Every year we see more South African YouTubers and content creators quit university to pursue digital entrepreneurship. Is this a classic case of pursuing passion or have content creators struck gold in the world of the internet?
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At the beginning of 2017, well-known South African youtuber, Sibusiso “Sibu” Mpanza announced that he was quitting his Social Sciences studies at the University of Cape Town (UCT) and moving to Johannesburg to focus his energies on being a full time YouTuber. Fast forward three years later and Mpanza has built three YouTube channels; grown his subscriber base in leaps and bounds; worked on numerous brand partnerships; ran successful influencer campaigns and scored himself radio and TV gigs. The incredibly heavy demands of an academic degree would have made it impossible for him to achieve all of that in this short space of time.
Even before Mpanza announced his exit from UCT, George “Okay Wasabi” Mnguni had left his own studies at the University of Johannesburg to be a full-time content creator and soon after, his hit show Kota Past 9 blew up on YouTube.
Renowned beauty and lifestyle influencer Mihlali Ndamase in 2019 announced that she had put her studies on hold to grow her business. In her first video of 2020, Buhle Lupindo, a relatively new but widely loved YouTuber, announced that she was also putting her academic studies on hold. Although Lupindo cited other reasons for freezing her degree, she did state that she would be dedicating her time to creating YouTube content.
There have not been enough case studies of digital entrepreneurs choosing YouTube over a degree to call it a trend, however, we are seeing more and more cases of well-known and respected content creators choosing to walk the path (previously) less chosen without the fall-back of an academic qualification.
It is not news that creatives quit school to focus on careers in entertainment, from Robert Marawa to Bonang Matheba, the list is endless. However, in these cases, TV presenting, music and acting are mainstream industries, whereas most people in South Africa are not consuming YouTube content and aren’t exactly certain what an influencer is.
Celebrity culture in the late ‘90s informed the public that entertainers were able to make a substantial amount of money, which is what may have motivated some to pursue entertainment over traditional careers. This begs the question, is digital content creation a lucrative career choice?
Returning to Ndamase, during an interview with another popular YouTuber, Mpumi Ledwaba, she revealed that she had made her first million rand from influencer work. Mpanza and Lupindo, who are a couple that lives together, have been able to sustain themselves and even go on holidays with money earned from their work. Anyone who follows Mnguni on social media knows that he is constantly buying expensive camera equipment and has also been sustaining himself with the money he earns from being a content creator. This is a fair indication that these digital entrepreneurs have found a way to sustain themselves doing work that, a decade ago, would have been scarcely heard of.
The debate about the relevance of professional degrees is one that still wages on and should be substantially engaged with, however these content creators seem to be doing just fine without one.