The definition and representation of the Pantsula subculture has evolved over the decades since its emergence. The subculture emerged in the 1950s and AmaPantsula were considered well dressed “gangsters” who had their own way of communicating. However the idea of their being gangsters has been disputed. It is also widely documented that the emergence of the subculture was a response to the forced removals implemented by the apartheid government, shortly after its rise to power. The subculture emerged in Johannesburg townships, particularly Alexandra and Sophiatown.
Prior to 1976, the majority of AmaPantsula ranged from the ages of 30 upwards. However the political shifts that occurred in the 1970s influenced changes in the subculture in terms of age and behaviour. The youth of the 1970s faced socio-economic issues, that still resound in South Africa today and becoming a Pantsula was one way of challenging authority and oppression at home. Following the Soweto uprising of 1976, the lifestyle and style of AmaPantsula became more popular.
Although the subculture’s behavioral patterns and age brackets have evolved, their love for fashion and dance have remained constant.
A large part of the subculture’s identity construction is based on dance. IsiPantsula is a syncopated and quick-stepping form of dance; its origins come from Marabi - a popular type of music in the 1920s and 1930s that influenced South African jazz, style and dance and to a great extent became a lifestyle.
The early dancers and dressers of the Pantsula subculture borrowed from the Marabi era and jazz musicians. However in the 1980s and 1990s as a new generation of AmaPantsula emerged, the style of subculture evolved. In the 1990’s the Pantsula subculture was closely associated with Kwaito music and the subculture and music genre correlated in terms of style, dance and music.
Within the subculture members of a crew dress identically and the attire is almost as essential as the dance. The key items are often khaki pants, Converse All Stars or Dickies shoes, a soft cotton “bucket hat”, also known as “ispoti" in tsotsitaal; however each ensemble develops its own distinctive look.
Featured here is Soweto-based dance crew Intellectuals Pantsula, with appearances from The Perfect Storm. Intellectuals Pantsula is also the company name under which award-winning Pantsula choreographer and dancer Teboho Diphehlo hosts dance workshops, corporate performances and Pantsula development and training etc. Lee Lenela is the female crew member featured, during filming she was one of two females in her crew.
Formerly, female AmaPantsula were known as Mshoza or AboMshoza. As the subculture emerged in the 1950s females were usually sexualized as accessories that accompanied the male Amapantsula, however with the rise of feminism in the 1960s, the role of the female has also evolved within the subculture, on the other hand as a historically male-dominated subculture, AmaPantsula ideologies are still centered in patriarchy, however by spotlighting females such as Lee, we hope that the ideologies become more inclusive with time.
G. Ansell, Soweto Blues Jazz, Popular Music & Politics in South Africa (New York and London, 2005)
M. Beittel, 'Mapantsula: Cinema, crime and politics on the Witwatersrand', Journal of Southern African Studies, (1990)
J. Seekings, Heroes or Villains? Youth Politics in the 1980s (Johannesburg, 1993)
J. Evans, Esquire. 2018. The Deeper Meaning Behind the Dress Codes of Johannesburg’s Pantsula Dancers. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.esquire.com/style/mens-fashion/a22804470/johannesburg-pantsula-dancers-style-fashion-clothing/. [Accessed 1 March 2019].
L. Winship, The Guardian. 2018. Pantsula revolution! How South Africa's townships dance got politica. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/stage/2018/oct/08/pantsula-dance-south-africa-via-kanana. [Accessed 1 March 2019].