Zwelethu Radebe on not being a palm tree
There is an African proverb that reveals that man is not a palm tree that should (and can) exist in absolute solitude. At surface level, the proverb teaches us that it is almost impossible that we have the capacity to survive on our own without community. If you dig deeper, you will find that the proverb also tells us that like a palm tree that exists alone, pride will consume you. A palm tree towers over everything in its surroundings; pride does the same. The traditional African people lived in a society with systems that tried by all means to make no room for man and his ego. For example, if one man brought home the biggest meat, there would be no praise that would distinguish his result from others and ultimately make him feel like a better man than others. We are all because of others therefore we cannot be consumed by pride. At the core of the Metropolitan My People. My Everything campaign is exactly the message in the African proverb. When one is applauded, it is crucial that they call on everyone who made their achievements possible to the stage. In addition, this sentiment is shared by Zwelethu Radebe, award winning director of TV commercials, who believes that what helped him climb the ladder to success are the hands of others who wanted to see him go further. Read the article below to find out more about his beginnings or dawn, his journey of creation, his projects and how these came to life.
*all words written above are the words of SA Creatives
No man is an island and as individuals we owe our successes to the people around us. The proverb “it takes a village to raise a child” rings true in that either consciously or subconsciously we have grown by the influences of those around us. It is important to take the time to reflect and acknowledge the people who’ve positively influenced our lives. The recent Metropolitan My People. My Everything campaign is centered exactly on this; on taking the time to reflect on those who have influenced you along the way and actually cause you to ask yourself “where would I have been, had it not been for them”. The inspiring campaign encourages South Africans to celebrate their collectives. It kicks off with a TV advert that pulls at the heart strings directed by award winning TV Commercials Director, Zwelethu Radebe from Egg Films. He shares about his own collective, the inspiration behind the project and the execution thereof.
Where did you grow up and who would you say forms part of your collective?
I grew up with both my parents until my dad passed away when I was 14, so my mother remained a single parent after that. I’ve got two sisters and a brother. We are a close-knit family. The passing of our father brought us even closer.
A lot of my life lessons I learnt through my connections with people from the streets and those I met along my life. A lot of my friends were car guards and there was a particular car guard I could open up to about the questions I had about life. I learnt a lot just by listening to his story.
How did they influence your choice of career?
I count myself lucky, always knowing that I wanted to be a filmmaker, and my mother and siblings have always been supportive along the way.
Describe a moment/s or interaction/s that you believe formed part in enriching your life today. What was your takeaway from it/them?
My primary school headmaster, he once said to me in a classroom, while reading, that he had a vision of me in front of the camera, reading the news. What I understood from that was that he saw me doing something influential. I was a very shy child then and didn’t think I had a loud enough voice. That stuck with me and helped me become less of a shy guy.
Another moment was when my friend’s mother took me to an interview at the film school I went to. My mother wasn’t available to take me. The support was in the fact that nobody said I couldn’t do it. I had my own self-doubts in my ability to do film. They didn’t doubt my capabilities.
How have they influenced where you are now?
You’re sowing a seed in someone’s life when it changes the way they think about themselves. That moment with my headmaster made me feel different about myself. Their belief in my potential made me see myself in a different light.
What kind of influence do you think you have had around the people that are around you?
You have to reciprocate what you’re getting. My mom is always doing a lot of things in her medical profession and I still support her when she’s trying to do something new. I try and be there for them if anyone wants to talk or just listen. And being able to help in any way that I can in their endeavours. Basically, encouraging them in whatever way I can.
What would you like them to remember your for after being in touch with you?
My dream has always been to tell narratives that celebrate the African continent and doing so authentically. That’s what I would hope to be remembered for.
How do you think your interaction with them made an impact on their lives?
As a professional, I really like collaboration. I hope I inspire someone else to do the best that they can do. If we all do the best we can, we can do something great.
What tools or opportunities came through from your collective?
My headmaster said I should join the debate team. Then, in college I was given an opportunity by a producer in the TV commercials industry to learn from the directors at a production company. I had a mentor, Mpho Twala, who taught me about commercials and what film making in commercials is all about.
I came across another opportunity at Egg Films. I spoke to one of the directors who identified a talent in me. He’d watched my film, ‘The Hangman’, and wanted me to join them at the company.
What was your vision for executing the commercial?
I directed the Metropolitan TV commercial with Melusi Tshabalala, executive creative director from Black River FC who conceptualised this great idea. When thinking about the execution of the film it was important for me to identify a human truth. What stood out in this story was the spirit of Ubuntu and gratitude, and that this can be more than an advert in the traditional sense. It can teach the lessons of thanksgiving. Have we actually said thank you for being the people we are today as a result of those who’ve raised us, and those who have been part of our journey? I hope it does that for audiences when they watch the film.
What inspired the vision? What did you enjoy the most about working on the project?
Some of us were raised by grandparents, uncles, aunts, neighbours, single parents, etc. that was a great point of reflection for me and what I wanted to put in the film. So, the vision became how do I make that feel authentic and real. This was well executed by the cast that reflected that very reality and brought a wonderful relatability to film.
I enjoyed being able to make something that evokes emotion and working with actors. If you have a good enough cast, you can trust them with what they have to do. Getting the cast right makes the job easy.
What does the campaign mean to you?
It made me introspect in a positive way from beginning to end. It simplified how I can give thanks. This can be as simple as giving someone a hug and telling them you love them.
What would you like people to take away from the commercial?
I hope the film gets people to also self-reflect. The film has enough to positively influence people. It should make them feel good about the people they have in their lives, like, a grandmother or neighbour – people who have positively influenced them. You need people to succeed in life, you can’t go through life by on your own. You need people to steer you in the right direction. The successes in our lives are not completely our own. It is the people who have positively impacted our journey however big or small, that have contributed to our achievements.