Escape From Wakanda: A Story About How We Stayed Alive After the Global Citizen Festival in Joburg

It’s dark and the street is filled with young people trying to get home. No one can find their ride in the endless queue of motionless Ubers. The atmosphere is tense and chaotic, people looking at each other with distrust. Sneaking a peek at Ama’s phone, we see our Uber guy is just behind the petrol station we’re approaching.

As we try to make our way to him, a thick wall of people comes tumbling down in the opposite direction. A woman rushing past warns us in a hushed voice: “don’t go there, they are robbing everyone!” We walk back to the gas station, unsure what to do next, in a strange silence with the occasional scream.


Image: Security camera footage of us and all other people trying to escape the petrol station scene after Global Citizen Festival

Then, to our right, a sharp ripping in the crowd. A stampede of panicked people is speeding our way. We are getting squished on cars like mosquitoes. Car mirrors break off. We hear the warnings — “They are wielding guns right there! Someone got stabbed!” But there is no space to go anywhere. Stuck against a white car, we push to make our way out, consider looking for cover behind the car, look around, decide it is safer to just run. We clutch each other’s hands and the hand of a woman we just met, then start running back in the direction of the stadium.


Image: The Carters on stage as seen from our balcony

How did we get into this
mess? Just an hour before, we were on the VIP balcony of Global Citizen Festival, jumping around like fools to Beyoncé and Jay-Z’s performance (the actual VIPs on the balcony did not jump around but rather watched us, unamused. As mothers of young children though, we have to utilize any chance to party. Also, it’s Beyoncé).

Moments before that Oprah was on stage, asking the crowd why we can’t just all get along. Pharrell Williams performed (@Pharrell if you see this, we have this great ocean project we’d like to tell you about!). Nelson Mandela’s family. Ed Sheeran. Usher. D’Banj. Presidents, children of revolutionaries, compassionate millionaires, solution-oriented celebrities, large commitments. There will be social change, gender equality, an end to poverty. We got lifted to higher heights. Let’s change the system!

Mind you, we are believers of systems change. Devotees, even. Just a few days before, we were giving workshops to national Ministers from different African countries on systems thinking and positive change. On how mind shifts and leadership drive transformation. On how we therefore can’t just focus on the events on the street.

And then you find yourself in an event on the street. And you are scared. And you experience first-hand the clash between what we preach and what happens in reality. What it means if you do not have a helicopter or private car escorting you out. The minute we walked out of this stadium of dreams, which was like a Wakanda come true, we were engulfed by a hard reality. The situation was a metaphor of the problem at large: history created structures that benefit the lucky few, the structures reproduce inequality, inequality gives space to violence and despair.

The strongest ideas are the ones that are resilient enough to survive the challenges of reality. How might a beautiful vision influence reality more directly, rather than juxtapose it? An answer may lie in big ideas generated with our heads in the clouds and our feet on the streets.

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