Cover credits: Cinga Samson, Iyongo 2, 2020.
Cover credits: Cinga Samson, Iyongo 2, 2020.

Ed's letter | Firmly set in humanity

I was thrust early into editorship. Barely three years out of journalism kindergarten — under the esteemed care of Dr Aggrey Klaaste, Don Mattera, and other lesser-known but massively pivotal men and women who would fill up this entire page — I was thrown by publisher Larry Katz into the deep end of an experimental co-editorship at Y-Mag, the iconic youth title that changed everything for me and so many people of my generation. I was 25. Three years later, I would doggy paddle into editing Africa’s first-ever independent men’s magazine. I was the youngest person in that role but felt, perhaps for the first time, that my station befitted the graft it had taken to get there.

Following our blood-soaked transition into democracy, Dr Klaaste had staked his career as editor-in-chief of The Sowetan on the nation-building project. As he crisscrossed the province, speaking to communities such as those of the Kathorus region — in what is now Ekurhuleni — that had been devastated by so-called “Black on Black violence”, he would often drag me along by my wet ears to document these stories.

Even as I write this, I am overcome with emotion as I recall the pained eyes of men the age of my late grandparents recalling the unimaginable horror — and guilt — of losing their entire families overnight after having protected other people’s families.

As I moved from news into arts and culture and the lifestyle-magazine space, my foundation had been firmly set in humanity above all else, and that is the lens I have always applied, even as I will be the first to admit a streak of ukuthanda izinto (that enduring isiXhosa term for one’s appreciation for the softer things in life). I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t.

There has never been any contradiction between being well turned out, having an eclectic palate, and appreciating craft, while having a sense of social parity. In fact, as I take over the stewardship of these pages, I see a massive opportunity in bringing these ideas even closer. There has never been a more pointed time to think about luxury in the context of a wider consciousness, a sense of restraint, and the kind of responsibility demanded by a moment heavy with disease, inequality, and upheaval.

As we put this issue to bed, the country limps from our most recent trauma, with an all-but-universal call for rebuilding after the unrest that engulfed KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng. As with the myriad op-eds that have advocated for the binning of the things in the “old normal” that did not serve humanity, I would table the rebuilding of a more intentional new society, one with acts of neighbourliness and kindness that extend beyond the obligatory Mandela Day posturing. One that meets the reality of privilege not with defensiveness and paralysing guilt but with transformative, sustainable action towards the equitable nation that we all claim to covet. That kind of rebuilding is long-game stuff: sustained, painful, uncomfortable stuff.

In an essay reframing our understanding of excellence — the theme for this issue — the academic, writer and critic Dr Wamuwi Mbao writes: “The horrors of our new century — a gallery that includes Marikana, the killings that triggered Black Lives Matter, rampant food and water insecurity, and other shameful scenes — have exposed how wrong-headed it is to imagine that anything can be generalised about our experiences.” How much of a disservice to marginalised communities is our mindless mimicry of slogans such as “we are in this together” when we know that, as Dr Mbao asserts, our “24 hours are certainly not the same as the 24 hours of someone who doesn’t know where their next meal may come from”? Ours is the kind of complexity that the work of Cinga Samson — one of our featured luminaries flying the SA flag high in the Culture feature — understands well, in its provocative and edifying representation of lack, desire, excess, and pride.

Following a presentation that included a laundry list of the things I would hypothetically introduce to the magazine, were I to get this job, a somewhat exasperated member of my large, esteemed interviewing panel asked: “What do you like about the magazine?”

LOOK | Page through the digital copy of Wanted's August issue (enlarge for easy viewing):

The answer lies in my weakness for words and beauty. Wanted has always been an incredibly well-written and beautifully presented book. This will not change. You will see new bylines; the subjects may on occasion be pleasantly unfamiliar, but the images and spaces in between will continue to be beautiful. My fandom for writers may flip-flop, but my obsession with great writing is unconditional. I stand for lucid, rhythmic prose, and the words we will present to you will continue to dance, challenge, and inspire. If there is a singular goal for my time here, it is encapsulated in this month’s theme of excellence. This is a category-leading title with which you have an emotional connection. The ancestors willing, it will settle in proudly and thrive on that perch 

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