Words by Sanele Mawisa
According to Urban Dictionary, the definition of Street Culture is as follows:
“Popular styles of urban centres. This is a view of the streets as shared spaces, made for the benefit of all that use them. Street culture thrives in urban centres such as New York, Barcelona, Berlin, London & Sydney. These are the places street culture is born and from there it spreads. It is modern, always pushing the limits of any set idea whether that’s fashion, art, design, music or sport. It is the creative forces in the city.”
Street culture in South Africa is certainly not a new phenomenon but over the last few years it has grown exponentially both in awareness and support. The internet has played an integral role in shedding light on street culture in particular. Its impact has even been felt in TV ads, radio, publishing but obviously most glaring in the streets.
Through the various metropolises within South Africa, you’ll engage with different elements and manifestations of street culture. From Durban to Joburg to Pretoria to Cape Town, there is a unique melting pot of creative forces, each converging to create a rather special South African culture.
To gain a greater perspective and appreciation for street culture and in particular within the diverse environment of Cape Town, I sat down with 3 pure culturists, Zaid Osman, Rolo Rozay and Mzoxolo Gcwabe.
24 year old Zaid Osman is the founder of Lost Property Mail Order store and popular South African trading event Sneaker Exchange. He is South African born but spent a few years in the US after the age of 4. Even at his relatively young age, he is considered a legend in the street culture game.
Rolo Rozay, is the manager of the PUMA Select Store in Bree Street and has a collection of sneakers that would make your head spin. Rolo is one of the OG’s of Cape Town street culture.
Creative Director, Creative Strategist, Co-founder of urban culture brand Head Honcho Clothing, Mzoxolo Gcwabe is a quintessential creative.
I asked them a few questions around Street Culture, for the culture:
Q: What does street culture mean to you?
ZO: It’s hard for me to answer this question because I can’t really label it, but I think it has to do with what’s popping with the youth, and then they grew up with it and other generations try to follow and add on.
RR: It’s a way of life by channelling all the elements sneakers, clothing or art everything that builds up to and being passionate and not come across as jumping on what’s hyped or suffer from bandwagonism.
MG: For me, it’s part of my identity and the way I choose to express myself. It’s more than just sneakers and graphic tees, it’s also the way we communicate and even in the aesthetic I relate to. Its more than just clothing, It’s the music, visuals and it’s even in the need contribute by creating or supporting others that help it grow.
Q: People like throwing around the phrase ‘for the culture’. What do you understand it to be?
ZA: Well, if you are really in it for the culture, you don’t need to throw the term “for the culture” around; it should just be a way of life and the real ones with recognise it. The “culture” is the cool thing now so of course people will use it to sound like they really care.
RR: If you say that, it means you literally just saying it, not doing anything.
MG: It’s rallying for us to support each other and in turn build the Culture. It’s a really positive thing. Back when we started Head honcho people were very territorial about the spaces they occupied, and part of that was because the market was smaller. But when you let in others and help them grow, you grow the market and spread the gospel further. Recently, people like Black Coffee have set an example; I mean he popularized the term “kicking down the door to let others in.” There are brands that have championed the culture too, Nike did a lot for the South African urban scene as well as Channel O, Red bull and Puma too. All these brands have set an example that brands like Toyota, KFC and Sportscene with Capsule are now following.
Q: Did you foresee all the attention that is currently focused on street culture, from people to brands?
ZA: Well growing up in the United States of America, I kind of saw the way the street culture lived so I knew it had to happen at some point in South Africa. The world is an evolving place and with the internet, it has gotten so much smaller.
RR: Oh yes, everyone is aligning themselves with some forms (of the culture), whether it’s people or events but everyone want to be a part of it.
MG: Let me put it like this, street culture has been slowly moving into the mainstream consciousness now for years. But I think that in recent years it’s become crazier. Gucci collaborated with Graffiti artist Gucci Ghost “TroubleAndrew” on insta, times are a changing and it’s interesting to watch and be part of. Nasty C is the Face of the Merc Campaign, like it or not that’s huge.
Q: Which brands do you think have managed to portray the stories of Cape Town street culture?
ZA: I guess all brands that are involved in Sneaker Exchange. It’s an authentic representation of South African and Capetonian street culture.
RR: Lost Property got Cape Town some of the rarest shoes. Shelflife has always been a solid pillar with regard to connecting us all. Jack Lemkus is 80 years deep in the game and has been keeping us fresh since we were laaities. Corner Store with shits too, fam over there stay showing flames.
MG: Without a doubt you have to give it to 2 Bop, Cape Town culture is part of their identity in an authentic way that few brands can rival. It’s in their name, it’s in their visuals, and it’s in their DNA. Uno and Youngsta have also built their brands and identity from the city that raised them. We as Head Honcho took the whole country as a place to draw inspiration from, a lot of people still don’t know we are based in Cape Town.
Q: You’re all involved in street culture in some way or form, in what capacity are you a culture cat?
ZA: What does this even mean? I don’t consider myself a culture cat…it just happened to be!
RR: When we started hanging out we never knew what we doing will end up like this or end up where we are today but luckily we have it well documented and had platforms to connect and build.
MG: A culture cat? Lol. Besides being the Creative Director of one of the most influential street wear brands in the country? Joking. We at 6th Ave, are helping brands like Sportscene connect with the streets in an authentic way that grows the culture. 6th Ave and Head Honcho’s Waves is also one of those platforms that grow the culture by giving new artists a stage that has the whole country’s attention.
Q: Do you think people in the industry (specifically in CPT) are getting enough recognition for their art and if not, why?
ZA: Cape Town has always claimed to not get recognised but no one in this world needs to recognise you. YOU need to go out there and give them a reason to see you. If people aren’t messing with you in your city, then find ways to move around the country or even the world and spread your work. If it is truly something inspiring people will mess with it.
RR: I don’t know. Some people are not about limelight, some are too overly enthusiastic about it but each to their own.
MG: Not at all, I personally think it’s because Generations is still exclusively shot in JHB Haha. Honestly the lack of recognition might stem from a lack of resources. Media coverage concerned in South Africa for events and artists outside Joburg. Just the other day I heard the SABC is barring commentators from traveling to games outside Joburg, leaving many of them having to watch the game on TV while broadcasting on radio. Cape Town is just too far for Vuzu and Selimathunzi (if that’s still a thing) to cover.
Q: Predict the movement of street culture in the next 2 years?
ZA: Corporates will become all over the playing field of “culture” which means lots of opportunities for young dudes but also means an agenda driven by “culture”
RR: Upward trajectory is a must.
MG: The Internet is democratizing the landscape. In the next two years it won’t matter if you are recording music from Ntaba Khulu or Joburg, as long as you’re putting out dope shit people are gonna notice. Brands are gonna have to embrace collaboration with people in the culture in a way they were too reluctant to do so in the past as the search for a more authentic way to be part of the culture reaches the next level.
Q: The question which everybody talks about… JHB vs CPT, what separates the two?
ZA: About 1400kms… But seriously though, it’s just distance. Joburg needs Cape Town and Cape Town needs Joburg. They are completely different markets and people should work together to make South Africa pop.
RR: Cape Town has the sneaker culture on lock; I’m not talking kak you copped in the last 2-3 years, I’m taking about really appreciating sneakers and what they mean to you and the way hustle to get them. Joburg has the streetwear on lock, we have some Cape Town brands that are more popular over there because that’s how they express themselves. Put those together we have street culture.
MG: COVERAGE and Hustle. I don’t know whether it’s the lack of coverage that demotivates Cape Town kids but Joburgers hustle different. There is also more pressure to be flashy and be doing shit in Joburg then there is in Cape Town. People in Joburg do see peeps that aren’t up to something that’s also the reason hustle more there.
And there you have it from the culturists. One thing is for sure, street culture is becoming a force to be reckoned with and is being propelled forwards by its communities in a manner not seen before. Long live the culture!