There was a girl. Teal lipstick, fluorescent disco pants, and a sharp bowl cut, razored bald on the sides, with a waist-long braid at each temple framing her face. “I’m a cartoon character,” she tells one camera while the screen cuts to her dancing in a Johannesburg street. She’s practically bursting with a magnetic charm and joie de vivre as she speaks about her travels and adventures as a dancer for Die Antwoord, bright-eyed at the prospect of the future. “Everything comes with belief,” she says
Nine years later, Manthe Ribane has done more than dance. The performer, musician, and creative director has moved crowds at Afropunk, took charge of the glossy pages of House & Leisure, brought together artists against the backdrop of Nirox Sculpture Park and so much more. Yet, as she speaks today there’s still that wide-eyed charm, joie de vivre, and unyielding sense of belief. Though not visually the prismatic cartoon character from a decade ago – Manthe’s look now consists of billowing white dresses and earthy tailoring – she’s proof that growing up doesn’t mean growing old.
“I’m still hungry for new ideas, new information,” she says now. “Just keeping an open ear and an open heart.” That candour started at home for Manthe. She fondly recalls how her late parents instilled in her the significance of care, understanding, and enterprise. She formed Dear Ribane, the conceptual creative collective, with her younger siblings, Tebogo and Kay Kay, who she cites as her source of strength. Her grandmother had a great hand in shaping the woman she is today as someone who curated her life according to her imagination: “My grandmother was such a lady. I think in her mind, she curated her life. Her dream was to be the queen and she created the queen spirit in herself.” Showing her how dress and self-expression could become armour, “It was a way to escape whatever we were going through at home, whatever challenges you were facing. Once you dress up, it changes the whole day. You set the tone of the day and that was the spirit I’ve carried with me.”
As Africa’s Most Loved Storyteller, Multichoice sought for an in-depth look at the history, inheritance and people behind our favourite storytellers. In Manthe’s case, what’s made her stories so compelling is the cast of characters who’ve guided her, supported her and strengthened her resolve.
Community is a constant thread in Manthe’s life and work, taking on different shapes, patterns, and colours but still coming together in a brilliant tapestry of joy, care, and understanding. “My journey started with collaboration. It has always been my focal point,” she reveals. She started life understanding her siblings as an extension of herself, and that it was through and with each other that they could grow. The love and passion for their creative endeavours came from the love and passion they had for one another. “The more we aligned ourselves with the same energy, the same words, and the same spirit, it just became something so giving that the world was ready to receive us.”
Manthe’s career has been about broadening this philosophy. In 2019, she co-curated Arte Botanica, a celebration of imagination and inventiveness made possible through the family she built. The event was hosted at Nirox Sculpture Park, in an effort to allow artists of every discipline the space to connect and reconnect without the distraction of the bustle of the city, or the looming presence of capitalism and commerce. “The more we open ourselves to each other, the more we open new worlds of possibilities.”
The day started on a sour note, with the impending threat of rain that was practically willed away, according to Manthe. “That was a very powerful day,” she explains. “The weather app was telling us ‘an 80% chance of rain’ and that was going to ruin the day but the faith and belief that people had for that day made me realise the power of community. People were like, ‘no, it won’t rain’, ‘not on this day.’” The celebration of each other, of the community, was met with sunshine. She looks back at how the mere fact that the people she looked up to – Mary Sibande, Laduma Ngxokolo, Msaki – believed in her vision more than she did as proof of the power of we. “If someone believes in you, you’re untouchable.”
And she’s well aware, and appreciative, of how this all has come about because of the internet. “We’re blessed with WIFI,” she says. “WiFi is like a global connection to the world, an extension of where we want to see ourselves and who inspires us throughout the journey. Through social media, you create a community but through that community you need to be very specific about who you want to be because who you follow is actually who you are sometimes.”
While the right people are the bedrock of Manthe Ribane, she’s also realised the importance of being the best you in order to be the best we. “Sometimes we forget that we need to work on ourselves so that we can be the best for others.” One of the best lessons she learned was from her time with Die Antwoord. “I know,” she grimaces. “It’s quite like, ‘oh, really?’” Her time with the group taught her discipline, that talent was 2% of the job and the rest was about the unglamourous stuff–showing up on time, taking care of your body, answering emails. Discipline comes in so many layers. Spiritual direction is something she’s kept as a lesson from her father, someone who insisted that her time was spent doing the things that aroused her spirit. Manthe believes strongly in the power of prayer and visualisation.
“I think there’s power, in before you start anything, you need to just practice. Practice aligning yourself, making sure you’re shutting down any negative thoughts [so] that the positive energy in you is so that it overpowers anything that will stop you.”
Surprisingly, music wasn’t something she had thought she would ever venture into. Dancing with Die Antwoord and the support from Nike South Africa exposed her to a global platform, where she got to rub shoulders with the likes of Naomi Campbell, Virgil Abloh, and Matthew Williams, and discover firsthand that the distance from dream to reality was what you made of it. “Create a vision board,” she instructs. “It’s so important. Seeing it every morning when you start your day? That’s a reminder of what you’re going for. And the more you do that, the more you stimulate your spirit.”
If there’s only one thing that must be learnt from Manthe, it’s that the world is yours to design. “I love to talk about canvases because I feel like I had to create an art gallery in my world. Everyone plays a role, they’re all different parts and I see them as canvases in my life. It’s beautiful.”