Youth Day: Saving Soweto

2014-06-16 08:00

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In 1976, a black superhero was unleashed on Soweto. Comic freak Percy Mabandu steps back in time

The Cold War saw the East and West vying for power over the rest of the planet. With the world divided between US and Soviet Union spheres of influence, pop culture became a site of conflict too.

The US went so far as to help finance cartoon characters to win over black South Africans and encourage them to say “no” to communism. This was at a time when the majority of liberation leaders were in league with socialist or communist countries.

So, right-wing US politicians reportedly helped create Mighty Man, a black remix version of DC Comics’ Superman. Mighty Man was targeted at township readers and was published by an imprint called

Afri-Comics. The early editions of the series pegged the superhero as “the human law enforcing dynamo”. He moved about the townships beating up gangsters and taking on communists.

This was at the height of apartheid, with black South Africans bent on making the country ungovernable. Poor Mighty Man would have had to moer every darkie in sight.

In the world of black-oriented comics, Mighty Man joined a cast of early black superheroes that included Luke Cage aka Power Man, another Superman type who could leap over tall buildings. But Power Man was apparently not “super” enough to fly.

The use of pop culture as a weapon had by this time proven viable for the US propaganda machine. It is well documented how the CIA financed and organised the promotion of American art forms during the Cold War.

By 1976, when Mighty Man had hit the shelves, the idea of a local comic was not a new thing. South Africa was already mad about photo comic books. These were sequenced photographs of actors pictured in staged scenes. The images would be presented in a panel-by-panel format with speech and thought bubbles.

These also had a racially divided marketing approach.

Stories with black characters were targeted at black South Africans and included the likes of Super Mask and Flash.

Those aimed at white South Africans were split between English titles like Kid Colt, Mark Condor and Tessa. Their Afrikaans counterparts were served stories like Die Swart Luiperd (The Black Leopard) and Grensvegter (Border Fighter).

Hat tip to the wonderful for putting the Mighty Man story out there

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