The last six months has been tough. Really tough in fact. A distinct lack of work and banging my head against a seemingly impenetrable wall of non-replying South African companies has been more than frustrating.
Now, my CV is littered with A-list venues and events that I have worked for and on and I am not saying that because I am name dropping, but merely because any where else in the world I feel I would have been given more than a handful of meetings and a few “I’ll get back to you” messages. I have no doubt that many budding entrepreneurs have endured this pain as well.
Look, I’m fully aware of the political climate and the rules that are in place here, I knew it before moving here but it has been hard.
So what to do? Feel sorry for myself or keep moving forward? Only one choice really!!
One day I just decided to rattle through my contacts that I have picked up here and drop a few people a text to see how they were and let them know I was looking actively for freelance work.
Would you flipping believe it? The phone rang! Dani, a wonderful lady that I had worked with when I first got here to South Africa, rang me just to chat and see how things were? We’d supported each other through a huge event last year and shame on both of us for not staying in contact if I am honest.
There was no work available but she mentioned that she was off to Durban the following week and may have a situation where I could help her. A week later, I was preparing my trademark Bolognaise and the phone rang. To cut this short, 12 days work in Durban was secured. Awesome!
We caught up a few times on the phone and the one constant of these calls was Dani telling me that the event will change my life and that I will be a different person because of it. Of course I will Dani, of course I will!!! As it turns out, Dani probably undersold it to me in hindsight.
Next thing I know I am on a conference call with a group that proudly call themselves ‘The Dickheads’. Made up of the incredible Dani and two other female forces of human nature, Lindsay and Alex. I was now an honorary Dickhead and away we went.
There will be things in this article that I won’t explain to you for a few reasons. Some of the stories are private and sacred and some are because of humility and humbleness. A lot of people’s surnames I won’t mention purely because they seek no praise for the incredible work that they do so you’re just going to have to trust me on that and finally, because I simply don’t need to. They’re special to me and the people involved and what I am about to regale is far more interesting for the wider audience.
To Durban I flew for the Red Bull Amaphiko Academy and Festival held at the KZN Music House. Just for those wondering what Amaphiko means……it’s Zulu for ‘Wings’.
The event has a seven-day academy that hosts 14 Social Entrepreneurs (SE’s) from around South Africa and culminates in a one day social innovation festival which includes music, culture and SE exhibits on the eighth day.
Let me tell you about the entrepreneurs. They are from all different walks of life with a million and one different stories to tell but all of them are trying to make impactful changes to their communities. They have seen issues and challenges in the communities that they live in and are actively trying to make a difference that benefits all.
Every inspirational member of this fraternity owns a company already but they are here for advice, guidance, mentorship and to gain a sense of belonging that they haven’t maybe had in the past. Some of the things on that list they don’t even realise they are about to receive because Amaphiko can’t be explained on paper, it needs to be felt.
Some of these businesses are quite unbelievable. One lady has devised a device that helps wheelchair users go the toilet with dignity, one uses old tires to make shoe, car and tyre polish whilst another turns Geyser’s into Braai’s and sells them to fund a program that helps recovering addicts when they step out of rehab. The list goes on and you need to google them to believe me.
Really, please do it because you will soon realise that the sort of people that can bring affordable lighting, that also have built in Wi-Fi Hotspots into townships for added safety, or people that can make a panic and rape alarm that sends help instantly yet affordably, are inspirational before you have even met them.
We set up for a few days and then the SE’s arrive. Big party, loads of dancing and maybe more than a few drinks but we get to know each other a bit and break any ice that may need to be broken.
What ensued after this will live with me forever.
Day after day we heard every one of these incredible people open up about their lives, what motivates them and more importantly, why they do what they do.
The team around them were nothing short of outstanding. Contributors, advisors, inspirational speakers and other Amaphiko Alumni were all on hand to offer guidance and advice. To be allowed and encouraged to offer my own small pieces of advice to maybe help one or two of them gave me an incredible buzz. Let’s be honest, I was there to help out with transport, hotel room bookings and day to day logistics, not as a mentor or someone who could help within a well-oiled social innovation program.
What is recognised though, is that everyone involved in putting the event together has skills. Business skills, people skills, financial skills and life skills that can be imparted to one another, so why not embrace that? It was so refreshing and meant the world to me that I could get close to such unique people.
The speakers in the mornings were electric. The reason they were all electric was because they had genuine stories of adversity and passion to tell. No hype, no underlying or subliminal messaging, just life stories that resonated with everyone in the room.
Sbonelo Khwela has won the Dusi Canoe Marathon and Dusi non-stop marathon 9 times. Saray Khumalo is the first Black African Woman to summit Mount Everest and William Kamkwamba, who may be better known to you as the ‘Boy who Harnessed the Wind’ on Netflix, were incredible to listen to.
An Amaphiko Alumni from the United States, Matthew Kincaid, gave an interview that will live in my heart and soul for a lifetime. Matthew runs a company called Overcoming Racism and I can tell you now that as an educator and teacher, he is one of the finest people I have ever met. The room was tingling and hanging on every word he eloquently uttered and by the end of the Q&A there wasn’t a dry eye in the house. No agenda, no subliminal messages, no left or right imbalance, just hard fact. Many a person could learn and watch this man in action because before this I thought I knew about Racism and the root of it all. I wasn’t even close.
There were more people that I could mention but the single most important thing that was prominent to this event was the fact that it was sacred and that people could trust one another. The SE’s could talk openly, cry openly, hold each other openly, pick each other up and for some, feel part of a true family for the first time in their lives.
Just imagine bottling things up for days, weeks, months, years or even decades in fear and then one day feeling safe in an environment to let it all out? Seriously, take a moment and try and begin to fathom what that would feel like?
The entertainment varied for them some evenings as we ate at the aquarium surrounded by fish, sting rays and sharks one night and had a huge bonfire on the beach another evening. People in this group had never seen the sea before and now they were witnessing things that myself, a worldly traveller, was getting blown away by.
Some of my greatest memories will come from the nights we stayed at the Music House and just chatted over dinner. One night we had 6 or 7 nationalities around a table whilst a full blood moon shone above our heads and we chatted endlessly into the chilling night over a glass (or three) of Pinotage.
It would be remis of me to not mention a few other people at this moment. Flora, a Brazilian Amaphiko Alumni, had travelled over to become a contributor to help on the SE’s body journey and assist them on how to look after themselves in business whilst the world famous break dancer, B-Boy Junior, was with us all week to demonstrate how adversity can be overcome. Junior was left with a disability in his leg after suffering from Polio as a child but you would never know it when he gets on stage. An incredible energy to be around and his ever-present humility in the environment was warmly felt by everyone.
The man who was part of starting it all was also there. Ian started this Amaphiko Academy off in the first place. This was the fourth one in South Africa and it has now spread to many different continents globally.
Ian has lived in SA for 29 years but was quick enough to let me know that he was a proud Yorkshireman before falling in love with the Rainbow Nation and setting up his life here.
Uncle Ian, as he is known, thanked me on more than one occasion for my contribution but I must have thanked him 10 times more than that because of what this event gave to me and in recognition of what it gives to the SE’s.
You’d think that all the people that I have just mentioned would be inspiring to the SE’s and I am sure that they were but, I can assure you that the most inspiring people there were the SE’s themselves.
Incredible people that I now have the absolute privilege to call my friends.
We’ve laughed together, cried together, talked for hours and trusted each other from the second we met and I really hope that I haven’t betrayed that with this article.
In a country that is rife with negativity, this has been an experience that made me clarify something that I have been told before. South Africa can touch and warm your soul. You can touch it and you can feel it. I didn’t just feel it, it slapped me in the face and I drank bottles of it. It’s one of the most beautiful things I have ever witnessed.
I leave you with two quotes from Nelson Mandela that epitomise the last two weeks of my life.
“The Youth of Today are the Leaders of Tomorrow” needs no explanation but:
“Sometimes, it falls upon a generation to be great. You can be that generation. Let your greatness blossom”, needs some explaining in this context.
In generations, there are families. Those families have the most beautiful African names and those names have strong meanings but it is time to double barrel that family name like I need to do right now because, I am part of a new, for me anyway, and incredibly powerful one: