa is a broken continent, let’s be honest. Our leaders haven’t given us much to work with and we are angry about it. Those of us that care anyway. There is potential here lots, but for the most part the same people who screwed things up for us make it hard for us to fix it.

Playing at adulthood: the grown up confessional


When I was little, I always thought that growing happened like magic. You wake up one morning, all the secrets of adulthood would be downloaded into your brain. Everything would change, you would know how to make the right decision – you would be certified a grown up.

According to some “grown ups” I know, I have wasted my 20s. Apparently I wasn’t meant to spend it building a career and charging my way through a formidable industry. No, it seems I was suppose to spend it looking for a husband. My grown up advisors seem to think my want or lack of want is irrelevant here. The way they see it, the past decade of my life has been spent on the wrong things and as I enter this new one, which is meant to be spent on procreation, I must settle the debts incurred in my 20s. That is what adults do, they tell me.

I have been trying to explore what it means to grow up and truly understand myself for some time. I began with checklists, things adults should have done, do and have. That didn’t quite work out because I just felt like a big kid given access to things I wasn’t quite ready for.

I suppose this time around, I need to figure out the purpose of this decade before I run through it, chasing the impossible and wrong dreams. Entering your 30s in Africa isn’t terribly helpful, with all the big life stuff aching at you while the African cultures and traditions niggle at you like an unwanted lover. You are in most cases bound by propriety and in others torn by love for the people who you know in some warped way actually care about you. In Africa, when women turn 30, they enter a period I call the ticking time bomb leading to the crisis of old age – because it is all over now. The grown ups will have you believe this and schedule your battle plans accordingly — yes this is war and we are all praying about it in Africa fervently.

When you are in your mid 20s and begin to notice the world for what it really is, you suspect that there are no grown ups. You face the dubious reality that this is it, you will continue to fumble through life hoping for the best and learning. You learn that most things are like for like. The way you treat people matters, simple respect and courtesy goes a long way in earning you respect and kindness. These things matter to people. Taking responsibility for who you are and showing up is the biggest lesson you will learn.

So here is what I know to be true as someone playing at adulthood:

Spend your decade doing what makes you happy, but take responsibilities for your actions and choices because they are yours and yours alone.

Stop worrying about who is watching you, governments and companies included. If you keep looking over your shoulder life will pass you by.

Eat the damn cake, you only live once.

If you are trying to find a way to say something in a delicate manner, don’t. Just say it.

It is perfectly okay if you like Taylor Swift and not a tween, some experiences cross age divides.

If your boss tells you that you are too young to get a deserved raise or promotion, quit because that company does not deserve you.

Show righteous indignation when someone belittles Africa, because damnit we are a great continent.

Finally, save up and buy that incredibly expensive thing you really want but don’t need.

I am sure that my well meaning grown ups will tell me that I have life all wrong, my approach just isn’t done. But I have been disappointing them for so long, why stop now.

Diversity in tech: time to check our privilege


A couple of weeks I spoke to speak on diversity in the South African tech space at Net Prophet. The talk addressed issues around race (mostly) and gender in the tech space. How can tech solve some of the gender issues and race issues in the country and perhaps beyond? How are companies and the tech industry at large dealing with fact there aren’t enough women and people of colour in tech in SA and Africa at large? From an entrepreneurial point of view.

It is such a big conversation that I felt that I needed more time to discuss I feel about this topic and some of the ways we need to start addressing it. Also, the need for context. We automatically assume the lack of something means a lack of interest or a lack of trying by other parties. When it comes to race and gender and entrepreneurship, it is a bit more complicated than that.

People get very defensive and protective when diversity comes up in their industry or company. They needn’t be. I am going to tell you something no one else will. This problem isn’t a problem but an opportunity to build change and find solutions that don’t impose on people but help and support. It is a great and important challenge that is necessary.

Why diversity matters: McKinsey and Company study

Companies with a racially and ethnically diverse leadership are 35 percent more likely to have financial returns above their respective national industry medians.Companies with a gender diverse leadership are 15 percent more likely to have financial returns above their respective national industry medians.

McKinsey and Company makes the business case why diversity should be taken seriously by companies. But there is also the logically moral case. Businesses should be reflective of the society and industry that they exist in. If your company refuses to employ and empower women and people of colour how does it expect to succeed in a society where huge percentages are made up of women and people of colour?

The conversation around diversity needs to shift from what we would like to do what we must do. An entrepreneur trying to solve problems unique to people living in rural Nigeria will never truly succeed unless that entrepreneur talks to and even hires people from that part of the world.

Why are there not enough people of colour and women in tech?

Most people of colour don’t enjoy the prilivlege of being able to go home when it all goes wrong. In black communities there is the notion of “black tax”. Black tax undercuts whatever aspiration young black people have. It is the extra “tax” that the young professional back people are expected to pay to their family immediate and extended. The most publicized case of black tax is footballer Adebayor and the story of how his income was spoken for by family. Most black people don’t have the luxury of entrepreneurship due to circumstantial disadvantages. They cannot afford it. Even if they are not paying black tax they have no support system both financially of emotionally to indulge in starting a business.

There are far too many systematic and circumstantial disadvantages stacked up again people of colour in this country and women on this continent to truly engender an entrepreneurial culture. Culturally women are taught not to entertain careers in tech let alone start businesses in tech. When enough people tell you no, at some point you might start believing that is the right and only answer. The internet on its own has not been kind to women, strong talented women are often shamed and ridiculed by the same industry they are trying to break into. Companies barely recognizes female leadership with very little role models to look up it’s a wonder young girls are not clamoring at the door for tech education and jobs.

Education is also key. Most families find it difficult to support their girl child in a career path they no little about and are not sure it will provide security and life’s comforts. Gender transformation as it is in corporate South Africa and Africa at large is already dismal. Entry into tech can seem near impossible. The few women in real leadership positions are likely paid less than their male counterparts.

Things we can do to improve diversity

Tech companies need to offer better structured and paid internships. Paying intern is a great way to balance out privilege. We need to think about internships as systematically empowering. We need practical solutions for diversity transforms in tech. Companies need to stop choosing candidates algorithmically but more humanly. A diverse interview ensures that each candidate is given fair consideration and presents an opportunity to bust unconscious bias.

There are a number of entrepreneurs that have language barriers against them; vernacular translators could be employed at startup pitches. If not, investors need to make a concerted effort to incorporate what second language speakers are doing. English may be the language of business but Chinese entrepreneurs are not expected to speak English in their pitches are Africans?

Transformation in the tech entrepreneurial space needs to be thought about from a state level. Talented young black people will likely opt for a position in with the state a big corporate because familia responsibilities. Black tax as mention. We need a new form of empowerment to change this. Black Economic empowerment or affirmative actions are not enough, it is time for diversity entrepreneurial empowerment.

The unemployment rate in Africa is on the rise, there are not enough jobs for the people who need them. New jobs must be created and these new jobs will be created by entrepreneurs. It is up to the state to help empower those who will create those jobs.

Shit no one tells you about buying a home & other adult problems


Frack! I bought a home. This is very good news, so I hear. Well, it is. Really. As a young African, carving my way through this brave new world trying to make my mark, longterm investments like property is one way to assert my adulthood. That and it’s one way of getting my dad to stop asking me when I am getting married. So I get to grow up, like watching my investment appreciate.

There is a certain level of empowerment that comes with owning property or living alone and having to figure out life’s great mysteries. It is wonderful, chaotic and fun. But, fuck me! it is hard.

There are things they don’t tell you about this growing up thing. I think there is a societal consensus to never tell young people what is waiting for them on the other side of growing up. There is probably a collective cackle when someone discovers these previously unknown facts of life. The realization that dawns a poor unsuspecting young person when they discover the cost of bread and have to pay for it with their own money. That terrifying choice they will have to make between toilet paper and food, the terror of saying no to wine because gotta have heat. Yup, all the grown ups giggle and point in hysterics as we flail about trying to make sense of our new reality looking for a life raft. The withholding of this information is not only morally reckless, it is dangerous.

As fellow flailer, I am here to give you some of my insights on the heels of my recent home purchase. Shit is hard dudes, that is for truth. So pay attention marshmallows.

Shit is expensive, seriously! No you cannot have another handbag just to match that one top you only wear once in a blue moon! You got bills to pay.
Electricity is a nightmare. Watch what you use, and when possible get a prepaid meter.
Groceries don’t come cheap, buy the essentials first before you decide on luxuries. Yes chocolate is a luxury, but not wine ( well sorta) — you will need it to cope.

Levies, are the worst. This is a fee you pay for the upkeep of the outside of your home if you live in a sectional unit and it is sizable amount.
Special levies are even more dangerous. These are for when you body corporate decides to paint or do something you might not give a shit about.
Then there are rates — this is to the city for taking care of things, ahh the beautiful world of tax. Shot city dudes for taking care nothing but whatever take my money.
When you buy property expect to pay for everything. Is like going on a date that turns into a weekend away and being expected to pay for everything just because you said the words: “should we grab coffee later?”. You pay your lawyer’s fees, the seller’s lawyer fees and if the bank had their way some other random costs that would make no sense. These fees will be in the tens of thousands. In some cases people have to take out loans on top of their mortgage just to be able to cover these fees. Also some of these attorneys that you will deal with during this process are the literal worst. Yeah, bond attorneys I am looking at you.
You inherit all the problems that come with the property so be sure to find out if there are any before you sign on that dotted line.
Upkeep! Now you own the place, someone has to take care of it and that someone is you. Electrical problem? That’s you boo. What? the door is broken, babe get that sorted.

No more swipe swipe. Growing up means getting very intimate with the concept of a budget and learning to really stick to it. That’s your bae from now on.

Fall for broken things: 15 things I know to be true this year


This has been such an amazing year with so many wonderful adventure in some many wonderful places with incredible people. I have learnt a lot and had some old lessons reaffirmed. So, here are somethings I know to be true this year, and hope 2016 brings even bigger stories tell and glorious adventures to have.

Fly direct when possible — it makes your life, trip and everything you do that much more enjoyable.

Gold status means very little — regardless of what the brochure says, what they actually give you with this status but the lounges are nice.

You will get food poising from airplane food at least once — this will likely happen just before an important event or during.

Walk every city you go to — this is the only way to really see a city and be part of its great story. Yes almost every city in the world has a great story to tell.

Visit strange places and talk to locals — this not only expands your world view but you learn a great deal about a place by talking to the people who create indelible marks there.

Dance in the rain — you have not experienced true freedom until you abandon all sense of decorum and dance in the rain while the world watches.

Be brave enough to fall for broken things — only when you see the beauty in the broken can you appreciate the gift of the whole.

Airlines will lie, that is a fact of life — once you deal with that flying gets a little less annoying.

Apologize when you are wrong but stand firm in the truth — there is no shame in saying sorry and no reward will ever come from hiding from the truth.

No mistake is impossible to come back from— barring trying to murder someone, people usually forgive those they care about.

Second chances are a dime a dozen — take them when you they come, but also give them when you can.

Love is a two-way street not a punishment — if someone, friend or otherwise, cannot love you back you should move on.

Laugh at yourself — because other people will always take the opportunity to laugh at you, so take that power away.

Walk away from the past — but take its lessons with you

Tomorrow is a new day — you can also try again.

#feesmustfall: It is time for an African rebirth


Education should not be a gift of privilege, it is should be a fundamental human right. It should be the responsibility of a nation to make its people are well prepared for a world that won’t always be forgiving.

The current protest in South Africa may seem like just another rowdy students throwing a fit because they can’t their way. I have heard people say this. I assure you it is not. The youth of South Africa, these students who are protesting peacefully, are asking a simple question. When are the freedoms that democracy promised going to be realized? These “bornfrees” who are meant to have a better future than that of their parents. When will this future arrive. Higher education is not privilege it is how a country builds its people to take their place on a global stage. If we block the roads that leads to the global stage what have done but taken our children and cut them off at their knees.

These protests have seen parents teach their kids how to survive teargas, a lesson no parent should teach. One that is necessary now. These parents encourage their kids to take a stand. We talk about this generation that they care about nothing but their phones and their status updates on Facebook. They are proving us wrong in the best way possible. They are not asking for free education, they want to pay they just need it to be reasonable because it is not. Education is not a privilege it is human right.

These protests addresses a bigger issue on the African continent. A continent that has stood by while governments did as they pleased. Africa is notorious for its passive aggression, we complain, moan about governments, corruption and the fact that our nations are in a mess, yet we do nothing about it. We allow our governments to get away with all manner of sins. We talk of the good old day, well buck up people because those days are not coming back. We are in the now and if we don’t stand up and fight for something now the future will be nothing but slum of broken dreams and could have been empires.

What is wrong with us? This the continent of mathematics, the continent of playwrights, nobel laureates and scientific breakthroughs. We should be a proud people, who refuse to be silenced by injustice. We cannot be letting our disruptors stand alone. We must teach our children to stand up for what is right, what is necessary and what they must.

Feesmustfall is about disrupting the status quo and we must disrupt it. You must disrupt the status quo when it does not represent the need of the people it vowed to protect. There is nothing political about feesmustfall, your political agendas are irrelevant. This is a generation of people taking back their country from people who will not look at for their interest.

Africa, we can no longer stand idly by and watch our countries taken from us by geriatrics who are stilling fight an old war that has nothing to do with our future. We cannot allow political agendas decide who we become or where we are going.

Image: Tawanda Moyo via Instagram

I am not my hair: discovering my face was good enough


“No colour?”, “Your natural hair is so long!”, “What happened to the weave?” and “Woah you are gorgeous!”

I have been a loyal member of the weave cult for the better part of the 10 years, as soon as I realized that braids were not doing my hairline any favours. For ten years, I have not seen what my natural hair actually looked liked and neither had the people closet to me. It felt like a state secret one that me and my many hairstylists in the last ten years guarded with our lives.

I had good reasons for not wanting my natural hair exposed the world, or at least they seemed good to me. My hair is quite thin and after years of trying to fix it I gave up. It also frizzes, just introduce it to air and it will grow a life of its own, with the most intense tiny curls known to man. This meant that my natural hair would require straightening every day, it laughs in the face of relaxers and at the risk of looking like ‘Cousin It’ in every photo I take I just to hide it. It was my secret shame. My untamable beast.

So what changed?

The weave I had seemed uncomfortable somehow, I felt like a fraud in it and I needed to take it off. I marched into my stylist salon and said to him please take this off and give me temporary braids till I decide what is next. He wants to get paid so he did as he was paid. I generally never pay attention when he is working as I trust him with my hair implicitly. He was in the process of blow drying my hair, when he asked if he could try something before we braided. I said yes. He blew out hair and styled it with very hot GHD and asked me to look. My natural hair, long and beautiful. Stared at the person in the mirror for a long while because I clumsily asked: “Is that me?”

“I know you want to cover this up as quickly as possible but, I have been doing your hair for a year now and I have never seen you more beautiful, please keep it like this,” he said to me.


Then it hit me, I wasn’t afraid that I would be unable to manage the crazy hair I had been blessed with, I was afraid that without the weave extras I would not be enough.

It’s almost as though as black women, we don’t trust that we are beautiful enough without the weaves. At least this held true for me. I didn’t trust that my face on its own was beautiful and that as the perfect product of both my very good looking parents that I was enough without the mask of the weave.

I don’t know why we do this. A friend of mine reckons its the media. We have been influenced to think that our own hair is not good enough and enhancements are needed for us to truly be beautiful. I suppose that is what India Arie meant when she said I am not my hair, because underneath all that weave or braids or whatever you have the person remains the same, the face remains the same. We have been sucked into a cultural vortex that we get introduced to as children when parents try to beat our hairs into submission for the purposes of the school conduct. We look at our wild crazy hairs and think if only it can be straight and just do as it is told. We wonder why we don’t look like all the beautiful people and their perfect hair, and we forgot to look at where beauty truly comes from and that our faces are made of the smiles and generosity of spirit we allow it.

I am not my hair, but I am face and my heart that should be more than enough for me and anyone else who takes interest.

Courtship and intimacy: the scar tissue of the Tinder generation


“You are a walking contradiction,” Demi says to me as he peered into my eyes trying to unlock its secrets. He had interrogated me for the last 70 minutes. We were on a first date and somehow it felt more like an inquisition than a date. I met him on Tinder the previous week and we chatted for a couple of days before I summoned the courage to ask him out. It wasn’t a big deal, but call me old-fashioned I still wonder if people I meet online are serial killers.

For reasons I will not explain to you now I spent two weeks on Tinder, it was an experiment, of which I am not sure what my conclusions are. I found myself sitting across the table from my Russian interrogator, his probing gaze daring me to deny him the answers he desperately wanted.

“Where do young successful people (women especially) meet people?” I was asked two days before my Tinder explorations began. I get this question a lot, I don’t know the answer. I don’t think these so-called young successful people know either.

“Somewhere on the path of life?” I offered.

Somewhere between theorizing where these young people found to mingle: for love, friendship and dare I say it for sex, I found myself signing up for Tinder. There is some irony to that but I digress.

“You have to tell me more about your travels. Have you been to Saratov, I am from there.” Demi’s thick accent was giddy with excitement as he whispered the word ’Saratov’ like a love song, a longing for his home town no doubt.

I have never been to Saratov, much to his disappointment but his questions were not done. He had one critical one left.

“Why did you swipe right?” he asked.

Do people actually ask this question? Shouldn’t you just assume that people swiped right because something about you piqued their interest. Are we a generation of such insecurities that we are surprised that our carefully chosen images and perfectly crafted bios get us attention?

The truth: my friend that convinced me on this ludicrous exercise actually did. But I don’t tell him that, I know where all this is going. Instead, I get cheeky and ask, why did you?

“Because you look like you would be good in bed.” All sense of civility was gone, and the false curiosity about me peeled away. A part of me admired the moxy a statement like that must take but another part of me rang in the ‘told you so’ with a disappointing sigh.

The evening ended and Demi went home alone. I had a series of dates some playing out like the one above and others bored me to the point of narcolepsy. It really could just be me, I could just be a disinterested snob. Though from the people I have spoken to about their Tinder experiences, it seems there is a sense of understanding. One person called it a ‘sex app’.

In the last three weeks I have read a lot about Tinder experiences and what is happening to the generation of Tinderers. Young people all over the United States see Tinder and apps like it for what it is, is a means to gratification. One that mostly leaves women hollow and some men counting.

Tinder is a platform sorely dedicated to satisfying the sexual appetite of a generation too busy to figure out how to make connections away from screens. It gives this generation carte blanche on openness and sometimes bad behavior. It is the play ground of instant gratification, there is little to no real human connection there.

It has been touted as the hookup culture, 20 years ago this culture still allowed for some human niceties and maybe polite conversation. Now it doesn’t seem you have to play at being nice anymore but available. The creators of Tinder built a place for people to meet, what they met for was up to the people.

Human beings have a propensity for creating technology that will make their lives easier. Food on demand, cars on demand, homes on demand, why not sex on demand as well. This is not necessarily a bad thing if everyone is clear on the rules of engagement.

There are of course exceptions to the rule. People who have met and made genuine human connections and since left the world of Tinder to go enjoy those connections. However, the majority of the Tinder experience are the rule, just read many of the think pieces that explore the average experience. Friends convince you to keep at it because they know guy who knows a guy who met his wife on Tinder.

What people do with Tinder is actually quite irrelevant, it is here to stay and with busy lives it is likely the easier way to try to connect. What I am interested is how Africans are playing on Tinder. Is the app’s use, results and experiences universal? Have young Africans too resided themselves to the hookup culture as well and is it a case of wham bam thank you ma’am? Is there even a thank you? Or do people just go back to swiping? Are we also playing the game of who gets to care less? Or Perhaps when it comes to sex and love, more is more?

There isn’t a fine line between love and sex. I am not sure people are looking for love on Tinder. How would that look if they were? However, there is a fine line between sex and intimacy, hookups and courtship. On Tinder, we don’t bother to fake intimacy anymore, the nature of the platform requires images to be doctored to attract a suitable coitus partner. There are no courtship just hookups.

If young successful people are looking for a place to meet like-minded people for the purpose of courtship, then we are all in trouble. We keep asking the question, where do you meet people in current times? It seems the real question should be why and what. Why are we looking for places to meet people? What is the outcome we hope for?

If Tinder is our last hope for connection, then we may have some thinking to do. Perhaps we need to begin with a redefinition of connection before we can find the place we connect. To exist in the world of this appify dating, you have to be open to the reality that no one will give you their heart, just their body. Frightening more, no one will want your heart, just your body. A generation that solely thrives on that is bound to leave some damage.

As we make our way through the evolution and revolution of our sexes we forget that most revolutions end in blood shed and the broken pieces of a world long gone. The hookup culture only works if everyone checks their hearts and feelings at the door. The societal and emotional damage that will follow is bound to shake up the fabric of how we date and maybe even love.

The scar tissue of what the Tinder generation are doing to courtship and intimacy will be indelible and not in a good way. No one has given this much thought, the consequences of who we are becoming, of who we have no choice but to become.

Dancing in the glorious Johannesburg thunderstorm

JHB thunderstom

Almost a year ago, I left everything behind and moved to Johannesburg. I did so kicking and screaming. I was convinced my life as I knew it was over, I wasn’t shy telling everyone this. How could it not be, I was forced to live in the apocalyptic wasteland as I like to call it.

When you live in Cape Town and experience other cities around the world that make life seem easy and accessible, the car-filled and distance embroiled Johannesburg seems to be the place where souls like mine go to die. People tell you this, and sometimes experience tells you this.

My experiences of Johannesburg before the move was in 24 to 72 hour stints. Hours spent in moving cars reading odd billboards that say: “Chinese Christian Church, Virgins Welcome.” Something like that stays with you.

My first month in the city as my new home was filled with distant aching for what I left behind. Whenever I poured myself a glass wine, there was a sense of hollow nostalgia, the kind that had no place in my new reality. It was pretty clear that I was a doomed character in my very own make-believe — what a cliche.

So I escaped it every chance I got. But this sly city has a gift for the swiftly interesting and surprising encounters. It wouldn’t let me escape, even when I wasn’t here it reminded why I needed to be.

After much resistance, on a rainy morning in the middle of Braamfontein, no umbrella in hand and only a sweater vest to keep me warm, it hit me: Johannesburg had gotten under my skin. As I stood there waiting for an Uber that may never come, the bone crushing cold of the midwinter rain pierced my skin. I wasn’t cold, I wasn’t sad or annoyed by the wetness, I was content. Happy to be in this place, so much so I danced. Stretching my hands out to the rain and danced with careless abandon. The onlookers probably thought I was nuts.


There are elements of this city that very few cities around the world can claim, the epic thunderstorms, the people with a plan ( people seem to know what they want here) and a community for everyone. The genuinely friendly people that makes you question your own civility. This truly is a global city, full of locals, expats and people just passing by.

I have been on the search for my city for so long, I am not sure I know what my city looks like but I know what it needs to fee like. I don’t know if Johannesburg is my city but it is the city I want to play with right now. Where else will you meet a Nigerian investment banker and an ex-Russian prostitute with a Masters degree in Russian Literature buying food from your local Nigerian food supplier?

In one of my favourite Doris Day films, Pillow Talk, Tony Randall in abject exasperation says: “this is New York, we’ve got air you can sink your teeth into, it has character. Why would you want to leave?” Or something to that effect. That’s Johannesburg, it has air you can sink your teeth into, character you can unpack.

So for now, while I find my city, I am just going to dance in the glorious Jozi thunderstorm!

Top image by Alexius van der Westhuizen (his photos are amazing)

Cages of construct: the African reality and dream

An African city

Africa loves to adore its women as long as they fit perfectly in their cages of construct. African men love their women, as long as that woman is African enough. African women love their men as long as he can provide and take care of them. These women expect certain things from their men within certain constructs. We dream up these perfect gender roles that make no sense in reality.

I started watching a show called an African City on YouTube, it is about five African women, re-pats, trying to navigate their way through life in a bustling West African metropolis. The stories are interesting and characters have a certain charm about them. Kudos to the creator of the show for giving us five engaging women with enigmatic lexicon that often incite a giggle.

I told a friend about it and he hated the first 10mins, he didn’t like that all the women had done so far was rag on Africa. He kept watching though, and as I write this he is still watching. He is hooked he says, he loves the way the women talk. The show got us talking about being single in 21st century Africa. The rules of engagement on a continent that is supposedly rising. Issues that should command great presence in the national conversation but still finds its way to the bottom of the agenda in most African cities. Things like safe sex and finding a job based on merit.

You hear the crazy made up stats that it is easier to be killed by a terrorist than to get married or date after a certain age as a woman. I love those stats mostly because they get crazier everyday. This show tries to navigate this world of single and ready to mingle in Africa. A world where causal sex is great and abstinence is encouraged as well, a place that people talk about great loves and great lovers. A friend of mine once told me that when you are single in Africa, you get used to being invisible — these women beg to differ.

What got me interested in this show, wasn’t just the lexicon, or the delightful characters. It actually troubled me because it made me painfully aware the constructs around genders in Africa. In Europe it is alright to go dutch (these women say) on a date but in Africa men as expected to pay for everything. We joke about it all the time about these women who expect things from the men they date. His intellect is optional, thinking is optional so long as his wallet is available and the cards are platinum. Really?

Then there are the men. Who expect the women to be erotically beautiful and dutifully domesticated. The men who are happy to treat women both as goddesses to be adored, as well as sexual playthings. These women are mutually exclusive it seems. They will marry the goddess but not the playthings. The construct is quite laughable really. On my last trip to Nigeria an older gentleman told me: “in Africa we love our women, all kinds of ways. From the front to the back and sometimes on her knees.” It was disgusting and I pitied him, he is married and has three daughters. I worry for his daughters.

Modern African men don’t wear wedding bands apparently. When navigating dating in Africa, a friend gave me some sound advice, “assume everyone he is married until they prove you otherwise”. According to her, if you begin this way then it is a pleasant surprise when they are not — mostly they are she says. Men lie is the lesson apparently, something the women of An African City drive home.

These African gender constructs are so schizophrenic and complex that trying to meander your way through leads to questions and frustrations. What does it mean to be a man in Africa today? What does it mean to be a woman in Africa today?

Is there some maniacal genius to these constructs? If we imagine that they have one solitary architect. The creator watches as African men and women struggle with the confines of their constructs while fastening the locks on the cages with smiles and inconsequential remarks. Must be nice – not.