In our second MindVUZE Q&A Session, we got to quiz a young Thought Leader who is making waves. Having earned her stripes as Thought Leader through poetry, Nkateko Masinga has been on the TEDx stage in Pretoria, one of the biggest stages for Thought Leaders globally.
MindVUZE: Your chosen model to deliver Thought Leadership is Poetry. Why that model?
Nkateko Masinga: Poetry is one of the most important forms of social commentary in the world. For that reason, many countries have a poet laureate: a poet recognised as the most eminent or representative of the country. The late Professor Keorapetse William Kgotsitsile was South Africa’s National Poet Laureate from 2006 until earlier this year when he passed away. He was an influential political activist and his views were reflected in his writing. As a poet and spoken word artist myself, I have seen the impact that a raw, hard-hitting poem can have on society. You can literally change people’s views on an issue just by using the right words. Thought leaders are defined as well-informed and trusted sources of information in their field of expertise, so I believe that as a poet I can influence the world by penning my reality in a way that is reflective rather than prescriptive. People often tell me that they see themselves in my work and that reinforces the idea that people respond to what that they can relate to. My aim is to write relatable poetry that also points out raw truths regarding the state of our country and the world at large.
MindVUZE: What is the state of poetry in South Africa right now?
Nkateko Masinga: Poetry in South Africa is in a very exciting stage of development. With organisations such as Current State of Poetry (CSP), Tshwane Speak Out Loud, Word N Sound Live Literature Company and Mzansi Poetry Academy making poetry accessible more to young people, there has never been a better time to be a young writer in South Africa. I believe that careers in the arts are slowly but surely getting the recognition that they deserve and we will no longer perpetuate the ‘starving artist’ stereotype by choosing writing as an occupation. African poets have access to international prizes such as the Brunel International African Poetry Prize where the prize money totals 3000 UK pounds for the winner, showing that it will soon be possible that a talented writer to make a living from their craft. At this point in time it is extremely difficult to survive off poetry alone, but the field is growing and perceptions are changing. I believe that in the next ten to twenty years, we will be telling a very different story.
MindVUZE: In order to get our society to stand up and become active citizens, we need to effectively communicate with them. And we have to use communication models that will be understood. Do you see poetry playing a role in that?
Nkateko Masinga: I believe that poetry is an important tool for communicating with members of society, especially the youth. Let me give an example: Each year, the Tshwane Speak Out Loud Youth Poetry Competition and Festival is held to encourage young people to write and perform poetry that addresses the social issues faced by their communities. Some young people may attend such an event seeking only entertainment but leave having learnt important lessons or heard a poet on stage addressing an issue that affects them personally. This opens up the platform for further dialogue on issues that are often not addressed publicly or given the attention that they deserve. Poetry is now frequently included on the line-up at events such as the LeadSA ChangeMakers Conference and the South African Local Governance Association Conference, amongst others. Change-makers in the country are hearing first-hand from the youth of the country through poetry and it is an exciting revolution to witness.
MindVUZE: Let’s talk about the Arts holistically. How would you fit them in the agenda of economic growth, even at a micro level?
Nkateko Masinga: We need to start by paying our artists for their work. Exposure does not pay the bills and we will continue to refer to ‘struggling artists’ if the culture of compensating performers with a mere handshake and a meal does not change. Event organisers who invite poets to perform, only to say ‘we do not have a budget’ or ‘we will only cover your transport’, need to realise that the people they are exploiting have financial obligations to fulfil and should either be paid enough for what they are being invited to do or not be called at all. Also, our economy cannot grow if we keep waiting for international audiences to acknowledge local talent before we do. We need to start by investing in our artists so that they are not forced to leave the country in search of greener pastures (more appreciative audiences and paying clients). The Department of Arts and Culture has initiatives that support artists and students going into arts-related careers and this is a step in the right direction. We must do more than just ‘fit’ the arts into our agenda for discussions on economic growth, we must prioritize them.
MindVUZE: What do you hope to achieve with what you do?
Nkateko Masinga: I hope to inspire young people in South Africa (and beyond) by showing them that they can do anything that they put their minds to. My talk at the 2017 TEDxPretoria conference was titled ‘The Unapologetic Pursuit of Multiple Passions’ because I started my career in the arts in an unconventional manner: I went to university and studied medicine, then discovered my true passion halfway through my degree. My first book was published when I was a fourth-year medical student and by the time I left university I had three published books and had started a publishing company and an arts NGO. Last year my company was commissioned to provide books to no-fee schools in the Gauteng province and I am now able to say that it is possible for art and academia to co-exist because it is my lived experience.
MindVUZE: There seems to be a communication break down between leaders and society in our country. As a thought leader who understands communication, where is it all going wrong?
Nkateko Masinga: Conversations between leaders and ordinary citizens occur on a daily basis, especially since social media has broken down the walls between politicians and ordinary citizens. These days, you do not need to send a letter and wait two weeks for a response. Your local leader is a mere email away. In fact, a mere tweet away. The problem is not communication but implementation. We are having all the necessary discussions and we know what the issues are, but we are lacking a ‘runner’ who will grab the message and run to implement it. Our leaders know what our grievances are but they are not being held accountable for failure to address the matters that are brought before them. What we need to do is to take collective responsibility for the changes we want to see. For citizens, this begins with being intentional about voting in local and national elections. For leaders, it means delivering on the promise to implement positive change.
MindVUZE: In a broader sphere of change, where would you fit yourself in?
Nkateko Masinga: Over the past few years, I have been fortunate enough to be given platforms that have allowed me to engage in important conversations with the potential to accelerate positive change. I have been selected for the 2018 Mandela Washington Fellowship and will be in the United States of America with other young African leaders engaging with thought leaders from around the world and finding sustainable solutions to problems that are affecting ordinary citizens in Africa, especially vulnerable groups such as women and children. My end goal is to ensure that young children are given access to everything that they need in to succeed, from food and healthcare to access to a wide range of reading material. I also want to ensure that women are given platforms where their voices can be heard. I am grateful to be in a position where I can positively influence my community and on a broader scale, my country.
MindVUZE: You are one of the young adopters of Thought Leadership. How important is it to adopt Thought Leadership at a young age?
Nkateko Masinga: I once came across a quote that said “Though leadership is not about being known. It is about being known for making a difference.” I believe that I am in a position to make a difference in the lives of the people I come across on a daily basis, not only as a health advocate and gender rights activist but as a daughter, sister, friend, aunt, etc. We are more than the positions and titles that we hold but we must be conscious of the doors that those positions open for us and the use those opportunities to open doors for others coming after us. As a young thought leader, I want to continue to use my influence to ask difficult questions and to seek out the answers to those questions in a way that does not harm but rather builds and fosters an atmosphere for change to take place.
MindVUZE: Thought Leadership opens up various opportunities. You are living proof of that. What opportunities did it bring for you?
Nkateko Masinga: Thought leadership has given me the opportunity to speak at a TEDx conference, to travel internationally – last year I traveled to Nigeria for the Ake Arts and Book Festival and this year I will travel to the United States of America as part of the Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders – and to be featured in several local and international publications.
MindVUZE: What is your moto?
Nkateko Masinga: My motto is ‘Work is love made visible.’ It comes for a parable by Kahlil Gibran’s ‘On Work’, where he says that to work with love is similar to building a house with affection, as if your beloved were to dwell in that house. I strive to pursue the things that I am called to do with as much enthusiasm as I can because I understand that it is a privilege to do what I love and to call it ‘work.’