Writer, poet, cultural activist, urban culture historian, film/TV producer, events organizer and creative consultant Thabo Lehlongwa.

Welcome to the freak show

We profile Thabo Common Man/Mothofela Lehlongwa, accompanied by the illustrations of elusive Johannesburg-based Eastern Cape native Sizwe Nombande who describes himself as an 80’s kid, sumo master and artist.


Lehlongwa gives us The Freak Show:

welcome to the freak show
witness the power of our control
get mesmerised by the black story on show
black bodies displayed on a free fall
landing deep in the core, the bottom
the abyss of our stronghold
only darkies are guaranteed comfy seats in front rows
make sure you grab your remote control

black screams and wide smiles
wet dreams, white grimes
black thieves, white crimes
black stories, commodified
black culture, white vultures
dreams we shatter, and lives don’t matter
what matters to us is the bottom line
you know why?

coz black is cool, cooler than ice
that’s what keeps this human zoo alive
from sara baartman, to nicki minaj
shaka zulu, to django unchained
we still have you living in a cage
your branded lives nicely packaged
curated in multi-media digital spaces
sold back to you at a special rate
thank you for your support
please come back again

we love it when you don’t listen to your sister
warning you about the system
of modern slave auctioning,
supported by the new slaves
civilized negroes suffering from extreme whiteache
hungering for versace and other designer clothes
golden chains, diamond teeth and expensive cars
creating a glittering oasis of your freedom
we got you, we really got you

we don’t mind you dancing to cover your mental scars
coz your existence fulfils the purpose of our amusement parks.
from mr bojangles to dr malinga
james brown to MC hammer
you blacks can really entertain us
anything you do can sustain us
from your joy and pain
to your black pride and rage
amiri baraka to kendrick lamar
tuks senganga or tupac shakur
we don’t care about your lost prophets/profits
your coded messages get decoded in our systems
what we care about are the numbers of your followers
that’s why we like it when you
turn up, blaze it up, party, and bullshit
cameras, lights and action, say cheese
welcome to the freak show
and enjoy your visit to our galleries

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“The inspiration behind the poem, briefly, is looking at the way black pain is curated and packaged. It is content for a lot of media houses, we all hear how the world is hard for people of colour, the other thing is we’ve all seen how the performance of black people and the display of their anguish has created an industry. It is a lucrative industry; it is a show where darkies are the actors but they don’t own the stage. It is about ownership of spaces and our existence. It is about us as black people having to perform to survive,” Lehlongwa says.

Lehlongwa is a writer, poet, cultural activist, urban culture historian, film/TV producer, events organizer and creative consultant.

He started writing his original works/lyrics in 1991 and his introduction to the music/recording industry was in 1994, when he featured on Robbie Malinga’s debut album, Kumnandi and Zulu R&B pioneer Sifiso Fakude’s hit single Like a King.

He has been published in a number of poetry you’reals, newspapers, magazines and other publications in the development and creative sectors.

His spoken word works have been shared in clubs, streets, schools, radio,TV, churches, prisons and international conferences.

Between being a member of YFM market research team in 1995, and co-developing the South African Literary Awards (SALA) concept with the award-winning arts and culture journalist Themba ka Mathe in 2004, Lehlongwa got more involved in youth/community development.

He founded Youth Against Crime and Poverty (YACAP) in 1996, developing programs where he shared his poetry with those in prison, schools, the unemployed and out of school.

In 1998, he joined the South African Graduate Development Association (SAGDA), where he handled the social desk, facilitating extra classes and mentorship programmes for high school learners and linking SAGDA’s programmes to YACAP’s mission.

He subsequently joined SANGOCO (South African National NGO Coalition) in 2000, where coordinated and facilitated numerous workshops, conferences and produced cultural events of major international conferences such as NGO Week, World Conference Against Racism (WCAR) and World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD).

In partnership with Xolela Mangcu and Nkosinathi Biko, he co-created Biko Foundation’s flagship programme Expressions of Identity in 2001, where the first Steve Biko lecture was launched, with Fanyana Mazibuko, a veteran Sowetan educator as the keynote speaker.

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In the same year 2001, Lehlongwa played a pivotal role in facilitating the funding process that brought a monumental international Hip Hop project, Black August Tour, which featured Dead Prez, Black Thought, Talib Kweli and Jeru the Damaja.

From 2003-2005, he was the spokesperson of Black Sunday; a Soweto based hip-hop youth movement that organized hip hop gatherings in community spaces such as parks and halls, and that’s how Black Sunday got to host international artists such as K’naan and Guru, who were participating in the 2005 UN Global African Hip Hop Summit, which he was part of organizing.

Lehlongwa has also produced a number of documentaries under Sidewalk and as a freelancer, including the SAFTA Award- winning A Blues for Tiro, about the life of the BCM member who was the first South African to be bombed by the apartheid forces outside our borders.

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