I should start this by saying I don’t know Babes Wodumo and Mampintsha in person nor do I know anything about their relationship outside of what has been made public. I have watched, danced to and sang along to the rise of Babes Wodumo over the last year with wonder and a great deal of excitement. Last week, ahead of the BET’s, I watched their visa drama unfold in dismay with the rest of the country and I was struck by a revelation. As a nation, Mampintsha and Babes are ushering us into the future with their story of imperfect black love. Hear me out.
There’s no getting around it, everything from Qhubekani/Ninomona-gate to the 50 days late visa application was a mess and we hope it never happens again but here’s why I believe they are ushering us into the future. A future where black love in all its forms and often unpolished appearance is visible and allowed to just be.
When Babes Wodumo first made her mark on the music scene, it was not just her nimble dance moves that made us sit up and take notice; it was her audacity to be herself so publicly. We were mid 2016 and the internet community was at the height of the #blackgirlmagic and #carefreeblackgirl trends but there was a type of girl who was noticeably absent from the narrative and underrepresented. Instead, the universal symbol of carefree on the internets had a septum piercing, cute tattoos, flowers in her shea-buttered afro and waxed lyrical about feminism and self-care.
Closer to home, we know that that girl probably went to private school/model C and ‘carefree’ is more likely a carefully chosen and curated aesthetic. The original carefree black girls are the Babes Wodumos of our neighborhoods. The girls who owned the dance circle at any party and weren’t bothered with what anyone had to say about what they choose to wear or their choice in lovers. When we were introduced to Bongekile Simelane on TV with her blonde wig and all round “ghetto” appearance we nodded in recognition. Her presence was imperative for the full South African picture which has been dominated by a palatable, easily consumed upper-middle classed blackness. Purely by being visible she humanized and brought to the mainstream a kind of young black womanhood that has been missing from our screens since Lebo and Brenda left us.
Mampintsha and Babes as a couple too are a couple we recognize intimately. They are not the Maps’ and Nomzamos or Zakes and Nandi’s of the world – not by a long shot. And more importantly, they are not trying to be. They can be messy, they make spectacles of themselves often, they don’t have that nasal inflection in their English but what they are is genuinely into and happy with each other. There is room in the dominant conversation that seems to prioritize middle classed blackness for them as well, especially considering that theirs is a relationship that represents and resembles far more of what exists in SA.
I do think they should have pre-empted their stuff-up by employing professional services but in the same breath, I understand their distrust of professional services. I understand their distrust of many establishments which is what led to their outburst after the SAMA’s. I understand their attempt to follow their dreams on their own terms even though they ended up with eggs on their faces. When you think about the long history of South African artists from the townships who sign away their fortunes to labels and ‘professional services’ – I understand their caution.
It’s easy to get on a middle classed high horse and laugh publicly at the simpletons who didn’t even know that you need a Visa to go to America – oh how very cultured and well traveled we are. However, we forget that we too have not always known this and where many of us come from and still return to – many do not know. This knowing of ours doesn’t make us any better nor does it mean we can judge the ways others learn – even when the stakes are as high as they were in this instance.
There has been plenty of criticism of the relationship too and I think this is perhaps where we need to take several seats. This policing of black relationships between consenting adults is played out, granted the power dynamic in this specific relationship is slightly concerning but it still has the right to exist and do so publicly.
Now that they have done the right thing and enlisted the service of a reputable PR firm, I hope they continue to stay visible and sip on ‘better-black’ tears as they laugh all the way to to the bank.