Danny Mooka is a young storyteller. He understands the importance of telling the African story in a way that is authentic and empowering. And he has brought it into the 21st century by immortalising these stories on film.
For far too long stories about Africans have been told by people who do not understand the culture. That is why Danny has made it his life’s mission to tell their story in a way that honours the life they lived.
Storytellers used to be revered oral historians. They used music and dance to tell stories of times gone by, keeping cultures and traditions alive and passing them down to the next generation. They also provided entertainment and taught important lessons about everyday life. Typically, storytellers were older members of society. Danny is breaking that mould.
Meaningful storytelling is not easy to do in a world obsessed with instant everything; instant coffee, fast food and instant dates via apps like Tinder. Not convinced? In some countries the popular reality TV series Married at First Sight is in its eighth season!
We all have a story to tell but how you tell it is a skill; some do it on Instagram, others use YouTube. Others, still, use Facebook to get their dose of validation and recognition. If instant fame is your aim, Danny is not your man. But first, let me tell you a story about him.
After university, Danny attempted to make a name for himself in the corporate jungle. All it did was convince him that he was in the wrong profession. So, he resigned and used his savings to start Tsela Tsweu Holdings in 2013. He wanted to continue the storytelling tradition his father had started years earlier through the medium of film.
He had been closely involved in his father’s business and was inspired by the stories of ordinary people living extraordinary lives. One story made an impact on him. He heard a war veteran talk about his life in exile, how spectacularly unglamorous it was and the hardships he had endured in the fight for a free country. It was a story that begged to be told.
“It made me realise that the whitewashed versions of history in South Africa were no longer acceptable and that as an African I had a responsibility to change it. My generation and the generations that follow deserve to be told the truth,” Danny said.
Centuries ago Africans enjoyed a cultural diversity as they travelled throughout Africa and interacted with other Africans. This was interrupted when colonisation began in the 16th century and arbitrary borders were created. The natural inhabitants of these lands had no say in this, nor in the way history portrayed them in a single narrative.
“It’s time to let Africans tell their own stories. They don’t deserve to be spiced up or manipulated to make them more palatable for the moviegoing masses,” says Danny.
He is excited that Tsela Tsweu is a part of this process of change and has worked hard to ensure that the right people work on the right projects. He is also adamant that the businesses he collaborates with share his values. Danny is currently working on a platform that will share these stories with the world. But that is a story for another day.
He has valuable advice for those keen to start their own business. “Firstly, don’t be afraid to work hard. Secondly, be passionate about what you choose to do. Your passion will motivate you when you are stuck in the grind. Thirdly, make sure you can see the end result and persevere until you make that goal a reality. Fourthly, be discerning about the projects you take on. Don’t assume every open door is an opportunity. Some projects look too good to be true and usually are. Trust your gut and walk away. A business is not a get-rich-quick scheme. There is no instant success.”
The advice he provides may sound simple, but it’s helped him survive the tough, early years. He has had to make difficult decisions, like cutting his losses and moving on when one project did not work out and reducing his costs drastically when the business was going through a particularly lean season.
But the challenges also motivated him. He had the words Envision. Work. Achieve tattooed on his arm to remind him of the goals that are still ahead. Danny Mooka is an old soul. He loves what he does and is always looking forward; the name of his business should have given us a clue.
Tsela Tsweu is a Sotho blessing that can be interpreted in two ways: “A clear road ahead or best of luck on your journey.” A reminder that the best stories have yet to be told.