Durban’s asleep in the sunlight. It’s time to wake up.
Thoughts of an 031 expat
About a year ago, I took a break from all day ad life to work on a couple of projects which required me to be in Durban some of the time. Great, I thought! I can plug back into things, make some new connections and live a young creative’s life from home. I’ve been living in the Big Smoke since 2015 and had left for Rhodes four years before that, occasionally coming back to bask in nostalgia. Despite being worried that apathy seemed to have cursed Durban a little, I was optimistic – I mean even the Metros and the Loeries had moved here.
My first First Thursday at Station Drive was incredible, and I met people like Gabi Peppas from Zakifo and photographer Thanda Kunene, which was an eye-opener to a new Durban I was excited to befriend. But work-wise, I really struggled. I had the opportunity to work on epic projects and wanted to hire local – as I really felt Durban was way too slept on, but it opened a can of creative crises.
And before y’all reach for that ‘h’ key to call me a hater, bear with me and hear me out.
Copywriters were hard to track down, designers were late/ couldn’t take a brief, and getting an invoice through to pay the suppliers was painful. Once, a freelance writer submitted a release for a campaign where sections were plagiarized and it was late because “last night was heavy.” I’m not saying this doesn’t happen elsewhere, but it was crazy because they were referred by ‘friends of friends’ (a whole beast on its own) or local agencies – apparently the best the city had to offer.
What stung the most were the “that’s not how we do things here” responses I would receive and once I was told upon sending what I thought was firm but pleasant feedback – “don’t be a Joburg asshole”. That’s when I realised we are dealing with a mindset – a trend where complacency, cronyism in professional work, and minimal delivery is considered a kind of ‘chill chic’ and something of a Durban-only aesthetic. All this, when some of the best talent I know exists in the 031 – people who could potentially be ripping up the industry and doing the absolute most. On the flip-side of the expat coin, Abbey Hudson and Tyla Coppinger, of the booming arancini franchise, Oh, Risotto, recently moved back to Durban and decided to take a leap.
“Word of mouth counts for a lot here – we have a lot of people stopping by and going “Oh! These are those things that friend/family member/colleague mentioned”, which makes them a lot more willing to try them out. But we also seem to have limited fucks to give with regard to recurring events. Generally, people’s interest in things dies out very quickly,” says Abbey.
So we’re going in a good direction (as shown by their amazing clients) but more can be done. I asked for help, sat down and did what I had seen work in Joburg – open a Facebook group where Creatives could get together, share work, critique work, get work, give work and push. Overnight, Creatives 031 had over 50 requests for members to join and I was thrilled. But without me inviting people I knew, and my friends helping, the group soon become a weird space for people to share corporate jobs and gigs at the Winston, to literally no engagement. I couldn’t believe it. Confusing, considering groups like I Know A Guy (which, as the name suggests, helps people connect with others), sees countless posts daily and has grown to over 46 000 members, which the admins call ‘family.’ Sure, people often recommend their mates who don’t deliver and internet urchins promise the return of a lost lover – but for the most part, it’s awesome. So I gave up and continued to work against some sticky conditions.
Despite this, there are still some magicians working on the East Coast. Besides the few I’ve mentioned, there is a crop of established and upcoming creative entrepreneurs who are pushing past the cloudiness and making it happen anyway. Sheshela Maduna is the founder of Yoga in the City and a string of other successful enterprises. Experience has taught him this:
“Best advice I’d give to young creative & entrepreneurs looking to make it in Durban is to collaborate, collaborate & collaborate! Collaborate in concept, in resources & in a database.”
So it looks like this dynamic can be changed – where the Zakifos and Oh, Risottos and Yoga in the Citys are the norm and not an exception. Tyla agrees.
“Honestly, there’s never been a better time to start something small in Durban – there’s a lot of support for small businesses and for new businesses,” she says.
So let’s get to work. Maybe it is about us being a little more hardcore about critiquing shit work from our mates, or forgoing the 100000th Botanic Gardens show to support a local artist or venue. Maybe it’s about those of us who have skills making more spaces to share with creatives who aren’t in our crew.
It’s time Durban took its seat at the table – and that Durbanites at home and away reclaimed the infinite creative possibilities.
Binwe Adebayo is a black girl bomb with too many ideas, sneakers and bookmarked Kanye interviews.
She is a sometimes journalist, who has written for City Press, Dynamic Africa , The Con and AfriPop amongst others. By day, she is the lead Creative Strategist at Retroviral where she cooks up oddball campaigns.
Catch her regular clapbacks on Twitter @BinweA