Homeboy blogger wins big at Highway Africa

Khaya Dlanga, one of Thought Leader‘s most popular bloggers and a cult-status “vlogger” on YouTube, has been named winner of the Innovative use of the Internet award at the 12th annual Highway Africa conference in Grahamstown.

“Hey, anyone can be famous for 15 minutes, I’m just having my 15,” Dlanga told the Mail & Guardian in a perky interview on Wednesday morning, the day after the awards dinner at the world’s biggest gathering of African journalists and new media moguls and mavericks.

I tell him I saw it in the Daily Dispatch. “It’s in the Daily Dispatch? Whoa! I’d better tell my mother.”

Significantly, Dlanga (30) hadn’t dashed out to scour the local papers for news of his award on Wednesday morning. But he knew his mother, who still lives in Mount Ayliff in the Eastern Cape, where Dlanga grew up, would want to read all about it—and probably keep the cuttings—from her local “rag”.

The 30-year old copywriter is a global phenomenon on YouTube, where his 117 videos ranging from “crazy to stupid” (in his words) have attracted more than three million hits.

Seemingly a bit puzzled by his status, when I ask him for an example of “stupid”, he replies. “There are so many stupid ones I don’t know where to start ... Ummm, how about the one where I put a camera on my desk and filmed myself ‘running’ for four minutes to the Chariots of Fire soundtrack? You won’t believe how many people watched it all the way through ...”

Thanks to Dlanga’s “15 minutes” reference, Andy Warhol’s own art and media experiments in the 1960s come to mind—like his Sleep movie that ran for eight hours.

But Dlanga doesn’t go with “performance art”. In spite of his Thought Leader blog being called “In My Own Arrogant Opinion”, he’s got way too much irony to go tagging down Avant-garde Avenue.

“Nah,” he says, “It’s just that people want to see themselves and watch other people doing stuff. I guess it’s the new ego: everyone feels they have something to say, which makes six billion of us potential celebrities.”

Other Dlanga videos attracting huge hits on YouTube include “I quit smoking pot and cigarettes when I was 10 years old” and “I’m going to commit suicide”.

Dlanga was invited to write for the M&G‘s own global success story, Thought Leader, by former M&G Online general manager Matthew Buckland, who had seen his YouTube videos.

“I was really pleased,” says Dlanga, “because I was ready to try writing.”

Though Dlanga’s Thought Leader subjects are more serious—- favourite themes include politics, youth and race in South Africa—his pithy style and huge personality make the ANC national executive committee sound sexy.

“I get a lot of hate, a lot of hate too,” he says—memorably for a YouTube video where he went round the office asking skinny girls why they chose fat women friends.

Baby, that’s the flip side of the 15 minutes.

Highway Africa is a partnership between Rhodes University’s School of Journalism and Media Studies and national broadcaster the South African Broadcasting Corporation. It is the biggest annual gathering of African journalists in the world, with more than 700 delegates, and is central to the new media debates on the continent. It winds up on Wednesday night. See more at www.highwayafrica.com.

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