Youth Month

Emerging Voices: Disruptors from the Cape Flats use social media to bring about change in their communities

By Suné Payne, Aphiwe Ngalo and Hlumela Dyantyi 22 June 2018

Laverne Maart and Shanice Appels. Photo: Aphiwe Ngalo

Shanice Appels and Laverne “HippKhoi” Maart are two young women who grew up on the Cape Flats and who are using social media to make a change in their marginalised communities. They spoke to Daily Maverick about their communities and what it means to be a young coloured woman in South Africa today.

Shanice Appels and Laverne “HippKhoi” Maart are strong, young coloured women from the Cape Flats who are social media activists but also do work where it counts most, on the ground.

At 16, Appels, now 20, started the Cape Flats Princess Project in memory of her dead mother. Founded with only 20 girls from a children’s home on the Cape Flats, over 200 girls took part in the project in June 2017, which consists of regular workshops that tackle issues such as sexual abuse, peer pressure, gangsterism, drugs, alcoholism and child killings.

These are issues that are faced by many young women who live in areas on the Cape Flats such as Hanover Park, Mitchells Plain and Manenberg.

Hailing from Mitchells Plain, Appels said, “In the coloured community you can’t really speak about these things {issues faced by young coloured women}. Little statements that your parents make can silence your voice and they don’t even realise the impact that that statement has on you as a young person. Many young girls turn to social media when parents shut them up. That’s why social media is so powerful.”

Social and community activist Shanice Appels at a protest. Photograph: Supplied.

Appels uses Facebook for her social activism campaigns. In one of her campaigns, she talked about the abuse that young girls endure in the community, especially at the hands of family members.

When young girls who have been molested by family members speak out, they are often shunned and labelled as being “ougat” and accused of asking for it. In defiance of this, in one of her social media posts, Appels said “she is not ougat.”

At the beginning of June 2018, Appels started the “Meisie kyk hoe lyk jou hare” (Translation: girl, look at your hair) campaign which tackles hair politics and stereotypes within the coloured community.

Appels uses her Facebook account to explore stereotypes and hair politics, including the ideal of straight long hair and how many women and girls aspire to it. Appels hopes that she can make a change in the lives of young coloured women.

At 26 years old, social activist Maart also hopes to make an impact on the lives of young coloured women. She is founder and director of the Cape Flats Fashion Council, Engrave Magazine and Kwaai Kolour. Maart is also a model, actress, singer, stylist, poet and consultant at Woolworths Financial Services.

Maart developed the nickname “HippKhoi” when she entered a talent show a few years ago. She said she wanted a stage name for her poetry that would represent the hippy phases that she has been through in her life and would also pay tribute to her Khoi ancestors.

Born and bred in Hanover Park, Maart said she often distanced herself from her community growing up because she felt that she could not identify with many community members.

Maart would often spend most of her time in the city centre or the “cool spots” of Observatory and Claremonts. She felt more comfortable pursuing her artistic interests there, among like-minded people, and she could proudly wear her brightly coloured green hair.

As soon as she’d go back home, Maart would be labelled as doing “wit mense goete” (Translation: white people things) and would often feel alienated from community members who did not understand her creative interests. Maart said she associated her community with gangsterism, a space that she did not want to be in, and even though she would try many times to escape Hanover Park, something would always lead her back home.

Social activist, model and stylist Laverne “HippKhoi” Maart. Photograph: Supplied.

She recalls the lightbulb moment that altered her perception. “A friend and I were celebrating the last day of filming our doccie for this SABC thing we did so we went out to this club in Obs. I picked up an iPhone 4 in the bathroom, it was off so I put it in my bag so I could charge it and find the owner.

As I’m charging it at work the next day, suddenly two cop vans show up, this 16-year-old girl is accusing me of stealing her phone. She had traced the phone from Hanover Park to my work and the security knew that I was the only one from Hanover Park in the building.”

Maart continued, “ I was so afraid I’d get arrested, and also so upset. Why would I steal her phone? I had an iPhone 7 at the time, the sim card was still in the phone, it was charging, I was just trying to help.

There were two cop vans outside for a lost phone, but people are dying everywhere. There are massacres in the flats (Cape Flats), but when we call the cops because people are being abused, they don’t come to us.

Actually, why weren’t the cops making a fuss about this 16-year-old girl who was in the club illegally? That moment changed my life forever. I realised that I had created this little world for myself where I was surrounded by people I felt safe with, but the world was not what I thought it was. Things were so disconnected. ”

She realised then that she had to make an effort to reconnect with her community. She realised that she had created a powerful platform for herself with her social media influence and networks in the entertainment and fashion industry and she would raise issues that affected people on the Cape Flats, but she never really did anything about her community. She decided that it was time to do act.

Maart founded Engrave Magazine in 2017. Engrave magazine is a youth culture publication published via the online platform, Issuu that lends a voice to small community creatives who are decolonising the creative space, but do not necessarily have access to popular media publication platforms.

As editor-in chief, Maart aims to provide a platform to these creatives. Contributors come from communities in Cape Town, and extend to Durban, Johannesburg and Port Elizabeth. They have released three publications so far.

Maart also sells Kwaai Kolour, a low-cost, no-chemical, hair-dye product for natural hair that she created herself.

She sells the product online through her Facebook page Kwaai Kolour. The hair-dye pots can be used for two to three treatments and are R100 each.

Maart was inspired to create the product after seeing that a lot of girls in her community were afraid of colouring their hair because they struggled to find hair-dyes that were affordable and would not damage their natural hair.

She loves the growing movement of women who are vocal activists and are growing large groups of following. She argues that the internet is providing a platform for a lot of marginalised people and coloured people who can now share common stories.

Commenting on Youth Day, Maart speaks about a Facebook post that she had released containing the names of 20 coloured people from Cape Flats who died during apartheid and were part of the anti-apartheid struggle. Her list included Anton Fransch, the former Umkhonto we Sizwe commander, who died in a seven-hour gun battle with apartheid armed forces. Fransch’s death is labelled as one of the most heroic apartheid deaths.

Maart said that it was very inspiring to see people who looked like her and sounded like her that were part of the struggle. She argued that SABC needs to make more of an effort to showcase these coloured heroes such as Fransch that many do not know of.

SABC has an archive of the coloured community but they don’t play it. We appreciate the Soweto Uprisings but there’s more history, must they play it every year? They know many of us can’t afford DStv, they must just gooi something together for coloured people.” she said.

Appels shares the same sentiments about Youth Day commemorations, saying that coloured heroes are often forgotten in history.

Youth Day is supposed to be this celebration where everyone comes together and speaks about all the sacrifices and what everybody fought for back then, but then you also go home and listen to what your ouma said, and you know that their stories were not told.”

She continues, “In high school you are taught a whole textbook, but then where are the people that also fought in the coloured communities? We have a history teacher, Miss Pamela Bernado who was in Grassy Park at the time [of the 1976 protests].

She would teach in class while she was pregnant, and when police came looking for students, she stood in front of the students so they wouldn’t get shot, she was pregnant. She also used to hide students away. But no one knows about her.”

Appels draws inspiration to be an activist from her father who was an anti-apartheid activist and United Democratic Front member. Appels has been involved in many situations of conflict and violence between communities and the police as a community activist. She shares one of her more recent protests.

During May 2018, protests erupted along Prince George Drive in Parkwood in Cape Town’s southern peninsula over land, after backyard dwellers settled on an open piece of land. Appels said the protests were planned in secret, away from the eyes of the area’s ward councillors and were meant to be peaceful.

Friday came and everyone was calm. And Saturday came and I went. I remember still taking my camera. I recorded a few stories and there was a lady, I won’t lie to you, she has cancer. She was telling me, with tears in her eyes, she was going to die before she gets a house. But she has a grandchild, and she really wants to know that this child will be in a home.

Everyone was just peaceful, this one lady, she’s 75, she was telling me that ‘she’s tired, just tired…’ It was 2 o’clock in the morning and four police cars just parked.. And they took videos of us.”

By 7am that Sunday, Appels posted on Facebook. “The police woke us up with tear gas.”

The protest that Appels said was meant to be peaceful, ended in violence with police forcibly removing the protesters from the land.

Appels said, “It is important that coloured people aren’t only labelled for Nike tracksuits and tik because there is more to the history and culture of being coloured.”

She said there are issues that her community faces daily and she hopes to push for change in her community, through her activism and social media platform.

Maart and Appels are disruptors in their communities. They challenge the norms and stand up for the voiceless. They could be tomorrow’s leaders. DM

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