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HAND CRAFTED IN ALEXANDRA TOWNSHIP, JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA

its hand crafted in alexandra township, johannesburg, south africa and the creator is a fellow joburger. meet awaytobe>. an online navigation portal that provides the simple function of negotiating the routes in a hard to commute city. i am prone to inflate but in this case i have warrant. how novel is it that a virtual application not only shows you where you’re going and how but somehow makes you feel at home.

i asked lebogang nkoane> to answer some questions about his new creation. the whys and hows and futures of it. and this is what he said.

MM:
Computer Scientist may work as a descriptor for you, perhaps even Creative Computer Scientist - Do these titles sit well with you?

LN:
A computer scientist is perfect because I do have the qualification for it and it is still my passion and focus, albeit, I have a keen focus in a sub-category of it, Human Computer Interaction (HCI). Which by in large requires a lot of skills to be borrowed from the creative industry. Which, I am not qualified to claim to be as I have not been formally trained within the creative industry, but if the cliché that goes “we all creative” is true then I suppose I could infer I am a creative computer scientist.

Philosophy is a huge influence on how I perceive the world and myself, and thus, being called one suits me and I have studied philosophy so I can back up my shit, to some extent.

MM:
I see a big gaping hole where black african tech invention should reside. Do you agree and what do you think promotes this shortage.

LN:
There is a huge gap. There reasons for it depend on which side of the colour line you reside, you could link it back to 1976. Technology involves lot of science and mathematics, yes sure you can learn to do web development from any field, but there in lies the problem, where do you learn? how do you learn? You will need a computer and you will need internet access. How then is the majority supposed to acquire those things when bread needs to be buttered?

The other thing could be influence, the boom of technology in western countries inspired a society (and media) that had to start talking about it, not just facebook this or that, but the business around those simple web based ideas. Now, in our context we don’t have a lot of that, our media [primarily the one that focuses on the youth market] doesn’t yet have a vested interest in promoting stories about technology, about building a business around technology, about using technology to solve some of the socio-economic problems we face. Until that point where this type of information can hit a child’s ear who is in ‘n plaas somewhere, we’ve still got work to do. But one can’t blame them, there isn’t yet much to talk about.

Also, technology is not a very appealing thing to engage with and the barriers of entry are mostly psychological, and thus you find from the top (state and state agencies) all the way to the mother, brother and sister, technology fields of study and business are rarely things made to be aspirational, but one day is one day.

MM:
What is AWAYTOBE now and how do you see people using it and who are those people?

LN:
a way to be —i prefer it spelt in lower caps— is, simply: a mobile service that gets you from .a to .b using public transport. I use it. It is a tricky thing to talk about an idea you have envisioned, one always tends to visualise a whole gang load of people using the service, that is the dream, and by my calculation 10 million South African commuters should use it. If and when they will, is only a matter of how well I execute the the plans I have. But, it must be said, the general running thread amongst technology innovators is: only build things you use. The need for @awtb was realised in 2004 when I borrowed my car to my aunt, using public transport in my mind seemed it was more difficult that it should have been, so in essence I am solving problems that I have, rather than pretending everybody has this problem, even though I could prove it to be so. Wow, I digress.

MM:
What is the take up so far? are you monitoring the usage numbers?

LN:
We are on day 6 since the launch, I don’t know what the uptake is, but the response has been good. Friends [where else can you start if not there?] love it. not sure they do use it everyday, but for the first six months my goal is to build a service that works, always. I have this perfectionist view of things I build, a friend of mine keeps saying I need to let go of, but I am a computer scientist, something either works or doesn’t, nothing in between.

I am not yet monitoring the numbers, i am only trying to understand where it works and where it fails, in the future, possibly in 6 months the numbers will matter, but I suppose what I am waiting for is for a stranger to one day say, “i got to my meeting on time because of a way to be”, :-)

MM:
Will you apply it to mobile? android, blackberry, apple ?

LN:
Yes. I am not fan of device specific apps, I like the web, it is our last truest form of democracy, where you build something to work for everybody not for those that can afford it. Philosophy aside, I only want to build device specific apps if they offer a better and more enhanced experience of it. For example, if you get a meeting request on your phone. I would want @awtb to show you how to get to that meeting using public transport. I hope this makes sense.

MM:
What barriers have you encountered in making it into what it is now?

LN:
The idea was conceptualised in 2004. Actually that was great time of ideas, all the things i have built now, stem from that time — what is interesting ‘bout that time is, it was just after I had completed my honours degree in computer science. Aside, I recommend everybody to leave varsity only after honours, you’ll realise a lot of business opportunities.

Alas, to answer your question: bureaucracy. Access to funds is still proving difficult. Access to information for routes is proving to be difficult. It is not so much that there information is not there, it is, getting it from the departments, nationally, provincially and locally: it felt like “ke tlisitse molato”[i was bringing forward critical agendas]. But, through that pain I’ve actually built a system that allows me to create the routes without needing any department to provide me with the information.

Getting funding, is still tricky. This industry that I am in is barely understood by the people and organisations that are supposed to provide and assist in getting funding, even though this industry generates 2% of the countries GDP and is expected to surpass the agricultural and manufacturing sectors in a few years.

The greatest barrier in my black-boy from alexandra is: being a black boy from alexandra — i am received in that same way, tragically.

MM:
Alexandra is your current home. What defines it.

LN:
Alexandra is home. I don’t know Alexandra, I don’t live here at all. I wake up, I work, I eat, I sleep here. It is a township, a lot of bad things happen, a few good things happen and yet we survive, but I don’t intend to live here, i’ve never lived here. lol. Hell, I’ve been waiting over 8 years and still waiting for Telkom to provide me with ADSL internet access — they haven’t and they don’t plan to, as business 101 would go, “they don’t see business value in it.” I need ADSL internet access for this type of work I do online, and because of that, eventually, I won’t wake up here.

MM:
How do geographies and movement influence how and what you create?

LN:
Movement is everything. It exposes me to things I wouldn’t have thought of, let alone imagine. Not to say I find inspiration from different places, hell I love Cape Town, but I am least creative or productive when I am that side. Johannesburg gets me, I don’t know why, but it does get me to work, to create. But, if I don’t move around, I deny myself of the opportunity to think differently, to see opportunity differently, to also see that a common problem back home is actually a common problem everywhere else.

MM:
With limitless budgets and resources what would you be creating, making

LN:
I need limitless time more than a budget. So much to build, not enough continuous time to work on them. But, if I had a limitless budget and resources I wouldn’t be creating anything. I’d be creating spaces to allow others, especially, as you put it, black africans. I have this god complex to find, incubate and grow an army of web and mobile ninjas that will change this industry and produce things that matter, things that solve problems in the very communities they come from. This is will be my last project, it is called The Farm. One day, is one day.

MM:
which of your current projects are also live on the interwebs

LN:
Not a lot, I have: SKL, Germination, #tff and NODI to bring into life and join 75, ttby, HALF, @awtb, MASS/APPEAL, YG&B and studio83 (which is actually George’s project).

2lmn>

awaytobeontwiter>

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congo munga

Munga – on AFRICA AND ASIA and FRENCH NEW WAVE

Maria Mcloy asked me to do something with the director of viva riva, djo munga so i did, except, what i emailed her, 2 weeks after the sit down was totally off brief, on purpose, sort of kind of. not being interested in the very much hyped film he was on a world tour promote, made me more interested in the mind behind it.

Djo and i sat down at tashes rosebank johannesburg, he answered my questions, wavering quite erratically between impatient and intrigued while i sipped on my caffe.

found on flckr - DenP Images' photostream

DIDACTICS VS ENTERTAINMENT:
Entertainment is a kind of strategy. We are at a time where we need to address our masses, African masses, in a way what they can get to talk about film. I often compare myself to the American directors in the 30s and 40s. They were manly European, coming to America, running away from the Nazi’s and so they created the most entertaining cinema: gangster movies, westerns, love stories, whatever but they had to do; also to express some really really complex ideas about society and politics in various ways. I think we [Africa] are getting close to that - in that sense entertainment is a way to talk to people.

CINEMA, FRANCOPHONE FILM CULTURE ANDTHE GREATS’:
They say that the French francophone have this fantastic work and see you how fantastic we are but I’m not that impressed. I was more exposed to international culture. There were different influences. And in that sense I watched a lot of American movies but I didn’t know that there were great directors. I didn’t know that there was Copolla, Brian de Palmer and all these guys. It was only later when I was in film school that I got it.

THE FRENCHIE IN THE MUNGA:
I’m not really a perfect model of the French culture and influence, because I have a strong resistance to that. People that I find very strong in the French culture, the French themselves don’t really appreciate them the same, and for example I think the biggest filmmaker Jean Renoir. Jean Renoir is ultimately the biggest French filmmaker, his vision, his work but when in comparison François Truffaut? He’s a good director but his not at the same level as Renoir.

FRENCH CULTURE AS A CHAMPION FOR STORIES LIKE VIVA RIVA:
The only thing I could say is, in the French culture it’s very important to have a culture, it’s very important to embrace many films and many filmmakers. On that level they are fantastic. In fact when I was in a French speaking world had access to a library and access to films for nothing even though I was poor and didn’t came from a rich background. The emphasis on culture, in fact that the moment for like a film, like my film which is heavily funded by France and a French partner, is recognized and people see the potential of the story and the culture is something you don’t have in English speaking countries where its all towards business. It’s like there is no sense of history of cinema…English speaking countries lack a sense of culture.

AUDIENCE AUDIENCE AUDIENCE:
I think that the audiences that I have in mind were Cinefiles - people like me who enjoy film, who’ve watched a lot of film, and recognize the things we I need to change, to visually stimulate a core audience. My first Cinefiles that I meet were Congolese… these people enjoy film and they still do today but it’s not official, you know. In Europe the Cinefiles are official they’ve seen all these films. I would say it was more a chaotic process in Africa. So I think about Cinefiles first. I focus on how to make a good story, good writing, and good script writing.

WRITING, PROCESS, SHAKESPEARE AND HIMES:
I also think about great authors. Shakespeare someone who’s important to me. Chester Himes
is someone important to me - all these guys. So I’m thinking about them, I’m thinking about structure, how they make their story, how they create their characters and how the general film looks like, all these things are important. And then ‘in’ the process I don’t really think too much about the result, I really try and focus on how to make the best film possible - within its own content. The balance between content and form is really a permanent question.

MUNGA IS FIRST, A…
I consider myself first a scriptwriter and a director. The production part is only straining because of the money. So anywhere at some point the limits will come. First I will expose what I want to talk about and then challenge the limits.

ARTISTIC FREEDOM AFTER FAME
Freedom…[long pause] it depends. It’s funny because have developed four feature films and stories, actually I’ve developed five, one just after I develop after my film [Viva Riva] was released. It was kind of different, interesting but very different. But my producer and associates, said ‘Djo you’ve done this gangster movie, and now you are going into this [other] genre, it doesn’t work, you need make two, three more gangster movies and then you’ll see.’ Even at this stage you already feel the constraints and the pressure in keeping in the moment. So it’s all about negotiation. Okay, how am I going to keep my career? I’m not eager to go into going into big films just because of the money because it bring problems and I want to keep a certain artistic level and control. And so I try to keep a balance between good films and smaller films but [there] needs to be some importance in terms of content.

THE ONLY BLACK IN THE ROOM
When I was in film school for example, which was really Nouvelle Vague orientated I had a really really strong resistance – I felt that I suffered lot you know. You are the only black person in a white environment - the only black, once again. There is one black in every 75 years in that film school. When you are the only black person in the middle of a culture where the emphasis is on something that you don’t like, doesn’t look like you and you don’t have any relation to it. It creates a great sense of isolation.

ASIANS AND AFRICANS BOUND BY CULTURE and AESTHETICS:
I came across these Japanese niche filmmakers and I felt at home, you know - in terms of the relation to Africa. They also have a sort of conservative society, like ours. But at the same time, they are artistically so fantastic and so vibrant. In terms of filmmaking there are at a really high level. They’re higher than some European work that I’ve come across. So all these elements have created my affinity for filmmakers like Akira Kurosawa and Kenji Mizoguchi especially. They’re fantastic and will always inspire me. They help me to focus on ‘how am I going to address issues about conservative society in a modern way’.

AFRICA AND ASIA and FRENCH NEW WAVE:
…One thing certain is that we are not westerners. Which creates, in it’s own way a bind. Also in the western filmmaking and artistic process the community is not the centre of the films anymore. The characters linked to that community are not as important in western film as it is in our community, or in certain Japanese film of a certain era. I mean the big classic masters Kurosawa, Mizoguchi and the third one is Yasujirō Ozu - the three big masters of Japanese cinema of a certain era….In western film the trends are different. It’s more about the individuals and how centred you are. The problem with Nouvelle Vague was that there was always the vision of the self, a self-indulgence that didn’t speak to me and still doesn’t actually. But I can now understand why this movement [Nouvelle Vague] came out at that moment in France and why it’s important for that vision and I respect that. I see it as refreshment to the old heavy French system, which was kind of like really heavy in terms of the content - the old France. It brought the camera to the streets.

ON BEING HERALDED AS THE MESSIAH OF CONGOLESE FILM:
I’m happy to contribute to, kind of like, a restart of something you know. I’ve been able to study abroad and I’ve been able to have an education in film, my compatriots many of them didn’t have the opportunity. So to share that knowledge is like the gift of life. That you can share with people is fantastic, a gift you can give to people but one you can also give yourself. So I made this project, which was a successful, a documentary that went to more than forty festivals and now Viva Riva. We have invited and facilitated some productions in Congo, before they were maybe afraid, and there are more to come. I’m just blessed that finally it’s going though me… So it’s just me. It could have been somebody else!

CROSS BORDER AFRICAN FILM CULTURE
I just want to do more actually, and want to be regional and I also want to develop products like other countries. What I have learnt is that if you limit yourself to your own country when it comes to Africa it’s a mistake, because you don’t have enough strength or human resources in one country. We really need to be united. If there is a lesion to be learnt it is that we need to work together. Its not easy, its not easy at all. But we need to work together and carry a kind of community in our work, and create a working system, bring it back to life again, by just inviting creators to come to Congo, we need those exchanges. Western countries do that, that’s why they are so strong. British directors go to America, a French writer writing for an American project or a Finnish working in France, that’s the strength. Its not just money, it’s the mind!

THE WOMEN OF VIVA RIVA:
Well I wanted to talk about the different aspects of a woman in Congo today. You have the femme fatal who is beautiful, with some wealth around her, but who is also prisoner of her condition. This commander who tries to be a regular person who at some point is trapped into this machine that she can’t even control. Another character only sees her hope is escape. And what all these women have in common is that they are trapped and we as in society. We are all trapped but for women it’s stronger.

Women are very powerful in Congo. I mean if women were not the way there are the country would be completely down. What is left of Congo is because women. They find solutions; they create and are the driving force. So I wanted to have that level of story even if it’s a male story, male story driven but there is also a female standing there.

NOTHING GOOD COMES OUT OF POVERTYDJO MUNGADO YOU REALLY BELIEVE THAT:
Yes… Poverty is a place where you feel miserable, you feel threatened, you have to survive, you have to push people around and you have to fight. This survival mode makes you generate inside of you all the tensions and all the negative aspects because you are insecure. You are driven by fear and that’s not good. We often talk about all the guys that come from the ghetto. The ghetto gives you some strength in your personality as it fixes your personality, but at what cost? What’s the price of that? If you’re not in the ghetto maybe you will be much stronger and all your strength will be at ease and you can express more and achieve more. Also to stay in the ghetto in the misery can destroy you. It’s good when you stay for a short period of time you can overcome it.

ON WHAT PEOPLE ARE NOT ASKING HIM:
(Laughing) Nobody talk about the four women in the film. Also I think maybe what people never ask me is ‘how I feel.’ (Laughing) With all this movement and all this success… well I feel just grateful to everything and everybody. I have received so many messages from Congolese but also other Africans and all over the world that have seen the film, and they’ve seen the trailer or have heard about it, they are so proud. It gives you a certain sense of achievement inside and it’s beyond success.

-Djo Munga is the famed Congolese director of Africa’s most hyped film Viva Riva – The film opens in South Africa on the 5th of October nationwide.

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welcome

hi

It feels good to be blogging again. The last platform I had was a treasure but by 2009 I felt like it was time for change…A Novelist is a reversioning of my last blog. Its a more purposeful space. A cleaner, crisper and more delightful, showcasing of everything that and I,peers, friends and mentors consider Novel.

Thanks for visiting, enjoy and come back with a friend :)

Enjoy.
mathoto matsetela

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