Can you share some of your background?
I grew up near Mount Ayliff in the village Dutyini. Ndingum Xesibe. I had a really great childhood. Swimming naked in rivers, riding horses and the occasional fights I got into as a boy. My mother sent me to school at a very early age, which was extremely uncommon in that village. I was always the youngest by a good few years. It is for this reason that I think people in the village used to ask me to read their letters for them from their husbands who worked in the mines in Johannesburg. I think they figured I was too young to tell other people what was in their letters. I remember being in Standard 1 (Grade 3) with an 18-year-old cousin who went to school only a few times a year; I don’t know if he went when he was bored or what. We were considered rich by other children from the village because they found it strange that even kids could use spoons to eat. In most homes, children used their bare hands or make-shift wooden spoons.
Who had the biggest influence in building your character?
Named as one of the most influential young people in the country, The Afropolitan spent some time getting to know the man behind the twitter handle @KhayaDlanga
The Internet raised me. I kid. I kid! I grew up on encyclopaedias – that was my internet. I can’t say it was just one person; there have been so many people who have had an influence. My grandfather’s discipline and my grandmother’s insistence on respect and being an upstanding member of society. The strong Christian beliefs they also shared had an impact on my life. The decision by my mother to send me to what was then the best school in the Transkei probably had the biggest course correction on my life. Had I stayed in Dutyini, I probably would have wound up being a wayward unruly frustrated young man. When I was eight I was already in Standard 3 (Grade 5) and by this time I was bunking school and smoking weed, which grew freely in the village. The last time I smoked weed I was nine. Are you sure my mother won’t see this?
Your background is an interesting mix of colossal challenges and thrilling victories, which ones stand out for you?
The most challenging moment was probably the time I was homeless for a few months in Cape Town. I slept in a flat that was being renovated and had to wake up early every morning before the workers arrived. But one day they arrived early and I ran out the back door never to return. I ended up sleeping on the desks of the college I went to, AAA School of Advertising. I used to live on a roll of bread a day, and if I felt like splashing out, I’d add slap chips. Pastor Allister Buchanan from my church dropped me off one Friday evening at college after youth group. I told him it’s because I had deadlines. He said, “Tell me the truth.” I broke down and told him I was sleeping on desks at college, and that I used the sink to wash up before the other students arrived. He called a newlywed couple and made me sleep in their flat for a few days until he found me a place at the YMCA for a month. I got a job as a waiter and saved up some money to find a place of my own and pay my own rent.
From being homeless to becoming one of the most influential young people in South Africa, you have defied the odds – how did this happen?
I remember one day being at the till at the restaurant where I worked as a waiter in Cape Town and I said to myself: “This can’t be the rest of my life”. A part of me knew that there was more meant for me. There was a Bible verse I used to recite every day: “Consider it pure joy my brothers whenever you face trials of many kinds, because the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature. If any of you lacks anything, he should ask God who gives freely to all and without finding fault.” This is what kept me going. And I’m not really sure if I am influential. I think a lot of things happened for me because I am also curious. When I am curious about a thing I often want to be involved in it. We limit ourselves far too much.
How did you get into the advertising game?
I didn’t finish at AAA and was not qualified, so I wrote an email to what was then the most awarded small agency in Cape Town. I wrote an unconventional CV because I figured, if I am not qualified, I should give them something that will catch their attention immediately. All I want is just an interview, maybe if I get one, maybe they will hire me. I wrote:
I live in Pinelands, not Gugulethu
I can use phones, faxes and computers without breaking them
I am not a member of COSATU
Some of my best friends are white
Position applying for: Copywriter
Experience in this field: I used to write slogans like “Free Mandela” and “One man, one vote” on township walls, this was a very successful campaign as you might have noticed.
When I got the phone call for the interview, the lady on other end of the line was still laughing.
What challenges did you face in the industry as a young, ambitious black man starting out?
I felt that I wasn’t getting any attention from my superiors. I felt that I was just there to fill in the number of black people. I don’t know if that was just that I was a junior and that was just how juniors were treated. But I left, and went to an agency which treated me as a veteran. I’ve won many awards with that particular agency.
In your opinion, has the industry made genuine changes since then?
I still see a lot of the old faces; I don’t see much new, young black talent. There are a few agencies that have black ECDs, MDs and CEOs, so things are changing. At first, people would just buy stakes in the agencies and you’d find no black people in management at all.
Besides posing a question for President Barack Obama and interviewing President Paul Kagame – what are the other highlights in your life?
I think the publishing of my book (In My Arrogant Opinion, Kalahari.com, R72) was a nice one, winning a Cannes Gold, and winning a Black Eagle at the Eagle Print Awards.
What does your current position as Senior Communications Manager of Content Excellence at Coca-Cola entail?
I work on the communications strategies with the agencies who work on our various brands. I do this for all the brands at the company. I oversee all the creative content: TV, radio, print, etc.
You wrote that its time the ANC leaders hand over reins to the youth. Do you think the current generation of young South Africans are ready to lead?
Given the chance, yes. There are many young South Africans in corporate who have the skills and intellectual acumen to take this country places. There are a few even within the ANC itself. The ANC needs to dedicate itself to maturing and educating these young ones now. The institutional knowledge needs to be passed down.
When you look at rituals such as skhotane, what can you say has gone wrong with our youth?
I think that this is the case with most recently liberated countries. They find new ways to define themselves after their great victories, which had meaning. Then once the fight has been fought, they don’t know what to do but make money. To quote Thabo Mbeki in his Nelson Mandela lecture, “Thus, everyday, and during every hour of our time beyond sleep, the demons embedded in our society, that stalk us at every minute, seem always to beckon each one of us towards a realisable dream and nightmare. With every passing second, they advise, with rhythmic and hypnotic regularity – ‘Get rich! Get rich! Get rich!’” This is the problem.
If you were to say one thing to the leaders of the country what would it be?
Do the best you can for the people. You serve not to serve yourself. If you know you are not up to the job, give it up for someone who can do it better.
Do you feel the older generation has done enough when it comes to guiding the youth?
No. We still have to navigate the valleys for ourselves. Very few get the chance to be mentored.
There seems to be a great divide between the older generation of leaders and the youth; what has caused this rift?
I think that the older generation still have the exile, prison and liberation mentality. They have moved very slowly to catch up with the times. They are leading in a way that’s not in step with the times. We are more open and honest; they are more secretive and demand that people tow the party line. Dissent is often seen as disobedience.
You were recently part of a literary series of books entitled The Youngsters that were designed to encourage young people to read; was this objective realised?
To a certain extent it was, but I don’t think as much as they had hoped. I had a lot of people tell me that my book was the first one they ever bought.
You have always said you want to do something amazing – have you achieved this?
Ha! No. Not by a long shot. I may die never having done it, but at least I would have tried. For me something amazing means making a meaningful contribution to society.
What keeps you up at night?
Usually the neighbours having sex.