Perspectives: My experience as a Swenka

IF YOU GOT IT, FLAUNT IT: THE SWENKAS. CREDIT: CHRIS SAUNDERS

IF YOU GOT IT, FLAUNT IT: THE SWENKAS. CREDIT: CHRIS SAUNDERS

 
 

SIPHOSETHU SIYABONGA NGOBESE, 36, EXPLAINS WHY SWENKA IS A SUBCULTURE WORTH PRESERVING.

Swenka is more or less modeling. We dress in suits of different colors and we match – you wear a shirt that has to match with the shoes and with the socks. The colors must be matching.

And then you walk – you walk as if you're modeling.

On stage, you take off your blazer and show what you're wearing. You lift up your trousers to show that the socks you're wearing match the suit. Everything has to match – even the belt. You do that in style, with different poses to express confidence. You smile, you do whatever feels good.

And then you turn. You don't just turn any which way. You turn with style.

Swenka is something that started a long, long time ago. It's part of our culture, the Zulu culture. It keeps young people off the streets by keeping them busy. We even compete on the weekends, and it helps some people to earn money. It's why I'm proud to be a swenka and I'm confident in swenking with all my heart.

Our father started swenking when I was young. When I grew up, I was always watching my dad, who used to go compete with the other dads in our area. And there were always some young groups that were my age in the rural areas.

I've been swenking for over 15 years and I've gained a lot of experience. It's fascinating because swenka is growing every year. Competitions now are even sponsored by the government sometimes. We go all over the country so we can show kids what swenking is. Some of us have even gone overseas.

 

“I'm empowering people, and that's what keeps me going.”

 
 

We may only be 10 people when we go somewhere but you'll find that there are huge amounts of people who approach us and tell us that they love what we're doing, that they love the clothes and our movements. They ask how they can join.

I have around 10 suits. We may win them in competitions, but mostly we buy our own. Because some of the people who are swenking are unemployed, it becomes difficult to have more suits – some only have just the one because they're financially struggling.

But when we're in competitions, or if we find a sponsor, we'll take the money and buy someone a suit among us. We pick out a person and decide that this month, we'll put so much money in for someone to buy a suit. If you need shoes, we'll make sure that you're matching. It makes that guy happy and encourages him to attend more swenking competitions.

When I think of izikhothane, they are actually just wasteful. How can you buy something with a lot of money, and then tomorrow, or even the same day, burn, shred and destroy everything? This was great quality and new, and now you are burning it!

Izikhothane came after swenka, and it's like they're against the swenkas. If you can look at the two activities, everything we do is completely different. They dress smart, expensive, with all these new clothes. But they destroy.

We're not destroying. We would never destroy. Our parents would never destroy our suits – they would keep it for the next generation. How can an upcoming generation see what happened 15 or 20 years ago if you just destroy everything?

I don't think I could spend one day as an izikhothane. Even if I was making millions, I could not allow my child to do that. Not ever. To me, it's a fruitless culture.

I won't stop being a swenka as long as I live. It's in my blood – nobody can take it away from me.

I'm a leader here in swenka, and I feel privileged to be honored with that position. I'm empowering people, and that's what keeps me going and inspires me. It's not only about me – it's also about my family, my kids, everyone.

There's a new generation with new stars now who have a new system of swenking. Every year they're changing the style. But we need to make sure that we're in line with our culture. We must never move away from our culture.

Take a look at swenka style in the series by photographer Chris Saunders below, or see more on his website.

 
 
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