Being an “influencer” is a category that has been attached to me and my work.
This is due to my public intellectual and activist work. I have over 32 000 “followers” on social media and my work has been featured in the opinion sections of South African news platforms such as City Press, The Daily Maverick and Independent Media. I am also asked to provide socio-economic analysis on radio and television.
Although I may fit some of the descriptions of being an “influencer”, my voice reflected in my writings, tweets and public speaking on racialised and gendered inequality in South Africa is not driven by a desire to be labelled “an influencer”.
Additionally, I am not part of social justice initiatives and movements for the sake of the “influencer” label. The call for justice is a yearning that I cannot ignore and if I were writing this essay a few years ago, I would stress my unease with owning the term “influencer”.
My unease was due to the connotations and baggage attached to the title, particularly in our current context. With the growth of Influencer Marketing, we are seeing the manner in which the “influencer” category is being individualised and monetised. Through the impact of social media, more and more young people with thousands of online “followers” are requested to promote brands in return for monetary compensation (including brands that are not socially responsible).
We have seen this in the fashion, beauty and entertainment industry. We have also witnessed political parties utilising young “influencers” and celebrities to promote their campaigns during elections, hoping they will attract the youth vote. Many of these young people are branded as being part of “promo” and “paid twitter”. Therefore, being a person who can be bought to promote a particular agenda, an agenda you may not believe in, has become synonymous with being “an influencer”.
This was at the centre of my unease with owning the term. I was not alone. I have met young activists doing amazing work in different rural and townships areas in the country who avoid sharing their work on social and mainstream platforms in order to escape being branded “an influencer”.
Their decisions are guided by their opposition to the individualisation and monetisation of their activism by the media. These young activists are solely concerned with their work, enhancing their impact and being active “on the ground”. I understand these concerns, however, unlike these activists, I understand the power of the media to shift conversation not only for individual or capitalist gains, but for social justice.
I choose to participate in public conversation through social and mainstream media because I have witnessed its power to influence how we organise for social justice. The #FeesMustFall movements, Black Feminist activism against rape culture in university campuses through the #RUReferenceList and #IamOneInThree are critical cases that showcased the collective power of our voices.
Through our tweets, videos and images, we were able to shape national conversation. We were also able to connect various campuses, where we shared messages and resources, broadcast our protest actions and put a spotlight on police brutality during these peaceful protests. Therefore, #FeesMustFall and #RUReferenceList were experienced “on the ground” as well as on social media, through our own devices and devising.
|I choose to participate in public conversation through social and mainstream media because I have witnessed its power to influence how we organise for social justice.|
Lastly, as a Black woman who mobilises with other Black women for social justice, the visibility of our collective work has become political for me. When we put on the news for political and economic analysis, our views and lived experiences are marginalised. When we enter our academic institutions and participate in the political sphere, the subjugation of our voices persists.
As Pumla Gqola argues, for us to continue working to dismantle systems of oppression, our African feminisms should occupy “an increasingly public face; what leads to failure are exclusionist, private or piecemeal tactics”. My plea to other young activists is don’t be afraid of visibility, don’t be afraid to be loud while sharing your ideas and work.
Although the might of the media can work to distort the intension of our daily work to drive their own ideological agendas, we also have the power to set and define our own narratives. We have the power to contribute to shifting our national discourse, be it through a tweet, posting a video or writing in opinion sections of newspapers.
How would we have learnt about the Black Consciousness Movement if Steve Biko and his comrades hadn’t been intentional about recording and distributing their ideas?
Do the same. Own your voices and our collective power.
About Simamkele Dlakavu:
Dlakavu is a Fallist and has recently completed her Masters in African Literature at Wits. She has been an active participant in student movements calling for an intersectional decolonial reality in South Africa. She is the former Media and Communications Manager for Oxfam South Africa. She has also worked as a human rights television producer on one of South Africa’s most popular current affairs shows: The Big Debate.
In 2013, she was one of the producers for BBC’s Question Time for a special episode on Nelson Mandela. She has co-created and participated in organisations that centre Black rural and township youth like Sakha Ulutsha Lwethu. Simamkele shares her views on current affairs and politics on platforms such as: City Press, The Daily Maverick and Independent Newspapers. In 2015, she was one of 22 young women selected to attend the African Women’s Development Fund’s “Writing for Social Change” workshop in Uganda.