It was like nothing you had ever seen before.
Thousands of young South Africans flooded the streets of Braamfontein, bringing the Johannesburg neighbourhood to a standstill. They were chanting, ranting and dancing down Juta Street, passing Kitcheners and Great Dane. Eyebrows were raised in traffic, Twitter users were questioning what was going on. I recall driving through Johannesburg that day and one of my co-passengers rolled down their window to draw attention to someone in the crowd, and asked “What’s going on here?”
“We’re on our way to Uncle Vinny’s party” replied one youth before blending back into the crowd.
For many people 24 April 2021 was the day that they were able to appreciate the magnitude of Uncle Vinny’s influence. On his birthday, the 19-year-old inspired dozens of thousands of his biggest fans to join him for a bash like no other – and they turned up!
His rise to that point had been well-documented but people (i.e. us older folk) still didn’t understand how influential the young culture curator was.
By the time Vinny had turned 16, many of us were already curious about this young, yet stylish, “kid” who all of the famous celebs loved hanging out with. Riky Rick would not hesitate to call him up on stage. Major League DJz adopted him as their little brother in their entertainment-based family. His following on social media was rapidly escalating. All while growing his influence in his own unique manner.
Many elders questioned – Who, exactly, was this Uncle Vinny? Capable of mobilising the masses and sparking trends at will.
The answer, as we soon found out, was that he was and is a visionary.
Uncle Vinny has shown, through his rapid rise, that he has the foresight to identify a new direction, and the determination to reach it. You might simply call it leadership.
Viacom CBS Networks Africa’s Culture Squad was assembled in order to reach and inspire the youth in different ways. In Uncle Vinny, they have found a different kind of leader. Not one who walks the paths which others have long-established, barking orders along the way and demanding that people follow him.
Instead, he looks where nobody has gone before and leaves a path of his own.
As we saw that historic morning in Braamfontein, it’s a path that young people are definitely willing to follow.
Uncle Vinny: The new-wave leader
How would you describe the youth of SA in 2021?
I feel like the youth of South Africa is very, very vocal. I mean we’ve tackled so many issues on social media that, in the older days, would never get spoken about. Things like depression and mental health for example. We are vocal, and we are not afraid of anybody. We praise you if you are right, we call you out if you are wrong. We are great.
What are the youth doing well, what could we be doing better?
I feel like a lot of young people are doing a good job of opening businesses, opening franchises and just not being afraid of entering new spaces in their careers. People now aren’t afraid to study broad subjects like fashion design and other creative mediums.
What does it mean to you to be part of the Viacom CBS Culture Squad, knowing thousands of young South Africans get to look up to you?
It feels amazing! I mean this is one of the greatest opportunities I have gotten in this year and I am extremely grateful. I really just thank God, I thank the team at Viacom CBS Networks Africa, and of course my followers and fans.
A lot of people look up to you and your ability to always be yourself. Is this a characteristic you hope others can learn from?
I think people must always be themselves all the time. There’s no book or instructions to this thing. You just have to trust and be yourself, do what you’re comfortable with and it will work out. At the end of the day people only want the real you. So if you are yourself, the truth always comes out.
One thing that people admire about you is that you’re one of the biggest trend setters in SA – but you have your fun in a clean way. Do you believe the Culture Squad can influence a generation of young people who party and enjoy themselves responsibly?
People who enjoy themselves and party responsibly actually know what’s going on. I don’t believe in this stereotype that people who party don’t have direction in life. We as the Culture Squad are showing the youth that you can actually juggle fun, and juggle work at the same time but you must never forget where you want to go in life.
You’ve inspired a whole new culture among the youth. How do you build a community and how do you turn it into its own culture?
Firstly, the only way to inspire people is to be yourself and stand out from everybody. When people go right, you shouldn’t be afraid to go left. But it must be the right left! And if you go left, you’ve got to do it bigger and even better. It’s just got to be your swag and your style.
What resources are young people in SA lacking the most?
We lack access to education. A lot of kids don’t have access to different types of careers.
We also need access to the right conversations. Being able to have conversations that expose us to different stuff.
What do you predict your generation will achieve in the next 20 years?
There’s going to be so much radical change in the next few years! Once you start seeing more young people in parliament and in positions of leadership, that’s when we will start to see real change in this country. Young people have the fire to actually change whatever is happening around them. We bring life and energy and we can shift moods. We have a lot of hope that we can clean up the country.
We can’t keep waiting for people to save us, we’ve got to save ourselves. What can we as young people take into our own hands in order to have a brighter future?
Young people must be willing to connect with elders. There must not be isolation, or a gap between them. If we work together, we can definitely achieve the best results because both the new generation and those who have come before us have a lot of wisdom to share. When we have a fair opportunity to share, we will do remarkable things.