Nwabisa Mda, Bongeka Masango and Thembe Mahlaba are the trio of YouTubers behind popular channel Pap Culture. They fearlessly tackle topics from blessers and baes to #menaretrash and serious political matters.
Compared to what life was like for your mother as a young woman, what do you think about being a young woman today? How have things changed?
Nwabisa: I don’t know if much has changed. Just looking at the fact that we’re so many years into freedom and consciousness, and yet we’re still fighting to be heard. In society, in our jobs, in our relationships, etc. Of course, we’ve come a very long way and so many women have opened doors in so many aspects of life. Spaces that have allowed for others to really succeed and thrive and do the same for generations to follow, and the need to continue to empower young girls is so strong right now. But we’re still celebrating the ‘First Woman’ to achieve this, the “First Woman’ to achieve that. It feels like the journey is still so long, and that so much more has to be done, especially when looking at the continuous violence against women. I’m very hopeful, though, because we have many of those Firsts, that we can look to for inspiration and motivation. But it continues to take resilience, dedication, focus, hard work and so much more to continue to prove and establish why we belong.
Thembe: Well, violence against us as women, young or old, hasn’t changed. We’ve just been made more aware of it and taken the opportunity to speak up about it. I can definitely say that we, unlike during my mother’s time, have the opportunity to attempt many different career paths. We’ve even had a female Deputy President and might possibly have a female President. That’s crazy. The amount of women in powerful positions is increasing, meaning that young girls will have role models to look up to.
Bongeka: I think opportunities have changed drastically from then and now. My mother used to tell me all the time that their only options were either being teachers or nurses. Growing up, I didn’t even consider those two as careers for myself because I knew I could do a whole lot of other things. It’s beautiful seeing young women live out their dreams, free from political constraints. Although we have a lot of opportunities, I do still feel that women are in as much danger and are restricted just as much as when my mother was young.
How do your age and gender affect your work and day-to-day life?
Nwabisa: It doesn’t really affect our work consciously but by virtue of the fact that we are a collective of three young black women, we have the ability to produce content that becomes a strong and powerful showcase of young black voices. We, of course, can’t speak for all young black women, but through telling our own stories, we can empower others to do the same even by just inviting others to join in on our conversations. In my day-to-day life, I think I’m still figuring that out and what I bring to the table as a young black woman. It’s multi-layered and the dynamics shift in different circumstances, because at times I have to deal with issues under the gaze of being a South African, then being young (‘a Millennial), a woman, being black, being single… The list goes on.
Thembe: I think with being young, you are allowed to be naive and not fully aware of all that is bad and good in the world – meaning that you have an opportunity to experience things for the first time. Sometimes not so much as parents/elders/peers/teachers might have warned you against it, but if they don’t, you’re just going into the situation with no knowledge and have to formulate your own conclusions. With our work, I think it helps as sometimes you need to have a fresh look at things. Going into vlogging or creating with what people are already doing, you might just fall into the ocean of sameness. With Youtube, you have the chance of just doing your own thing and creating your own lane.
Bongeka: In vlogging, I don’t really think it affects our work very much. Most YouTubers are around our age or younger so you don’t really feel like your age is a thing, because everyone is our age. In my day-to-day life, I think my age affects me in that I’m young and learning, so I have a million questions and I constantly feel like I’m adulting incorrectly. With that being said I’m very happy being young – I enjoy what I’m doing and I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.
Do you feel like it’s our time as young women? Or are we still waiting for that day to come?
Nwabisa: It definitely is now. But I think the main focus right now is on winning the battle of being young and what that means. So all young people (both men and women) are redefining and shaping what that looks like in terms of claiming what we believe we deserve. So really leading and owning our role in society as far as truly making positive changes and shifting South Africa’s narrative to a more positive space. So the focus isn’t on women yet. It’s like there’s a hierarchy of priorities, but we’re not top of the agenda yet – but we’re next in line. However, with that said, so many women are busting through and making themselves heard, irrespective of the barriers put in place to silence us, which I love because it means we’re taking our rightful place on the throne and nothing or nobody can stop us.
Thembe: Of course. It’s long overdue. We’re also not here to get told that it’s our time. We’re taking it. We’re here now. Get used to it.
Bongeka: Definitely! Every time I log onto social media, I’m seeing my friends and peers winning. I think this really is our time to shine. In fact, I think this is only the beginning of our time and we’ve still got a long stretch to go, giving us a chance to continue to win. I just hope that more and more women kick down the door and become board members of various companies and not just the face. I think we can really make a difference and I’m excited for the future.
The Soweto Uprising was 41 years ago this year. What does it mean to be young today? Is Youth Day relevant today?
Nwabisa: Being young today means the ability to be everything our parents always wanted us to be and we owe it to them to go after those things and not hold back. Our voices are louder now than ever and Youth Day will always be relevant because of our history and the necessary reminder of where we’ve been, where we can’t go back to and the need to celebrate the great strides we’ve made as South Africans. But as this generation, we have this window, a chance to really own our place in society and make the most of everything our parents fought for. We’re stronger together and we’re starting to realise that more and more, which is so refreshing and empowering.
Thembe: For me, being young in South Africa today means I have an opportunity, lawfully, to do just about anything I can put my mind to. I might not have the means to, but the chance of my imagination and reality meeting is more likely than ever. That’s why Youth Day will forever be a significant day. We need to recognise and ‘celebrate’ the sacrifice that was made to make the lives we live now a reality, and excel even more now as black people to show that it was not because we couldn’t, but because we weren’t allowed to.
Bongeka: To be young today means being afforded opportunities your parents could only dream of. I think Youth Day is a wonderful reminder of that. Although some people are unaware of the gravity of the Soweto Uprising, it’s still good to have a day that reminds people that something happened on 16 June that paved the way for us to be where we are today.