Spinning into control

In the course of writing about the popularity of Botsotsos in South African spinning in 2017, I went to Wheelz N Smoke all of two times, which leaves me unqualified to pronounce too much on the culture. But to my credit, I did end up at Les MaAda’s door, where the originator himself politely declined my request to be interviewed about the beginnings of the sport — apparently one of South Africa’s fastest growing.

It’s an origin story we all know, to an extent; one with a dark side, for sure, but one that is also about black people innovating in the face of staid and oppressive whiteness. 

Original Creative Breed’s (OCB) documentary, An Ordinary People, takes you as close to the action as you can possibly get without actually forming your own crew, while also giving you a sense of the sport’s continued development. 

Quite a lot of the footage is from inside the modified vehicles, letting you know that, much like Nascar and Formula One, it takes more than just the driver to keep the thing turning. The film hardly veers from the track, with long interviews happening at the scene of the action, revealing little about the drivers’, the stuntpeople’s and the promoters’ lives outside of  the sport.

 This is all on purpose, says Nhlane Enos Manthata, one of the film’s producers, along with Thato Dhladla and Ernest Nkosi (also writer and director). “We’re still dealing with a lot of stigma,” he says, probably using the word as a euphemism for racism. Thanks to the sport’s irrevocable hood status, BMW won’t touch the thing, unless, allegedly, they are entering the arena with Red Bull in tow. But they’ll turn around and gladly bite from the culture when it’s time to sell a new 3 Series.

As a result, the sport still has a do-for-self ethos, with a lot of the growth in terms of infrastructure coming from the insiders’ pockets. In this way, An Ordinary People, as a film, has a lot in common with its subject. As Manthata tells it, they are “four-walling” the documentary, having learnt their lessons from handing over control of the distribution of Thina Sobabili, their previous project.

“We spent about R4-million on that,” Manthata says,  “but our books came back to show that we had made about R6 000 and something, which is not a true reflection.”

Similarly, An Ordinary People, which is four years in the making, is a serious investment for OCB, who would prefer that you see it as a big advertisement for the sport. This hints at the fact that they are not neutral observers, with ambitions to set up a nationwide league while using their contacts in the advertising industry as sponsors.

Tracks are apparently popping up everywhere. Magesh is building something in the East Rand, Manthata says. Smanga Mabaso has Msinga Driftkhana in KwaZulu-Natal. Pule Motloung is building in Orange Farm. There are also signs of a generational shift, with elder participants like Jeff James passing on their knowledge to a new generation of spinners like Sam Sam and his younger brother Muzi Thubane. 

Team Numbi, as the crew is called, is masterminded by James and Sam Sam’s father Myboet Thubane. Representing the feel-good angle of a father keeping his young boys out of trouble by actually building (them) a spinning track, they get plenty of screen time in the film. Numbi Gate Spin City in Mpumalanga does more than keep Sam and Muzi “off the street”. If the sport maintains its upward trajectory, (which, with overwhelming popular support, it just might) count that as their inheritance. 

Currently, with the value chain only supporting a handful of the most hardcore spinners, one hopes those babyfaced youths never have to beg for bread. From my perspective, at least, it’s more than the clutch that is slippery out here.

An Ordinary People will be screened at Kulture Fest 2021 at Wheelz N Smoke on 4 and 5 December. For tickets visit kulturefest.co.za 

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Kwanele Sosibo
Kwanele Sosibo
Kwanele Sosibo is the editor of Friday, the arts and culture section of the Mail and Guardian.

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