The new freedom fighters of South Africa

Research title: 'The New Freedom Fighters of South Africa: Hip hop artists searching for interpretations and solutions in a changing society'
Publication: University of Amsterdam: Masters thesis in Anthropology and Sociology of Non-Western Societies 
Author: Jorien Waanders
Year: 2009

Freedom Fighters, by Jorien Waanders
Freedom Fighters, by Jorien Waanders

“This moment. Feels so good. This moment is mine. The skyline of Jozi (Johannesburg). Just above the wing. Three sunbeams shine through the clouds exactly on the television tower. The skyline of Jozi. Jozi again. The plane turns. I expect it to descend, but it seems especially for me, it goes up just a little, takes a turn south-west. There, this view is for me, it tells me I am back. The two towers and the rows and rows of colorful houses. Little sheds in the garden a villa now and then. A bright orange light seems to shine back from the ground. Straight into my heart. Soweto again. The plane turns towards the east. And passes huge white roofs, many small blue squares in the very green large gardens before it turns to land.”

Soweto again. Doing a three month-research on music in Soweto was a dream that came true. I had met Soweto briefly a year before, during a short research on creative initiatives in the township for the organization Music Mayday South Africa. Our few meetings were enough to attract me enormously, to poison me and draw me into his arms. My colleague said to me: ‘what is it with you and Soweto, you have been there more often in your first week in South Africa then I have been there all my life and it is ugly’. Soweto has fights, drugs, unemployment, poverty, litter, guns, diseases, Aids, shacks, inequality. But so much more if you take the effort to go there: music, fashion, parties, spinning cars, togetherness, gezelligheid. It is a place like anywhere else in the world, where its people are faced with daily struggles and where the youth has wild dreams and aspirations like youth anywhere else.

She surprised me: how can you life for 25 years in a city and not have seen the township? I understood, Soweto is a world on its own within South Africa with its very own characteristics. Viewed from the outside as the place of crime and sometimes of Mandela and 2010. But that is not the characteristic of Soweto that attracted me. Its seductiveness is its people. Not the one or the two that finished their long walk to freedom, but the many people. They are the heart of Soweto: proud, creative, independent, stubborn. Full of passion, belief, wisdom and most of all creativity.

That brief research did not give me any answers. It only gave me questions and admiration for the perseverance and inventiveness of the young people of Soweto. They might be poor in economic capital but are rich in social networks and in finding solutions. They are initiative takers, creating opportunities to realize dreams, building on the road towards improvement, equality.

I wanted to know more about these youngsters and I wanted to learn from them. It was a dream to come true to do research on these creative initiatives in Soweto. And it has been beautiful, those three months. The people I met, the people I got to know better, they inspired me in persevering, in believing in myself, in humanness and in viewing the world from a different angle. Most of all they inspired me to be strong. It is these youngsters that are taking upon their shoulders the tough task to build the road for their communities and the many people that are still walking, towards freedom.

And then I came back. I missed the take off and landing of my flight, because I was so exhausted of all the lessons learned, all the information gathered, all the impressions and at the same time heart broken to leave Soweto and its people. I slept. If I would have known the length and the toughness of the journey that was ahead of me in writing my thesis, I probably would not have slept so nice.

It was a tough, heavy and long journey. Of over 100 books and articles, and I believe over 500 pages written. I landed that day, but I did not really land. My supervisor explained to me I had landed physically but yet had to land emotionally to be able to take a distance from Soweto and my fieldwork that is needed to write critically. I am not sure if I have ever landed completely. Half of my heart really is in Soweto and will be there for some more time I believe.

I went back a year after my fieldwork. And I collaborated with one of the bands of my main informants on a tour through Europe. I have spend much more time with my informants after my fieldwork. I believe I needed that to be able to complete this journey. At the same time there are still many questions open and there is still so much that I do not know about them and feel I have to know to write about them.


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