/ 11 June 2024

Redefining heroism: Bill Masuku’s Captain South Africa transforms African comics

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Move over, Batman: Bill Masuku has transformed African comics with his Captain South Africa, a black woman superhero out to tackle this country’s problems.

We had set a time to meet but our plans went awry when Bill Masuku, writer of the Captain South Africa comic, had banking issues to troubleshoot. 

He quickly explained what happened and I, jokingly, asked if this was a problem Captain South Africa and I could fix. 

Somehow, he took this to mean I had money. We shared a big laugh about the sad state of my bank account. 

It was a great icebreaker, setting the stage for our discussion about one of the most intriguing characters in South African comics: Captain South Africa. 

Captain South Africa is a superhero who embodies a blend of patriotism, heroism and social commentary. The character, who reflects the spirit and challenges of our country, has appeared in various iterations over the years, which mirror the political and social landscape. 

Typically, Captain South Africa battles crime, corruption and various other threats to the nation, symbolising hope and resilience. 

The most notable version of Captain South Africa was created by South African comic book artist Moray Rhoda, appearing in the Kwezi comic series. 

This iteration stands out for its unique approach to addressing contemporary issues within a South African context, providing both entertainment and thought-provoking commentary.

Captain South Africa was born in 2018 (that’s when the first edition was published) from Masuku’s experiences while studying for a bachelor’s degree in commerce, majoring in management and information systems, at Rhodes University in Makhanda, Eastern Cape. 

“Did I finish? I guess we will never know,” he laughs. 

Masuku is preparing for issue 10 of Captain South Africa, which is set to come out in September. 

Without giving away too much, the theme is introspective change. With his work heavy on politics, Masuku says he will be writing in the watershed 29 May elections.  

After coming home to Joburg from the Eastern Cape, he returned to his passion — telling stories through visual media. 

He felt Captain South Africa had to stem from his own experiences, so Masuku set the scenes carefully and, most importantly, crafted the character’s identity. 

“At some point at Rhodes, there was just a gang of protests. Fees Must Fall, Rhodes Must Fall and Men Are Trash. 

“There were constant protests all happening within a couple of years,” he says. “It was a very traumatic space but the people who were championing those movements were women who were my friends. 

“There were people I did not know personally, but they were behind these movements at Rhodes, and I saw that as superheroism,” the 31-year-old says.  

Going through that tough time at university led Masuku to scrap his original idea of a black, male superhero. He realised that black women as heroes were far more compelling and resonated more with people. 

Creating Captain South Africa has been an emotional journey. 

“Being a creative is a difficult endeavour because you are putting a lot of yourself on paper, and it requires examining what is good about the world and what is bad about it, and questioning if I can even execute the idea,” he says. 

This struggle can be especially daunting for young creatives, who  might even leave the field. 

Masuku acknowledges that it takes time and experience to improve. 

“You should see issue one of Captain South Africa; the art is garbage,” he laughs. “No, it’s really bad but I knew I was doing something important. So, I stuck with it, and I could feel page by page that it was getting better.” 

Writing Captain South Africa is particularly challenging because she is a non-violent superhero. 

“She is the best part of my ideals. Will I ever get to where she is? Probably not but I have the thoughts she has. That means, somewhere in me, I am good or a woman, one of those two — or both.” 

After starting Captain South Africa as a male character Masuku quickly realised he wasn’t writing anything revolutionary or significant. 

“Instead of killing him off, I just said he had gone missing for three years. In those three years, crime in South Africa spikes in response to a lack of a symbol to aspire to,” he says. 

After the years elapse, a woman appears wearing his uniform. 

“Some people are happy that Captain South Africa has returned, and what others notice is that she is a woman,” Masuku notes. 

The real-world responses to this transition have been mixed but reflective of societal attitudes. 

The new Captain South Africa emerges after being at university studying journalism and politics. She does not simply want to punch criminals. 

“No shade to Batman but Gotham has been crumbling for, like, 80 years. My guy needs to give up,” Masuku jokes. 

Instead, she addresses systemic issues such as housing, equality and elections. She forms a political party and aims to be a superhero president, tackling the root causes of the country’s problems. 

Masuku spent about three months developing this new Captain South Africa. 

“She is Xhosa, by the way, so I had to think about how traditional attire mixes with a superhero costume in a way that is cool but representative of the culture,” he explains. 

More and more people are getting to know who Captain South Africa is, which brings him joy, but the greatest gift is seeing people cosplay the character, introducing her to those who have not met her. 

What creating Captain South Africa taught Masuku is the importance of opening spaces for up-and-coming comic writers and enthusiasts and he’s focusing on that. 

Will Captain South Africa sort out her country’s problems? We will have to wait until September to see.