Maatla Seetelo – The underdogMaatla Seetelo
Everyone loves a good success story, but what’s even better is one that has the main character faced with seemingly impossible odds, yet somehow manages to come out on top.
My journey is one that represents, if not fits this narrative and I would like to believe that it is not unique to me as this is a lived experience that many in our country go through but few make it to the other end. Unemployment was rife and still is, being in the thick of it at the tender age of 24 with literally no plan but only a vision and dream of being part of the media industry in its infancy. I wanted to participate meaningfully, I had so many ideas that felt so tangible but reality would often times fill me with hopelessness which led me to pour my attention into pastimes that offered instant gratifications as a means of escape.
But the dream kept knocking and the anxiety of wanting to fulfil it didn’t make it any easy on me. When I looked at my surroundings, the feeling I would always get is I live far away from everything but that didn’t detour me because I was always so keen and open to try new things and venture out, I was exposed to and I developed a love for graphic design. The market for it was there and the demand was high. I pushed gig posters for event organisers in my hood and I’d often work off my friend’s desktop and my brother’s laptop when he was home a novice but clinically surgical with the execution.
I eventually landed real a job with a cool brand at the time. I was one of their ambassadors and this opportunity gave me the much needed confidence to explore myself more. I found myself frequenting Braamfontein, Johannesburg’s creative hub, and mixing with the freedom-of-expression-canvas kids, the colour-your-dreams-you-got-this kids, and you-are-your-only-limit style, culture and street vibes kids. The experiences offered me a lot of eye opening insights into the different ‘’underground’’ street cultural movements within the art/creative spaces and how we were all the same and yet so different in many ways.
While hanging out at home, my then girlfriend rings me to let me know that I should be on alert. There’s a potential call regarding a graphic design job offer for me in the works. I’m frantically elated and pacing with all sorts of questions running through my mind and before I could gather my wits the phone rings and on the other end is the chance to change the course of my life forever. We exchange pleasantries, I answer a few questions then an invite is extended, I accept and confirm details. Fast forward to the day of the meeting, I’m embraced by the incredible Tshidi Modikoane Mbele and right there and then I knew I was in the right hands. The interview was incredibly short and certainly impromptu yet the end result was and still is glorious. I grabbed the opportunity with all that I had. I was ready, willing and able to learn as much as I could and just like that I was knighted the title of junior graphic designer and with this my first project on the spot, the rest is really history. Over the years the road has seen testing challenges and like any other start-up business Kwambele went through some rough patches. Very trying times indeed that had me questioning what my next move would be but by grace and clinging to the dream, I persevered.
2014 in my personal journey set the tone for all that followed and it’s truly been a blessing. Thinking back to where I come from and where I am, I can with confidence say hard work, commitment and staying true to oneself pays off. I remember how I held in high esteem the prospect of studying through wits, I mean that was like the epitome of greatness set before a brother… if only I could attain. Finance wasn’t something that was readily available at home but with the turn of life’s events, my vision and dreams aligned instead of studying at wits I ended up lecturing a class every week to 3rd year journalism honours students for the Wits Vuvuzela a student led newspaper of the University which appears in both printed and online formats, teaching what I learnt, imparting that knowledge and the skills’ practical application was such an extraordinary feeling for me.
My confidence has never known a greater boost, this has allowed me to plough back in my community and give young people the opportunity that I was once given. I first did this through the Instagram style guide magazine called e’Plazini. I let aspiring graphic designers and writers to run with the platform to document and shape the content in such a way that it represented them authentically. This led to me taking on more youngsters and exposing them to real life work experience within Kwambele and the opportunity to prove themselves was presented. I am proud of everyone that I’ve made contact with, a lot has happened for me from when I began my journey, and it’s all thanks to Tshidi for her continued support, encouragement and nurturing. I’ve developed both as a creative and an individual, 2015 exhibited my work as part of the iPhoneography exhibition that took place in JHB and CPT. In the very same year I was named graphic designer of the year by Creative Nestlings. The forward momentum didn’t stop, I worked alongside leading creative teams from big name organisations and brands conceptualizing, creating and designing. With all the experience, knowledge and skills set I am now the creative director and shareholder at Kwambele Social Marketing this has not come easy by far but has been a beautiful trek. One I would not trade in for anything. The foundation we’ve laid as a business speaks to who we are and we build upon that with likeminded clients, partnerships and the kind of employees we bring on board, many of whom I’ve had the honor and privilege to groom. We practice what we preach at Kwambele, we make it matter.