Very few people have the gift of making you walk away from a conversation with them feeling like you were talking to an old friend. This is how I felt after I learnt about Mpumelelo Mfula’s story, popularly known as, Frypan on the streets of Johannesburg.
This young creative was born & raised in the East of Johannesburg, Vosloorus. He has a presence that many dream of and a mind that is refreshing to pick on, which has given him a vigorous perspective on a lot of issues.
When he was jokingly teased about having strong opinions about things, Frypan answered “That's because when I say something, I have thought about it before. I counter-argue things in my head so by the time I say them, they have already been refined”. This seems to be one of his best traits, along with his love for entrepreneurship.
He started selling sweets in primary school and was fascinated by the idea that he could buy sweets & the amount for which people bought them multiplied. This inspired & nurtured what has now become one of the best driven young creative and business minds in our country.
What exactly inspired the name “Frypan”, pronounced “Fry-paan” and what does it mean? Mpumelelo explains that the name is derived from ghetto lingo in his neighborhood. It is a language that is coded that only people from there will fully grasp. You say the first syllable of a word and twist the second one into anything, “Fri-pan” which could mean “Friday”. He goes onto explaining that this nickname was in fact supposed to be seasonal but got popular on Facebook & as a result has since stuck.
Mfula has a prodigious perspective on ubuntu. Though his general idea about this isn't very traditional, it's quite clear than he's a great feminist and believes women need to be given more leadership roles, society needs to find new models of expansion and we ought to learn new ways of reason.
Let's Play Outside (his on-going campaign) is an idea of having people collaborate and expand their market by sharing its motto “play together, win together” Frypan explains, in the nguni language it means ‘”Masidontse kanye kanye” which means let’s stand together and work together because if we work together, we win together. Pop-culture influences this heavily, as it contains four elements that hold great significance to the youth, such as;
Local brand businesses,
Social sports and,
“Imagine traveling around the four biggest four cities in this country hosting festivals and having these ideas shared, people collaborating and sharing ideas. The first workshop started as a conversation, which then progressed to having been extended to 5 workshops. The last one held 150 people and became successful” he explains. This seems to have triggered some attention as an advert was created shortly after that to keep the motion going, which was then followed by several tours and several documentaries.
It is easy to get confused if you’re not a follower of Frypan’s hustle; The Playground is his mobile, multi-functional furniture business which creates furniture under their campaign Let’s Play Outside, both are driven by Returning Home to Create, otherwise known as RHTC, his online street wear store. Though this entrepreneur initially had trouble sustaining his business, he was approached by Puma South Africa to manage their Johannesburg stores. This was a great opportunity and he learnt a lot from the experience. He knew however that he had done all he could with them when he decided to go back to his own business. He adds that he learnt to have a great appreciation for furniture after having worked at Puma, that helped him develop his mobile furniture business, The Playground, along with his partners Computer and Sanza.
His businesses got us to speaking about “Kicks” a movie he recently watched. This is a movie he felt he could relate to. A child speaks about how he feels as though he's the only one that's not cool. He goes on a journey, saves up money to buy Jordan 1s; these get stolen from him, he then works hard to get them back. He relates to this character because, just like him, his parents also couldn't afford to get him things and as a result, he felt he wasn't cool. It was only when he started selling sneakers that he got to be recognized. Through this he learnt what respect was, being an underdog and working hard got him to where he needed to be. The same people that bullied him in school are the same people that walk into his store, asking for advice.
In the creative space that can be so pretentious, often times fast paced and ever-changing, how does a person remain sane and what keeps one going? Mpumelelo states that nothing is more important than having a support structure, people that believe in you. Frequently you need someone to talk to and someone who will speak life into you. Additionally, he says, having a sense of belief, a higher anchor that you believe in.
This made me wonder, with such a strong resume, who is Mpumelelo the son and Mpumelelo the family guy? He comes from a family of 6; 3 siblings, his dad and his step mother. He confessed to having lost his mother at a tender age of 5 years. He grew up living with his aunts and uncles like most black families are structured. He didn't however at any point feel like he didn't have a mother he explains, his family has always been full of love & raised him well. The current situation in the country however has had this influencer do a lot of introspection. His mother was raped and murdered just like we have witnessed over the past few months in our country, women and young girls being violated and abused. Mfula recently got a tattoo of his mom on the posterior of his left hand, he understands that this means that he may never get a corporate job but he feels it's important,” I get it, the notion that "men are trash", my mother died on the hands of a man, and it's unfortunate that I am now only getting to experience it with my female friends that are going through the same thing”. It's a shared reality but that's sadly something we need to confront. “Rape he adds isn't about sexuality, it's about power, my mother was outspoken and confident, and I imagine this is why this happened to her. Things have suddenly made sense in my life, the picture has become 360.”
Pain changes people & it also unites people. I’ve seen only a few layers of what makes Mfula extraordinary. His mind and his passion about social issues are only but a number of things that make up who is he. I hope people read this story and are inspired, not to be like Frypan but more of who they are. To strive to be better human beings, to question society and its laws, culture and its laws, but more importantly, to live a truly remarkable life that also worth writing about.
Photography: Obakeng Molepe
Writing: Kgomotso Taukobong