On 31 October, I was on my way to Soweto as I See A Different You’s Vuyo Mpantsha and Fhatuwani Mukheli together with Scottish Leader, had invited the press to a celebration. An exhilarating activation unfolded as these beacons of the industry unveiled one of their latest projects in collaboration with Scottish Leader. The Soweto Heart, Scottish Leader whisky, designed and crafted in collaboration with creative minds. What could be a more fitting place for the official introduction of Soweto Heart whisky than the spatial and cultural tapestry that informs the roots of its creation and a part of Vuyo and Fhatuwani’s embodied experience; Soweto itself? The activation unfolded as a tour embarked upon in a cast iron, six cylinder Gusheshe convoy. I hop onto the front seat of the Beamer, elated–I’d never been in a Gusheshe before. I had never heard such thunderous allure rising out of a vehicle I was sitting in, this was a moment of magic. The kind of moment not often lived twice. I strike up a conversation with the driver and owner of the vehicle, a resident of Soweto, Michael Chauke. “Yeah, these cars, they make everything stop in Soweto,” he says with a smile. “We call it the God of Soweto”. Michael’s words ring true as I watch passers-by run to the road we are on to have a closer look and share their words of adoration.
The first leg of the experience is a tour of Credo Mutwa Cultural Village. A late afternoon wind softly cradles our limbs while we listen to our tour guide share slices of Soweto history. The urban settlement went by many names in its early days, and as he reminds us, these were predominantly names sprung from the institution of coloniality. One such a name was Kliptown. In 1959 the apartheid government ran a competition to find a single name for the region, which, according to them, was won by an Indian woman who came forward with the name Soweto, an abbreviation for South Western Townships. He continues to articulate that individuals who lived there “hated the name Soweto.” The naming of Soweto, however, was truly formulated by Tshehla Phahlane (a journalist), who then gave it to the aforementioned woman over a bottle of whiskey in a bar. The reason for his sharing of the name was less of a choice and more a result of the circumstances of historical inequality; as black people were not permitted to enter the competition. After this introduction and a trip up the Oppenheimer tower, which symbolises all 49 townships in the region, which has since been consolidated into 32 townships, we are steered towards the entrance of the cultural village. Located at the centre of Soweto, Credo Mutwa Cultural Village takes on a multidimensional role as an outdoor museum, an exhibition space and a space for traditional healing. The sculptural works and buildings were constructed by the traditional healer and African artist Credo Mutwa between 1974 and 1986. The space is a site of duality between African traditional religion and westernization.
Our next trip in the roaring Gusheshes takes us to a clearing. In a circular formation people congregate to watch. I can’t see what all the excitement is about initially, that is, until I make my way to the front of the crowd. There they are, the Skhothane dancers showing off their best dance poses as their bodies rhythmically bounce to the music drifting from the open doored taxi. Their moving bodies complimented by bicycle riders motioning in and out of the makeshift performance stage. I am completely entranced by their movement; by their love and I stand in awe. The scene quickly transforms as a man from our group on a four wheeler starts riding in a circular motion. From there the scene goes wild with anticipation as the crowd runs towards a spinning Dolphin Beamer. Moving bodies, closer, and further; the potential danger is absolutely exhilarating. We jump into our grey Beamer with Michael as the sun starts to set and he plays us amapiano to set the tone. We cruise to our last destination–the after party.
The after party takes place at The Box Shop on one of the most famous streets of this country, Vilakazi street. We are met at the entrance with a glass of Soweto Heart whisky; that contains a hint of milk chocolate to appease the South African sweet tooth. We mingle until it is time to officially introduce the creation to the public. Once again, I see the familiar faces of Vuyo and Fhatuwani and they share some words about the project and their home with the audience. They lead our eyes to an ice sculpture. Chiselled into the huge ice blocks are the silhouettes of the pair. They pour some Soweto Heart into a holder at the bottom and from the mouths of these sculptured figures a fountain emerges. Amazed by the sight the crowd erupts in claps of appreciation. Dinner is served with a variety of options and with each serving accompanied by a sentiment of homeliness. Finally, the stage is taken by BCUC assuring that the experience comes full circle.