CAPE TOWN – A South African superhero who prefers fighting inequality rather than villains is going down a storm as Cape Town hosts the continent’s largest pop culture, fantasy and gaming festival.
Captain South Africa, a star of Comic-Con Cape Town, is a far cry from her US counterpart.
Unlike Captain America, the superheroine would rather tackle the country’s housing crisis than beat up baddies.
The black injustice warrior, who sports a bandana in the colours of the South African flag, is the brainchild of Bill Masuku, a comic book artist who divides his time between his native Zimbabwe and South Africa.
“She is a political superhero, non-violent and a diplomat,” Masuku, 30, explained to AFP.
“She doesn’t punch criminals. She’s fighting a lot of systems. Like, how do you fight poverty? Because you can’t punch poverty.”
The evil facing Captain South Africa is not a fictional villain but real life problems rooted in poverty and inequality, which remains entrenched nearly 30 years after the end of apartheid.
“It’s a modern-day exploration of what South Africa could be,” said Masuku.
The story of his heroine is rooted in Masuku’s experience as a student at Rhodes University, in the southeastern town of Grahamstown, now called Makhanda and which was shaken by protests over an increase in study fees.
“I was inspired by the people I went to university with, these protest movements that asked for political change that didn’t incite violence,” he said.
“And by the women I was inspired by, I had to write their stories in the way I knew how, which was comics.”
Three years later, Captain South Africa was born — with an untamed shock of black hair and initially garbed, like Captain America, in red and blue.
She then migrated to a second outfit, “white with stripes, which represent her Xhosa heritage. People stop and are like, ‘Oh, this is a Xhosa woman. I’m a Xhosa woman. I’m going to buy this. I want to see what this is about’.”
Captain South Africa has so far starred in 10 books, selling nearly 5,000 copies — a small but passionate following.
Abigail Backman-Daniels, a 23-year-old student dressed as a Valkyrie from the Thor movie franchise, said she was delighted that American-style superheroes were now getting a local makeover.
“I honestly think it is just long overdue,” she said.
“It’s definitely so amazing to see it come to African countries and seeing how they adapt the tropes for the different climates, and the different like societal contexts of Africa.”
The first South African superhero, Kwezi, emerged in 2014 at the hands of Loyiso Mkize.
Loyiso Mkhize and his superhero creation Kwezi © RODGER BOSCH / AFP
“I think we’re approaching a golden age where things will really start to show… to define what South African comic books are,” said Mkize, 35.
“This is now the dawn of our storytelling, and there will be a style that’s attributed or associated with South African comics.”