Siyanda Mohutsiwa: Twitter is Not Dead

Posted April 27, 2016

​In 2015, satirist and journalist Siyanda Mohutsiwa started a conversation on Twitter that went viral throughout Africa. #ifAfricaWasaBar led to conversation that included more than 60K tweets. It also brought Mohutiswa to an international stage. There were articles in Buzzfeed and The Atlantic.

Her work landed her a TEDxAmsterdam Talk in 2015 and, a few months later, a TED Talk. When Mohutsiwa didn't have the words to properly describe a Ted Talk to her grandparents, she told them it was "when you teach white people in English."
  Mohutsiwa will be one of the speakers at Campus Party this year. We spoke to her about why Twitter is not dead in Africa, failure, and boredom. 

In the Netherlands, people like to complain that Twitter is dead. Perhaps because Dutch Twitter is so boring. Tell us why twitter is so important for your communication.

I think that Twitter works in Africa because of its format: short and communal conversation, allowing anyone anywhere (with access) to chime in to discussions that they feel strongly about. It does give us, even for a moment, a sense of importance in a world that often seems to ignore us. - We know you are interested in forging pan-African relations and pan-African ideas. How does technology help you do that?

For one thing, it is much cheaper to travel via people’s Twitter than to actually go somewhere, haha. So technology has definitely made connecting with other Africans much cheaper. But mainly it gives us the opportunity to learn from each other. Twitter can be a very intimate space where people can end up sharing more than they realize, and in doing that we get the chance to recognize a little bit of ourselves in each other.

In your travels, what has surprised you most about what you miss from home?


Like, you know when you walk into a bar or a shop and they’re playing music. Do you ever end up singing along to it? Or dancing a little bit? I do! And that’s what I miss: knowing which music is playing and it being my favorite stuff like South African House or Congolese Rhumba or whatever. I miss African music!

I especially miss hearing it at random

We've heard that boredom is actually quite important for creativity. Can you give us an example from your experience? Have you had a brilliant idea that seemed to come when it was least expected?

Oh, definitely! I’ve recently read two books that asserted this finding. Nicholas Carr and Cal Newport both present the case for boredom in “The Shallows” and “Deep Work” respectively. And I fully agree!

But we live in the weirdest time ever. It is really really hard to let yourself be bored if you do have access to the internet. And I spend (too much) time online for my writing and reading and stuff. But I do think if I let my mind wander a little I might come up with something cool.

I don’t know if I have any brilliant ideas! But I know I’ve had a lot of breakthroughs in my work from letting my mind wind down a little from all that constant stimulation.

Failure offers so many great opportunities for learning. It would be wonderful if you could share an example of a spectacular failure and what you learned from it.

​Well, I’ve not had too many colossal failures (outside of the exam room, haha) but I did apply for some programs last year and it didn’t work out, I also got rejected from a lot of papers in 2014 and things looked kind of dark for a little while.

But one thing I’ve learned from Rejection is, the worst rejection is the rejection of self and of ambition.

Rejection hurts the most when you’ve also rejected yourself, leading to you walking around thinking that’s all you deserve. I guess. I think that’s all I can think of right now.

#IfCampusPartyNeededAHashtag -- what would it be? Can you help us start a hashtag-based conversation?

What’s the theme for this year? Campus Party is such a cool name for a conference anyway. But I think we can think of some play with words or something for the hashtag, especially when we’re there already. I like to feel things out and figure out what phrase captures an atmosphere….

Siyanda Mohutsiwa. Photo by Bas Uiterwijk.

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