INNERVIEW // SIPHIWE MPYE

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This month’s Innerview is with Joburg’s, possibly South Africa’s most gentlemanly Gentleman.  Anybody who has met Siphiwe Mpye agrees (I called a mass meeting) that if we all had to vote for a man who embodies the qualities of A Great Human (Especially) of The Male Species, he would have to represent our cowntry.  I first met Siphiwe in 2008 when I had just moved to Johannesburg.  I can’t remember how we met, possibly because I had already envisioned the day we would meet years before it happened.  I grew up in East London, a pretty little town but a cultural wasteland for a young black person starved of any edgy cultural stimulation.

The only thing I cherished was Y-Magazine circa 2000- 2004. I would never ask my parents for anything but my mother knew to make Y-Mag a part of the monthly grocery list.  I would read and reread it, sniff that grainy paper like a thirsty haux, carefully detach the centrefold posters and hang them in my room, underline the names of interesting people and practice saying them and I would highlight the words I didn’t know the meaning to.  One day at the end of Matric, I wrote an email to the magazine. Email was still relatively new and fancy then and I took myself very seriously.

I went to the Internet cafe with a friend and I sent the magazine’s editor, Siphiwe Mpye a letter declaring my undying love for Y-Mag. I wish I’d kept it. To my surprise, in my first year of University at Rhodes, I bought the magazine with my own money and in it I saw my letter printed as that month’s Winning Letter.  It came with a prize of a pair of Puma’s and that’s pretty much when I decided that writing would be a part of my life for fucking ever.  His editorial was my automatic landing page and the content of the magazine really did define me and my generation.  When my friend Mpho got an internship there, I was so jealous I cried. Anyway, many years later, at the risk of freaking him out,  I can now call Siphiwe a friend, a colleague and a mentor.  We work together on The Group, mostly perfecting the art of conversation and my stretching.   We are brought together by ideas and breathing life into them.  He owns a company called Random Window where he offers a range of services in the editorial, communications, pr and general awesome dudeness space.

Here’s a little bit of what makes him awesome .

Where are you? At my desk, at home.

What can you hear? A theme song: “Rastamouse and Scratchy and Zuma, also known as the Easy Crew” (my 2 year-old is watching Cbeebies)

Who is next to you?  Momentarily, the same said 2 year-old, who just hopped on my chair and typed some gibberish (because he ‘can’, the little bully). Beyond him is a Tupac portrait and a Finlaye Quaye poster (I missed his Jo’burg concert and liberated the poster from a street pole).

What shoes are you wearing? Adidas flip flops

Coffee or Tea? Two black coffees (on a good day) and one green tea, daily.

Do you have a morning ritual? Lie in bed at 5:30 and think about my day (resisting reaching for my phone, while I consider that I actually should be meditating); amuse the 2 year old; fire up the noisy espresso machine (the missus loves this, as she tries to sleep in); trim my beard; watch the news and Supersport Blitz (while listening to talk radio); get cleaned up and ready for the day.

Are you one of those people who brush their teeth in the shower? Sometimes, when I am late. This happens more often than it should. I am working on it.

Can you remember what you dreamt of last night? Almost always, never.

How many sugars? None.

What moisturizer do you use? Michael Mikiala Men.

I’m really good at one-on-one engagements or small groups. It’s the ‘High Reactive’ in me.

If only I was better at effecting my endless stream of ‘watershed’ ideas.

Are you happy with your progress in life? Today, so-so. My happiness with my station in life oscillates.

If your job was a person, how would that person be? Schizophrenic, on the move, frustrated, anxious, deliriously happy and hyper-creative.

Jo’burg needs its citizens to stop defaulting to ‘energy’ whenever they are asked what they love most about their city. We have much more imagination than that.

What is your favourite magazine? That would have to be plural: Port, Fantastic Man, AnOther Man, Smith Journal, Plaza Uomo.

Whose chair would you like to sit on for a day? Again, plural: Jefferson Hack, Olu Odukoya, Jop van Bennekom, David Adjaye, Tyler Brule, Cornel West, Dr Chinweizu, Dan Crowe, Allasdhair Willis and Teju Cole among others.

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When is your brain on its best behaviour? After Coffee.

Every writer needs Sitzfleisch. The Yiddish term for the ability to sit in one spot hour upon hour until the job is done. David Remnick has this in spades. So did JDilla and Marcel Proust (perhaps he took it a tad too far).

Do you have a retirement plan? Yes. Author/professor/activist living on a farm somewhere on the Wild Coast.

I was born in Durban on March 7 and the weather was fine

My favourite city outside of South Africa The best recent memory I have of a city that impacted me was Beijing. I went in winter (not a good idea) but even in that bitter cold the sense of industry (and the number of miniskirts on the streets) was astonishing. The diversity among young people living there was also a revelation. I met Russian dancers, South African business consultants, Nigerian club promoters and Scottish pilots.

South Africa should stop referring to the Republic as ‘this country’. It is OUR country. This is a particular affliction for radio talk show hosts, it’s a throwaway term underpinned by so much contempt.

Did you vote? Of course I did.

20 years of freedom is a good milestone for reflection on our failure to truly integrate as a nation. When Nelson Mandela died, half the people paying tribute to him had never even attempted to walk this long road to real reconciliation. And they don’t intend to.

I wish I didn’t worry so much

Do people meet you or do you meet them? I always set out to meet people, to be totally in that moment (and I have to be because of my mild ADD). Reciprocation on their part is a welcome bonus.

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An extra ten minutes or an extra zero? As a small businessman, I’d say more zeros please. You can always buy an extra 10 minutes.

What books are you currently reading?

Mo’ Meta Blues by Amir Thompson and Ben Greenman.  I’ve been trying to finish this since late last year, I keep going back to earlier chapters and getting carried away with checking references. Revisiting Go tell it on the mountain by James Baldwin. He would have turned 90 this year, a huge influence. Nostalgic waves from Soweto by Sol Rachilo.  I was introduced to him by a writer friend many years ago and he knew my work. I was bowled over. African Intellectuals in 19th and early 20th century South Africa edited by Mncebisi Ndletyana. I hosted Dr Ndletyana in a discussion for Bl!nk Magazine in the early 2000s and was astounded at how much incisiveness and clarity there was in his thinking.

The last film you watched was A documentary called Fantastic Man, about a Nigerian music producer come evangelist William Onyeabor.

The Sea or the Bush? The sea.

Describe your dream home Large, open plan (with hidden private nooks) with lots of laughter, old records on the turntable and the smell of something hearty on the stove.

I speak the following languages isiXhosa, English, isiZulu, Setswana and Afrikaans. In that order and with diminishing competency.

I wish I could speak the following languages Setswana (as in improve drastically, I am a Motswana born in Zululand and grew up in Xhosaland); French; Swahili, Mandarin and Portuguese

What does history mean to you? History is a treasure-trove of learnings we rarely tap into.

I miss my childhood.

Mathahle makes me really happy

My hidden talent is singing (seriously)

My signature drink Steph Weiss and various whiskies, The Macallan being a favourite

A recent discovery is Moses Sumney. Stripped down soul, unforced, unfettered.

A woman is everything we need.

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Follow Siphiwe on Instagram and Twitter @siphiwempye and visit his website www.randomwindow.co.za

// Comments (2)
  • Lerato says:

    Ahh man. My cousin actually ‘borrowed’ most words from one of Simphiwe’s eds letters from Y-mag for an English speech. You both write very well.

    “South Africa should stop referring to the Republic as ‘this country’. It is OUR country. This is a particular affliction for radio talk show hosts, it’s a throwaway term underpinned by so much contempt.”…The reason I don’t listen to talk radio.

    Thanks for the innerview. Keep being great. 🙂

  • Kgomotso says:

    Really enjoyed this. I share the love for Y-Mag and admiration of Siphiwe. I still remember the first issue with TKZee on the cover! Thanks for this

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