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The King Kong Of Musicals

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On a windy spring day in Johannesburg, South Africa, we make our way through the dusty streets of Braamfontein to the hallowed halls of the Joburg Theatre, a venue often described as the nucleus of the country’s theatrical history. It’s the perfect setting for the retelling of South Africa’s historic hit musical, King Kong, more than half a century after it was first showcased.

Ahead of the play’s Johannesburg run – from September 12 to October 8 – we are here to meet Nondumiso Tembe, the female lead playing Joyce, a role that catapulted the late Miriam Makeba to international stardom in the original production of King Kong, which opened at the Wits University Great Hall in 1959 as South Africa’s first black musical. In 1961, the play transferred to London’s West End and was a stupendous success with a 200-performance run.

Tembe, an award-winning actress and singer-songwriter, has credits of her own, including HBO’s Golden Globe and Emmy-award winning True Blood, SABC’s Generations, the military drama SIX on the History Channel and Zulu Wedding opposite Darrin Dewitt Henson.

She walks in to Stages, the restaurant at the entrance of Joburg Theatre, with a beaming smile and a spring in her step. She is relaxed but excited– the opening night is in five days – and rehearsals are on at the theater. Ordering a cappuccino, she gets straight to the interview.

“I think for our generation, King Kong, and the legend of this man has always been alive in our consciousness as South Africans,” she says.

“And many of us were aware of it and perhaps our parents had shared some of the memories and the experience of the production with us but I don’t think we really knew or understood the story or the music in-depth… It was there alive somewhere in the back of my consciousness but I did not know too much about it and in particular, I didn’t know much about the role of Joyce.”

Tembe smiles as she also admits she was not aware Makeba originally played the role.

“I was humbled to be chosen to be part of a play that was incredibly historic, ground-breaking and deeply brilliant at the time. I was hired two weeks before we were meant to start rehearsals and honestly it’s all kind of a blur,” she laughs.

“Before I knew it, I packed up my life in Los Angeles and prepared to be away for an extended period of time. From then, I spent every waking moment researching the production, the period and the role, in particular the music.”

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Set in the 1950s’ Sophiatown in Johannesburg, King Kong tells the true story of heavyweight boxing champion Ezekiel Dlamini who named himself ‘King Kong’ because of his stout physique and fearless personality. The play is a story of love and self-destruction enacted to the invigorating music of Todd Matshikiza.

From left to right: Nondumiso Tembe, Joel Zuma, Sanda Shandu, Barileng Malebye and Ben Kgosimore star in King Kong. (Photo by Daniel Rutland Manners)

Dlamini is aptly essayed by actor, singer and dancer Andile Gumbi, who made his Broadway debut as Simba in Disney’s The Lion King.

Born in Vryheid in the then Orange Free State, Dlamini himself became an unwitting symbol for freedom and the wasted power of his people under apartheid. After sudden stardom in the boxing world, Dlamini’s life degenerated into drunkenness and gang violence.

In 1957, Dlamini was to be a classic Greek tragic figure when, in a fit of jealousy, he killed his girlfriend and at his trial asked for a death sentence, to serve as a warning to others. Instead, the white judge, who refused to take instruction from a black defendant, sentenced Dlamini to 12 years of labor. But, three months later, King Kong is found drowned in a dam on a prison farm. At 36 years old, he had taken destiny into his own hands and, inadvertently, become a legend.

Dlamini’s story bears a striking resemblance to William Shakespeare’s tragic hero Othello; a man consumed by love and his vices. Like Othello, King Kong is said to have ended his own life, unable to live with the devastation he caused.

READ MORE: Three Women, Three Wives, One True Story

On the opening night of the re-imagining of this tragic tale in Johannesburg in September, the theater is abuzz, unlike the quiet venue it had been a few days ago when we met Tembe.

“I’m really excited about this remake,” says South African actress and author Pamela Nomvete, just before the packed show.

“Todd Matshikiza put together a phenomenal musical and John Matshikiza, his son, launched my career in the UK. So for me, it’s like being a part of history because it was so significant at the time.”

The set design on stage is simple, consisting of painted corrugated iron shutters complete with rows of brilliant golden lights, and with the energetic actors and the live nine-piece orchestra led by Sipumzo Trueman Lucwaba, takes you back in time.

The costumes worn by the all-South African cast form an integral part of the musical narrative set in Sophiatown, the legendary black cultural hub featuring Kofifi dance, Kofifi music and other forms of entertainment.

The 1950s was when the ‘Kofifi style’ emerged, just as apartheid was being implemented. Men worked mainly in mines and factories wearing overalls and the only occasions they could wear a suit – an integral part of the Kofifi style – was at funerals, weddings or on payday.

It was a combination of fashion and a rebel lifestyle that defined this period and people who lived it up as best they could.

The South African project described Sophiatown as an area which “developed into the center of urban African music and culture and starting in the 1940s, it began to enrich its musical performances and elements of popular culture. Sophiatown symbolized something greater than the struggle of fitting in socially; it symbolized the fight for survival while having to deal with expensive rent, poverty, overcrowding, unfair wages, and unfair treatment. The people of Sophiatown established a strong community identity”.

The 120-minute play swiftly transforms from the playground to the boxing ring to the shanty town to the shabeen owned by Joyce, when Tembe makes her opening appearance with a soulful rendition of the legendary Back of the Moon, a sensual song written by Todd Matshikiza.

“The music for Joyce was incredibly challenging and sophisticated and multi-layered and really hard to sing. I was forced to buckle down and not think about the implications or the legacy we were carrying or the weight on our shoulders,” says Tembe at our meeting.

“The original script was very thin and the creative team agreed the characters were rather one-dimensional, more archetypes than real, complex, multi-dimensional human beings and we were very clear in our adaptation, not a revival of the original production; we were more interested in telling a human story the audience could relate to.”

Nondumiso Tembe. (Photo by Daniel Rutland Manners)

It was not an easy challenge to accept for the cast.

“There were a lot of holes so we all worked very hard to fill those gaps and make it more rich and dynamic. For me the challenge with Joyce, because she was one-dimensional and didn’t really have a back story; there was the danger of her coming across as a vamp or a man-eater and I was very clear that my greatest nightmare would be for the audience members to walk away from the play thinking she deserved what she got instead of sympathizing with her,” says Tembe.

This was especially important for Tembe because of the current social context in South Africa, where there has been an epidemic of violence against women, and this being a story about femicide, it was critical for her to convey the right message.

“We really didn’t want our audiences to cheer at the end of the tragic scene between Joyce and King Kong and that actually happened when we first staged it, in preview week, so, the writer, Bill Michaelson, who I admire, snuck in, very last minute during preview week, and added a wonderful but very deep and pivotal scene between King Kong and Joyce which we rehearsed with the director for barely an hour and then Andile Gumbi and I had to perform it that very night in front of a paying audience, which was terrifying,” recounts Tembe, letting out a little scream.

Watching that scene in the play makes it hard to imagine the script was enacted without it. The raw emotions portrayed by King Kong and Joyce are paramount to the play’s climax; a pivotal scene providing great insight into the characters – who they are and why they make the decisions they do.

READ MORE: The Father Of Ghanaian Theater

South African actor Andile Nebulane calls the play “magical”.

“It’s brilliant, fun to watch and you cannot fall asleep watching it. The choreography is also brilliant; Greg Maqoma did an outstanding job.”

But he adds: “Although, I do think South African theater needs to move from the third gear into sixth gear. It needs to be shaken up, we need new stuff. We need to stop recycling stories, we need to write, we need to create and we just need to be recognized by stakeholders like government, which does not take us seriously.”

Sne Dladla (left) and Lerato Mvelase in King Kong. (Photo by Jesse Kramer)

When the play was originally staged in 1959, the audience also included Nelson Mandela and his wife Winnie. King Kong toured South Africa for two years, and was seen by 200,000 South Africans, playing to record-breaking multiracial audiences, this as apartheid began to take shape in South Africa. King Kong in part, launched the international careers of Makeba and Hugh Masekela, among many others.

But, it was at this time that King Kong moved to London. The celebration of what had been deemed South Africa’s greatest play was short-lived because of the Sharpeville Massacre of March 21, 1960.

But in a fitting tribute to the art form and the local talent the country boasts today, Nomvete says: “I think South African theater is of an outstanding caliber and more people should be coming into our country to watch our shows; King Kong is testament enough of how well professionals in the performing arts are doing their thing and they are doing it well.”

The Fugard Theatre’s King Kong, directed by Jonathan Munby, was also staged at the Fugard Theatre in Cape Town before its Johannesburg outing.

“I do think that Mariam Makeba and Todd Matshikiza and the entire original creative team who may no longer be with us are smiling down from heaven and are proud of the steps we have taken and how we have pushed the story and the production forward and caused it to evolve. We are proudly and graciously carrying the torch they originally lit,” concludes Tembe.

The standing ovation the play received more than confirmed that. – Written by Rofhiwa Madzena

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Colors For Mandela

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The world of comic books is dominated by stories from the West. Two South African brothers are helping reshape that narrative with a central character inspired by the iconic hero.

Nelson Mandela had his own following at the recent Comic Con Africa convention at the end of September in Johannesburg.

At the center of all the organized chaos at the event at the Gallagher Convention Centre attended by 71,000 visitors over four days was a comic book bearing the late South African president’s name created by brothers Phemelo, 28, and Omphile Dibodu, 25.

The comic book, Young Nelson, features an African superhero, for readers in the continent and beyond.

Co-founders of Rainbow Nations Comics, a black-owned comic book and publishing company established in 2018, the Dibodu brothers were born and bred in Rustenburg, known as ‘platinum city’, in South Africa’s North West province.

Far from their hometown, the duo were in the big city for the event, showcasing their creations to an adept audience – people dressed as superheroes, cyborgs and zombies – who crowded around their stand and were as colorful as the comic books they were thumbing through.

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“Wow, that looks cool, who is Young Nelson?” asked a curious bystander.

Phemelo was ready with his answers even as his brother assisted with more queries. 

“Young Nelson is a proudly South African black comic book inspired by the late Nelson Mandela,” responded Phemelo.

In front of him, on the table, a large poster of Young Nelson, featuring a young black male with the South African flag over his shoulders and a gold-colored map of Africa emblazoned on his shirt.

This day saw the launch of the very first issue of Young Nelson titled An Act of Kindness, for R20 ($1.3) a copy.

Phemelo, the writer, and Omphile, the illustrator, say they were inspired by Mandela and some of their own life experiences growing up.

“I think I wanted to pay tribute to the old man in a way that it would hopefully inspire others to look at him in the way that many South Africans see him,” says Phemelo to FORBES AFRICA.

In the story, ‘Young Nelson’ gets his nickname when he volunteers at a local boxing gym. The people watching him witness his skills and ability to solve problems, so they equate him to the young Mandela, who was famously a boxer in his youth.

“[The lead character] doesn’t like the nickname at first but once he sees the significance of it and his heroics, how they are taken up by the community to represent who they are, he takes the name and rolls with it and that’s his superhero name going forward with the series,” Phemelo explains.

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Young Nelson’s real name in the comic is actually ‘Thabo Mo Afrika’, inspired by South African president Thabo Mbeki, who succeeded Mandela.

“ ‘Mo Afrika’ is a generic surname [which] translated into English is ‘an African’. So I wanted to see every African seeing themselves in Young Nelson,” Phemelo adds.

The young writer’s plan is to take his product to bigger markets, but for now, the African comic industry is a tough market to capture for lack of any funding.

“Imagine getting paid for what you are doing. That would [make a] big difference. Once people realize that their art can be compensated, more of us will actually start creating content the world would want to start reading,” he says.

Bill Masuku, a speaker at the Comic Con event and who is also a digital artist, shares the same sentiments.

“In Zimbabwe, where I am from, it is pretty grassroots. Everyone is self-publishing and if you don’t really have a passion for it, the book won’t come out,” says Masuku, who has been a part of the African comic industry for over three years. He is the founder of Enigma Comix Africa, and creator of Razor-Man and Captain South Africa.

“As much as new creatives are coming out every day, what really makes the comic book industry is distribution. And seeing that [Young Nelson] has such widespread potential really makes me hopeful for where we are going,” says Masuku.

For comic books to thrive on the continent, they need a big financial push from publishers, distributors or investors, unlike any other medium.

The Dibodu brothers were fortunate to have been sponsored by the Rustenburg Herald, a weekly local newspaper in Rustenburg.

“The problem with creating by yourself is that you can only create at a certain rate and you do burn out. So you find people who have been making comics who have three or four issues out and it’s easy to forget about them as a consumer,” he adds.

Globally, platforms like Weekly Shōnen Jump in Japan make it easy for Japanese creatives to publish their work as the comic book and manga industry is thriving there, making it one of the best-selling magazines. Weekly Shōnen Jump has sold over 7.5 billion copies since 1968.

But the African comic industry has a long way to go.

Kugali, a digital platform founded by three entrepreneurs and friends from Nigeria and Uganda, is designed to help people find and share the best African narratives and comics. It is an entertainment company that focuses on telling stories inspired by Africans, offering much-needed exposure to young creatives such as Masuku and the Dibodu brothers. For now, the reception the Dibodus are receiving give them some hope.

“It’s been awesome and inspirational. I didn’t know people felt the same way as me. It’s amazing when people are [reading] the story of the character and people are saying ‘you know what, that’s what we need’,” says Phemelo. At the end of Comic Con, they managed to sell over 300 copies of Young Nelson.

“People are catching onto the culture. I think it might even grow bigger than the American industry only because I think we are a very artistic community… Whether you look at the hieroglyphics in Egypt or the cave paintings by the bushmen in South Africa, we draw,” he says.

He also plans to sell his comics to local book stores in the country.

The team is currently working on their next creation – a black African female superhero called Imbokodo.

“We are looking for new creators we can partner with and create our own justice league, our own Avengers, to actually have young kids in South Africa look at their heroes the same way Americans look at their heroes in the Comic Cons to come.”

Young Nelson is a refreshing reminder that not all heroes wear capes.

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Conscious Fashion: ‘So Much More You Can Do With Discarded Clothes’

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Fashion is about creating beauty, but its ugly side is the carbon emissions. Designers are now looking to play it safe, even if it means going to dangerous lengths for the sake of greener fashion.


In South Africa, the fashion industry is now starting to do its bit to negate the effects of climate change, with some designers going green, in interesting, creative and even lucrative ways.

Ayanda Nhlapo, a stylist and entrepreneur, is one of them.

She hosted and co-produced her own TV fashion show, Ayanda’s Fashion House, where she explored the work of some of South Africa’s most prolific designers and creatives in the fashion industry. The fashion aesthete says the influence of the industry is far-reaching, and therefore, must be more responsible about the environment and preservation of resources.

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“I’ve always had a knack for creating, whether I’m creating from scratch or recreating something that already exists,” says Nhlapo. So, upcycling, or repurposing, is what she is into.

“However, recreating or upcycling has always given me much more excitement and a deeper sense of purpose.

“Upcycling can be challenging but rewarding in the sense that it’s not just about the creativity but it’s more so about contributing to solving the effects of fast fashion on the environment and the economy. It is very important that we preserve our culture, identity and resources,” she says.

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Fascinated about culture as well as traditional wear, some of her design ideas are fairly unconventional, such as Zulu sandals made of tyres. Besides clothes, she also designs accessories, such as earrings and key-holders. One of her designs is earrings shaped like water droplets to highlight the importance of saving water, whilst also bringing forth the beauty and importance of recycling and upcycling.

Her market is largely young women, but the brand is also for those who love and consume fashion consciously. Nhlapo uses fashion as a tool to influence people and encourage them to think carefully about how they use it.

“Fortunately, through traditional media and social media, I am able to reach thousands and thousands of people, not just in South Africa but across the world. If we consume fashion correctly and consciously, we have the power to reverse certain cycles and change the direction of our future,” says Nhlapo.

 She goes on to say that the fashion industry is among the highest polluters  in the world, however, thankfully, it is gradually moving towards a more responsible way of operating.

“In fact, green fashion is the next big thing. Designers and consumers are finally becoming more and more aware of the damages and negative, rippling effects of fashion and are now beginning to take such issues seriously. We are starting to see more sustainable fabrics on the runway and more eco-friendly brands launching into the market, while well-established brands are also moving in the direction of going green. Before we know it, green fashion will be the only thing we know.”

READ MORE: Fashion, Fame and Finances With SA Designer, David Tlale

South African designer JJ Schoeman elaborates on ‘fast fashion’ and ‘green fashion’.

“I think we need to still go on a robust campaign on the implications of fast fashion, where we create more awareness around its consumption, as I feel that most consumers are still a little blasé about their purchase.

“There was a call for green fashion, because of the wasteful nature of production lines within our industry. This call was made to encourage designers like myself to use environmentally-friendly fabrics and methods in the production line.”

One of the ways he implements this in his production line is to cut material in a way there is less wastage.

“Over and above this, I also found ways in which to ‘get rid’ of the waste we accumulated over a season – these included donating to the trade, for reuse. I also try my absolute best to use fabrics that are more environment-friendly, but of course, I always need to take into consideration what the client wants.”

Schoeman opines the green fashion trend is growing.

“Absolutely, if we just take into consideration the amount of international names that have agreed to not using real fur in their collections. Recently, I read about the #G7Biarritz movement, which saw the Prada Group, Ralph Lauren and 30 other fashion industry brands sign the pact. The Fashion Pact is going to change the game in sustainable fashion all over the world.”

Yet another trend is ‘thrifting fashion’ that has become the cornerstone of shopping trends popular among the youth.

Vathiswa Yiba is an employee at a vintage thrift store in the lively Braamfontein area of Johannesburg. She has immersed herself in the culture of thrifting.

The store is one of several thrift stores in the city, and among the popular ones at the thrift market not far from Africa’s largest railway station, the Johannesburg Park Station.

“Thrifting is buying clothes that people think are not good enough anymore and those that they have discarded,” says 22-year-old Yiba.

“It’s interesting with thrifting because the most dangerous places are where you find the nicer things”

– Vathiswa Yiba

The lower prices also offer financial reprieve and more options for the buyer.

Yiba has been thrifting since her high school days when she started with her own clothes. 

“I don’t step into retail stores unless I am buying shoes,” she says.

“My first thrift was buying from people who sold from their bags, then from their car boots, then I leveled up and started going to the biggest market in the  Johannesburg Central Business District; MTN Taxi Rank, known for its pavement crimes, despite the danger in that part of town, they have the best clothes.”

The street-savvy Yiba offers advice to those who are novices in the industry. 

“It’s interesting with thrifting because the most dangerous places are where you find the nicer things, and here is a tip when you are going thrifting – make sure you have loose change and put it in safe pockets, away from pick-pocketers. That way you will be able to shop safely. However, you can find good-looking items but it’s not in your size; which is where the community comes in.

“We have tailors to alter the garments for you and it will be exclusive because it’s thrifted, no one has the same clothes. There is so much more you can do with discarded clothes. With the littlest things, you can make an amazing thing and you’ll be the only one who has it.”

Of course, there is a tinge of stigma associated with thrifting. Yiba says people think the clothes could also have belonged to those who have passed away, but she’s of the view that thrifting creates other opportunities.

“The [thrift clothing] may look messy and seem dusty, but once cleaned or altered, they will look retail. So it’s not just the connotations, it can be something perfect and the next person wouldn’t even know.”

These are sentiments also echoed by Leago Nhlapo, a content creator for fashion brands like Adidas, Sportscene and Skechers, who began his journey as thrifter.

“It started with thrifting because it makes you unique; there is no similar garment, every single garment is different from the next. So, I jumped from really cheap clothes [recycled clothes] to really expensive clothes,” he says.

However, Leago encourages green fashion because he says the fast fashion industry is the second-highest contributor to carbon emissions. 

“The more people buy clothes, the more we contribute to global warming and we all know the global crisis, so if we recycle clothes, there will not be a need to make clothes, there are enough clothes for everyone existing. I am proof that second-hand clothes are cool and look better than people paying tons of cash.”

Seventy kilometers south of Johannesburg’s Central Business District is Nokwakha Qobo, who was born in the squatter camps of Phuma Zibethane in Sharpeville. And in the garbage dumps of these camps, the fashion designer in her emerged.

Qobo currently has a clothing line with an international reach. She fashions garments out of wastepaper she collects from rubbish dumps. 

“I’m a self-taught designer from a dump in Vanderbijlpark, that’s where I learned everything

– Nokwakha Qobo

As a young girl, Qobo had to walk to school, and through the course of her journey home, she would pass a garbage site where old fashion magazines and newspapers were discarded.

It is often said that ‘one man’s trash is another man’s treasure’. This adage was not lost on her because she took inspiration from the articles in those magazines and now creates pieces that are sought after.

“That’s where I learned about fashion trends, that’s where I learned about different colors for different seasons, that’s where I learned about the body structure of a woman, actually, I’m a self-taught designer from a dump in Vanderbijlpark, that’s where I learned everything,” she says.

Inadvertently, she too is contributing towards a shift in culture based on conscious consumption.

Perhaps, with the benefit of time, green fashion will be the norm as many believe we already have all we need.

Motlabana Monnakgotla

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HUGO BOSS Partners With Porsche To Bring Action-Packed Racing Experience Through Formula E

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Brought to you by Hugo Boss

HUGO BOSS and Porsche have partnered to bring an action-packed racing experience to the streets of the world’s major cities through Formula E.

Formula E is known for its fascinating races globally. The partnership will have a strong focus on the future of motorsport. In doing so the races will host a unique series for the development of electric vehicle technology, refining the design, functionality and sustainability of electric cars while creating an exciting global entertainment brand.

HUGO BOSS which boasts a long tradition of motorsports sponsorship – has been successfully engaged in the electric-powered racing series since the end of 2017.

In this collaboration, HUGO BOSS brings its 35 years of experience and expertise in the motorsport arena to Formula E, as well as the dynamic style the fashion brand is renowned for.


Alejandro Agag (Formula E CEO) and Mark Langer (HUGO BOSS CEO)

Mark Langer HUGO BOSS, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) says that though they have been working successfully with motorsports over the years, he is exceptionally pleased that as a fashion brand they are taking the cooperation to new heights.

“As a fashion brand, we are always looking at innovative approaches to design and sustainability. When we first encountered Formula E, we immediately saw its potential and we are pleased to be the first apparel partner to support this exciting new motorsport series,” he says.

The fashion group is also the official outfitter to the entire Porsche motorsports team worldwide.

The fascination with perfect design and innovation, along with the Porshe and Hugo Boss shared passion for racing, inspired Hugo Boss to produce the Porsche x Boss capsule collection.

Its standout features include premium leather and wool materials presented in the Porsche and HUGO BOSS colors of silver, black and red.


Porsche x BOSS: introducing a new collaboration | BOSS

Since March, a range of menswear styles from the debut capsule collection is available online and at selected BOSS stores. In South Africa the first pieces of the capsule will come as a part of the FW 19 collection.

Alejandro Agag, Founder and CEO of Formula E says he is confident that the racers will put their best foot forward on the racecourse.

“This new partnership will see the team on the ground at each race dressed with a winning mindset and ready to deliver a spectacular event in cities across the world. As the first Official Apparel Partner of the series, we look forward to seeing the dynamic style and innovation on show that BOSS is renowned for,” says Agag.


Hugo Boss x Porsche  

Oliver Blume CEO of Porsche AG says Formula E is an exceptionally attractive racing series for motorsport vehicles to develop.

“It offers us the perfect environment to strategically evolve our vehicles in terms of efficiency and sustainability. We’re looking forward to being on board in the 2019/2020 season. In this context, the renowned fashion group HUGO BOSS represents the perfect partner to outfit our team.”

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