From almost dropping out of high school to focus on his rap career, film and TV master’s student is participating in leadership programme to benefit his production company.
A Wits master’s in film and television student is headed to the USA after winning a spot in the Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders.
Siyavuya Mfenqa will take part in the six-week programme hosted by the University of Delaware in Newark – starting on June 16 – that brings together young leaders from every country in sub-Saharan Africa to the US for academic and leadership training.
He first applied for the fellowship in 2017 after completing a diploma in dramatic arts the previous year at the Durban University of Technology (DUT), but his application was unsuccessful. He decided to apply again in 2022 while pursuing an honours in film and television at Wits University because he “felt ready” adding that “the work I’ve done over the years was sufficient enough” and now, he is in the 2023 cohort. “This time around I was more confident, and my work spoke for itself,” he said.
He said he was looking forward to gaining leadership skills that he can implement in his production company – Ntuli Films which he named after his clan names – and networking with others in the programme. “My dream is to grow my production company into one that employs young creatives in the country and tells authentic African stories.”
The 28-year-old filmmaker was born in Kokstad, a KwaZulu-Natal town on the border with Eastern Cape. He said that he used to write songs in high school and perform them at school functions. In grade 10 he “wanted to quit school and become a rapper”.
He is currently working on a master’s research project on cancel culture which is “the mass withdrawal of support from public figures or celebrities who have done things that are not socially accepted today”.
Mfenqa’s research focuses on how certain individuals in the entertainment industry have been shunned for things they have been accused of doing in their personal lives and how these have tarnished their professional reputations. He added that “Cancel culture holds people accountable for their actions but it can also be detrimental if people are wrongfully accused.”
While pursuing a diploma in dramatic arts at DUT which he completed in 2016, he realised that he enjoyed writing more than he did acting because “acting does not give you the platform to tell your own stories and to be in control of the narrative”. He decided to come to Wits six years because “I wanted to move to Joburg and felt that Wits would be the perfect fit for me.”
Last year, the KZN Film Commission funded his trip to Rwanda where he pitched a film to distributors at a festival hosted by the Rwanda Film Office – where filmmakers from all over the continent pitch their ideas to large distributors such as M-Net and Netflix, in hopes of obtaining information and assistance with promoting and developing their audiovisual projects. He received endorsements from distributors for his film.
“The film that I took to Rwanda and am currently working on is a film I wrote six years ago. I’m still working on this idea because I believe that it is going to change my life.”
He told Wits Vuvuzela that being committed has helped him get this far. “Sometimes you stay without a job, but you feel that you have this million-dollar idea, so you keep pushing”.
Throughout his six years of being in the film industry, he has worked as an assistant director on various productions such as Imbewu: The Seed on eTV, and Gqom Nation on MTV Base.
Presently he is working as an assistant producer for Yellowbone Entertainment, a Safta Golden Horn award-winning film production company.
Theatre director and actor Othembele Nomgca who is Mfenqa’s friend, said, “Siyavuya’s way of writing and telling a story is very authentic …”, adding that Mfenqa “goes into detail over things that people usually overlook”.
Younger brother, Yongama Mfenqa (16) who is currently in grade 11, said although the family had concerns about Mfenqa’s choice in studying drama regarding “what it will do for him”, they started being more supportive of his career “after seeing him on MTV and BET.”
Nomgca added that “Siyavuya is a genuinely caring person and very funny. One thing he is not though, is agreeable. He does not just agree to anything to please anyone.”
The once aspiring rapper has managed to make quite a name for himself in ways much greater than his high school self could have imagined.
FEATURED IMAGE: Siyavuya Mfenqa at an orientation workshop for the Mandela Washington Fellowship at The Capital Hotel in Sandton on June 1. Photo: Supplied