“I wanted to create in real life what I saw in my mind” – words spoken by Lesotho’s own Kaizer Matsumunyane during a discussion I had with him recently. Film Producer, Businessman and Lecturer, these are some of the hats donned by the owner of one of the freshest spots in town – “Café What?”. His journey portrays perseverance and exemplifies how, despite adversity and infrastructural obstacles, one’s pursuit of passions can, and does result in success.
We had a word about his journey, the challenges he has surpassed, and his new place – “Café What?”!
Q: Café What? is a fluid and collaborative art space that is coupled with an open ambiance. It has already showcased a wealth of local talent. Given the positive response, would you wish to someday develop a chain of similar spots across the country with a view to decentralise Maseru as a key Arts hub?
A: Maseru has traditionally been the focal point and centre of everything in the country. Decentralising operations and scarce resources to other districts, amidst the infrastructural debacles. becomes a big challenge. Our existing systems and structure become a major obstacle. Other districts lack resources as they do not get support from those with powers to do so. This is the biggest challenge to decentralization.
Q: Filmmakers, photographers and performing artists alike are usually people with an affinity for story-telling. When did you realise this is your core craft? Did anyone in particular influence your choice of film as your preferred communication media?
A: I remember I had a small book when I was younger, in which I wrote a cowboy story. Every time people came to visit my father, he would show them with such pride and tell them I had written that story. For me, that was very encouraging. I think that’s why parents have so much influence on their kids. They can break or build them, and for me his encouragement made me pursue this because he saw something in me, and he was always excited. Seeing him proud encouraged me.
I also remember there used to be this Parkside and Kingsway Cinema. I always went to these places alone, and I think that was the true love of film which I was not even aware of at that time. Growing up and watching Yizo-Yizo, and then Teboho Mahlatsi, I was blown away and inspired. Then hearing Teboho Mahlatsi talking about what inspired him in terms of his stories, also talking about African authors that I love, it was like I could relate somehow to the books, and that was amazing. When one writes a story, there is a vision of it in one’s mind. I wanted to create in real life what I saw in my mind.
Q: Based on your roles as a lecturer, businessman, and a member of the Black Star Produxions collective, it is evident that you do not view challenges as a ceiling, and as such your journey is constantly evolving. What advice would you give to our countless young aspirant artists and/or entrepreneurs in Lesotho, who have been discouraged by barriers to market entry or otherwise, and are told that they are dreaming too big and none of it is possible in our landscape?
A: I think it’s really challenging and things can be hard. I’ve experienced moments of anxiety where I wonder ‘What did I get myself into?’ But that’s when I say, let me just keep going. We all have our plans in terms of the journey we take but things will happen; one may not reach the best of desires but can achieve other successes. I think here in Lesotho, while we sometimes do support each other, we don’t do it enough.
We are a very homogenous society which does not really celebrate difference. If someone wants to do something, people don’t really encourage it. I have one life. I don’t want to feel like I didn’t do this or that because of people. Abandoning own goals because of others, or from fear of the unknown, gives the worse feeling. I would rather say I tried, than to say I was afraid. For me, I also have my family which is a great support system. I think on any journey, one discovers and learns something about him/herself, draws lessons and experiences growth.
Q: Looking back at your own trajectory, what would you tell your younger self to do differently?
A: I wouldn’t say do things differently, because everything that I have come across in my journey has contributed to who I am. I think I would tell my younger self to be more willing to take risks, more chances, to be less afraid. To believe in myself more. Fear is always there, it’s part of life. Yes, to take more chances.
Q: What kind of limitations and challenges did you face while you were establishing yourself earlier in your career?
A: There was very little support for studies in film and the arts. I remember when I applied for varsity sponsorship, being told that Arts did not fall under the Manpower (NMDS) portfolio. That was very hard. But I didn’t give up. I kept going back every day. It was a whole group of us going to apply, and people would give up and leave throughout the day, to the point where I’d be left alone with the cleaning ladies. Eventually the Director noticed me, and as we talked he told me I should rather try the following year. Since I already had the varsity admission, I insisted and pleaded my case. It worked out! It was a blessing that I got to go to film school.
Q: Are there any lessons that you drew from having encountered those challenges, which are applicable in the resolution of obstacles you face in your current journey?
A: Not giving up on what you want. I’m not really one for talking about religion because to me it’s individual and personal but yes I have a very strong faith and relationship with God. It’s complex and unique but most importantly it’s a freeing one because I know He accepts me as I am.
Q: Business owners are always looking to advance and expand the scope of their market reach. Of the workshops, film screenings and other events that Café What? has explored thus far, which venture excited you the most, and why?
A: All the events we have had have excited and inspired me a lot because it’s like discovery for me; meeting new people and seeing what’s possible. I have seen so much talent and that blows me away. Everything has its own quality and value. What excites me is people collaborating and creating new work from having met here, which is why this space was created.
Q: Café What? currently offers a range of beverages, including craft beers. Do you foresee possibly hosting promotion events for reviving locally emergent concepts such as the Africa Beer Festival?
A: The problem with the Africa Beer Festival was that although I had friends helping me with what they could, it was mostly on my shoulders and it was really hard to do without support. The Ministry of Tourism and LTDC did help sometimes with what little they had but it was heavy. That’s when I decided to look into creating a space where such events could be hosted. I’m looking into collaboration, finding how we can work to find ways to add value for other people. People have events they want to host but lack space so it’s important to me to offer this space and collaborate.
Q: Beyond the coffee and the menu, what do you hope to share with your patrons?
A: A spirit of creativity, an artistic spirit, of collaboration, entrepreneurship, excellence. A spirit of working towards the betterment of this country. There’s so much infighting and corruption; people think to get anywhere you have to be linked politically. I want people to rid themselves of that mind-set. Café What? is a safe space where people can come together. Very importantly, it’s a space where you can be yourself. Like I said, in Lesotho we don’t encourage diversity. I just want to encourage a space where you can be free. I’ve seen it here and I love it.
Q: Limkonkwing University has addressed a deficit in our local skills sector, by providing access and exposure to programs that were previously unavailable. How do you think Basotho can foster and promote creativity, artistic expression and entrepreneurship, beyond formal classroom settings?
A: I think the problem is we start too late. We only introduce things like entrepreneurship much later in schooling. So for most of your life you’re brought up in a society that says an office job is the only way to progress. I think we need to start encouraging an entrepreneurial spirit from a young age. We need to teach kids from a young age about entrepreneurship; start fostering creativity and have creativity classes beyond just kindergarten. We cannot say to our graduates be entrepreneurs when all their education there was nothing to prepare them for entrepreneurship.
Q: Your thoughts on our youth
A: They have so much energy and so much access to information; the world is closer now, and they know what’s going on in every part of it. I just wish there was something to harness and support that energy. They have really good energy and I believe they have the potential to effect great change.
He followed his aspirations, pursued his passions in the Arts despite minimal support for them in Lesotho, and has now succeeded in providing a much needed platform for artists and creatives in our country. As with all journeys, Kaizer has had his share of hurdles. Tenacity, faith and self-belief have helped mould him into who he is today. Beyond the inspiration it endows, he is also a testament to everyone’s capacity to create our own life templates, and not allow limitations encountered to dictate our narratives.