South Africa has a timeline of xenophobic attacks dating from 1994 to a few weeks back. This has happened in different areas where South Africans have taken on the mission to use various methods in dehumanising non-South Africans who hail from different corners of the African continent. This is caused by the legacy of Apartheid that has left many blacks in South Africa poor and reliant on white-owned businesses who do not have enough capacity to employ everyone. This has made it challenging for South Africans to interface with Africans from other countries who often thrive to create anything from nothing in order to maintain survival, even though it means accepting an employment position South Africans would reject, like hair braiding and tailoring.
Among the people who are at risk and have experienced their occupation questioned are Xitsonga people who are commonly known as “Shangaan” and are as South African as any other tribe in the country. Shangaan has become a dangerous, derogatory term of stigma which places Xitsonga people under the same banner as foreign nationals living in South Africa. If you are from outside South Africa you are labelled as Shangaan and if you are Tsonga you are automatically assumed to be a foreign national.
As a rapper, Maya Wegerif, known as Sho Madjozi, has captivated and inspired something rare in the South African hip-hop scene by rapping in Xitsonga and proudly shining values and norms that build up to her being proudly Tsonga and proudly African.
This has given birth to an exciting outlook to Xitsonga culture and what South African hip-hop sounds and looks like.
Sho Madjozi, also known as Maya the Poet for her poetry, started playfully uploading videos of herself rapping in Xitsonga and she experienced a surprisingly positive response from her followers which motivated her to take it seriously. Sho Madjozi does not define this as a transformation but another adventure she has embarked on as a writer.
Although she went to college in the US, this young artist strives to be anything that paints her culture in a bright light. She says the period spent in the US made her more African, she came back more mature and ready to be herself.
Since her breakthrough rapping career and collaborating with other popular artists, she says the best message she ever got from a fan was one that said, “Before I had heard you rap in Tsonga, I used to hide the fact that I am Tsonga and even changed my Tsonga name.”
In her raps, Sho Madjozi goes back to how much she loves partying, how broke she is, and criticises people for not living their best lives. This, for her, means embracing all that she is.
“I don’t know any other self that doesn’t speak Tsonga and that does not dance xibelani.”
For Sho Madjozi, art is the best hope we’ve got as African people. For someone who has travelled to other countries within the continent, she notes that travelling is a necessity. Leaving South Africa taught her so much about being an African and a realisation of belonging in the continent and not just a single country. “We sometimes forget that we are part of the continent,” she said.
Tanzania was the genesis of her realization that she was an African and not just South African. Senegal was a great place for her to hide, to be someone else while searching for what she wanted to do. “I did everything there, at some point I was selling second-hand clothes. I mean, I really became resourceful there and the people in Senegal, my god they’ll take your breath away.”
In terms of the collective artistic culture that is circulating around the continent, she states that Africans are on the right track. She places admiration on people like Wizkid who have steadily become staple acts abroad. With this observation, she notes that one day there will be no distinction between African stars and superstars. All superstars will be from everywhere. This would mean Africa claiming its well-deserved spot as a people who are conquerors and unapologetically themselves.