“Spinning” is a motorsport that is increasingly popular in South Africa It has its roots in driving stolen cars during apartheid. Modern-day drivers have been showing off their spinning skills and trying to register it as an official motorsport.
Over weekends in the Soweto area of Johannesburg, crowds flock to makeshift pitches in vacant lots to watch dapper young men raise massive clouds of smoke, quickly run down the tread on their wheels, and hang out the sides of their BMW 325is.
Soweto was the only place this kind of motorsport could have started. It’s the most famous township in South Africa, home to 850,000 people divided into around 30 residential areas. The uprisings and resulting massacre of 1976 here are scorched into living South African memory. It has a life and mentality all of its own, a fuck-you-we-do-what-we-like attitude born of a necessity that can only come from oppression.
In the 80s, a thriving gangster culture gave rise to spinning at funerals, where it became ritual to steal a car and spin it around in honor of the fallen. Then, during the early 90s, when the country looked almost certainly doomed to racial civil war, some twentysomething Sowetans got together and practiced outside the criminal world. They didn’t know what they were doing exactly (stunts, drag racing, whatever), but it all centered on the BMW 325i—the so-called box shape, or gusheshe—and being the best. It grew from there, and these days it’s on the brink of being a certified official motorsport, having already advanced to a profitable industry and network of promoters, spinners, and crowds.
Pule Earm is a documentary filmmaker, spinning promoter, commentator, and political busybody. He only spins in private, to be able to articulate the feeling to other people, to “categorically explain the feeling of performance better than a spinner can.” He’s made it his mission since 2009 to punt this township pastime into the big time on the national circuit. Pule is the confluence point between politics and the spinner on the ground.
He’s founded Soweto Drift, a spinning school and promotions agency that’s at the forefront of the drive for regulation
His pushing has led to a partial breakdown of social and class divisions, to the point where even white folk from upper-class Johannesburg—along with a host of political celebs—make the trip to inner Soweto regularly. Which is maybe the only thing stranger than the sight of a bunch of guys clambering over screeching cars mid-doughnut.
“It is definitely a recent thing,” he says. “The guys in the industry, they started inviting their white friends. We do the spinning in Soweto. The attendance isn’t as high as the events in the East Rand, or Mayhem in Pretoria. It’s because of the nature of the venues we use. In Soweto, it’s hardcore township. The neighboring residents in Pretoria are white, so you get more white people there, as opposed to Soweto. I will take that credit alone and say Soweto Drift has made that possible, and inspired other promoters to broaden their horizons in terms of their target markets. That makes it easier for other people to have whites at their events. Now that spinning is in that environment, the motorsport fanatics will go anywhere.
“It makes me excited. Because the way we want to position car spinning is to make it a national sport. So we can’t be ignorant, or envious, when white people are at the events. That’s what we want. Unfortunately, we live in a world where some of us believe that if a white man endorses something, it’s successful. Personally, I don’t believe that, but I have no problem with white communities coming to the spinning. I see that as positive, and it simply means that if the audience can easily adapt to sharing, without putting up barriers, so can the motorsport in terms of administrative processes and maybe get some non-white people on the boards of motorsport directors.
“You get all types of backgrounds. You get guys from the poor communities, the middle class, the high class. It’s not like boxing, where, you know, you only get the elite. Or cricket. It’s like soccer, basically,” says Pule. “It crosses all the lines in terms of race, politics, class—it doesn’t discriminate.”
In a country as divided as South Africa, that takes some doing.
WATCH BELOW: Al Jazeera’s Malcolm Webb from Johannesburg, South Africa.
This article is dedicated to Jake ‘Khumalo Boi’ Smith a young and vibrant spinning enthusiast who was sadly killed in the KFC drive through in PMB in 2014. Yet his killer is still walking the streets while family and friends struggle with his loss.
Source: Vice / Aljazeera