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Eric Macheru – Actor, entrepreneur and philanthropist

Photos by Lucky Duck Communications

“I aspire to leave behind a legacy characterised by kindness, hope, and love,” stated Eric Macheru, an actor, entrepreneur, and philanthropist hailing from Limpopo. Eric is widely recognized for his notable achievements in football, his involvement in the immensely popular drama series Skeem Saam, and his philanthropic endeavours through the Sunflower Foundation. In this interview, we delve into Eric’s personal journey, his ongoing projects, and his aspirations for the future.

MUZI: You rose to prominence through your successful football career, having played for esteemed teams like Ajax CT and Platinum Stars. Following your retirement from soccer, you transitioned into the acting industry, where you have garnered recognition for your roles in prominent television productions such as Inkaba, Mfolozi, and the highly popular series Skeem Saam. Did you anticipate achieving such a remarkable acting career after concluding your time in football? Furthermore, could you share your experiences and reflections on your journey thus far?

ERIC: The journey thus far has been quite remarkable, filled with both triumphs and setbacks. Initially, I held modest expectations for my career in the acting industry, never envisioning the incredible opportunities that would come my way, including being cast in renowned shows like Skeem Saam and others. However, my true aspiration has always been to become a TV presenter and work behind the scenes in television, media, and advertising. It is truly awe-inspiring to find myself in the current position I hold as one of the lead actors in one of South Africa’s most prominent shows. I consider it a true blessing for which I express gratitude each and every day.

MUZI: I notice that you have a significant presence on social media platforms, particularly Instagram, and it is evident that you have amassed a substantial following. However, you have maintained a humble demeanour as a public figure. In your downtime, you prioritise quality moments with your family and close friends, as well as engaging in promotional activities for your Gin brand. I am curious to know the significance of your private life to you.

ERIC: While I may not be particularly enthusiastic about social media, I recognize its purpose and the reasons why individuals utilise it. Nevertheless, I primarily employ social media as a means to promote the businesses and brands I am affiliated with, such as Skeem Saam, Have Wings Restaurant, The Blaq Gin, my foundation, and my events company M-squared. Aside from this professional context, I do not place much significance on social media, except to potentially bolster the visibility of certain brands.

I am adamant about maintaining a clear distinction between my personal life and the online realm, as I highly value my personal space. Consequently, I make a concerted effort to safeguard my private life. The preservation of my personal life and the well-being of my family are of utmost importance to me.

MUZI: Many people are not aware that you co-own a liquor brand, The blaq gin and do a lot of work for the Sunflower foundation – How do you make the transition from acting to entrepreneurship and philanthropy seamless?

ERIC: Being a part of The Blaq gin has been an emotional roller coaster. Entrepreneurship is not for the faint of heart. It’s not easy, but we keep pushing and hope to see some great results in the near future. I believe in both the brand and the team. So far, so good, and philanthropy is something I’ve always been interested in. I’ve always been a sharing and giving person; it’s like second nature to me. I don’t give it much thought. I just find myself doing it because it comes naturally to me: helping and giving people, sharing what I have.

I’ve had a wonderful relationship with the SunFlower Foundation, and they’ve been good to me; there’s nothing else I can say. We have the most beautiful relationship. It’s close to my heart because I lost my father to cancer, so it’s personal to me.

MUZI: So,iStyleBlaq adheres to the definition of black success, which is “someone who is black and demonstrates great qualities and abilities that make the black community proud,” and with that said, I consider you a black success story – What does black excellence mean to you?

ERIC: I see black excellence as us, the black youth, rising above our disadvantages and making the best of what we have by helping those around us and growing together as a community of black people, supporting each other, buying black-owned products, supporting black-owned businesses, and simply being a fruitful community for everyone around us. I believe that simply supporting each other goes a long way towards developing a better future, better leaders, better fathers, better mothers, and simply having a good support structure for each other.

MUZI: Finally, what’s next for Eric after an incredible journey that includes playing professional football, appearing on our screens in major TV productions, being the face of clothing brand Samson, and co-owning a liquor brand?

ERIC: What is next for Eric after the journey that I’ve had?  I’m grateful for the experience. I’ve had an okay, if not spectacular, journey. I’ve played football, I’ve done a lot of things I’ve wanted to do, and I’m still going and carrying on, I’m still learning, and I’m still curious about what else I can do. I still want to put myself to the test and see what else I’m capable of. It’s terrifying. I’m nervous about a lot of things that are possible for me and what else I can accomplish because I don’t put limits on myself and I know there is still so much for me to do.

Yes, it’s going to be amazing to watch, and I can’t wait. God will continue to bless me, the universe will continue to bless me, and my ancestors will continue to bless me. I eagerly await Eric Macheru’s next phase.

MUZI: What kind of legacy do you want to leave behind?

ERIC: I aspire to leave behind a profound legacy characterised by kindness, unwavering hope, and boundless love for all those who have witnessed my journey and found inspiration in my actions and future endeavours. My ultimate objective is to instil hope in every individual and be a beacon of positivity, embracing life wholeheartedly. I am deeply committed to cherishing my own existence, valuing my loved ones, and extending a helping hand to those around me, always eager to contribute wherever possible. This is my essence, and my approach to embracing life with simplicity and love.

INSTAGRAM 

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Refiloe Motsei: Community Voices

I have always found great pleasure in tuning into community radio stations. Growing up in Soweto, we would listen to the Voice of Soweto, now known as Jozi FM. What struck me was their ability to effectively address the issues that were relevant to the Sowetan community. It was refreshing to hear local voices speaking directly to us about topics such as education, health, politics, and other subjects that directly impacted our lives. In this interview, we have the opportunity to speak with Refiloe Motsei, the afternoon drive host of Jozi FM, as well as influential voices in Soweto, about the significance of community radio stations.

Muzi: How did you end up in the  broadcasting industry,and what has been the most significant accomplishment in your career thus far?

Refiloe: I have always maintained that radio was not my choice, but rather, it chose me. My journey in the industry has been truly remarkable, starting from my time at Anglo Platinum Radio, which had a corporate and client-centred approach. I then transitioned to Voice of Tembisa, and I am currently a part of the largest community radio station in the southern hemisphere. This esteemed station has been recognized as the number one radio choice by City Press Readers’ Choice Award, attaining platinum status, which signifies its top-ranking position. Throughout my career, I have had several notable experiences, but the most significant one for me was the opportunity to interview the president of South Africa, Cyril Ramaphosa.

Muzi: Community radio stations are widely recognised for their ability to cater to specific geographic audiences and communities, fostering connections among individuals who share common interests. I would appreciate hearing your perspective on the importance and impact of these community-oriented radio stations.

Refiloe: Community radio stations play a vital role in our society. We are situated at the core of our communities, allowing us to connect with people on a personal level rather than being distant celebrities. Our primary focus is on addressing the real-life challenges that individuals face on a daily basis, such as crime, unemployment, and social issues. We have even gone so far as to assist some of our listeners by helping them rebuild their homes after they were destroyed. 

In addition, we provide financial education and tackle the issues that affect the younger generation, including violence against women and children. In essence, we consider ourselves as public servants, providing information, education, and entertainment to our community. It is important to note that we communicate in a language that our listeners can easily relate to and comprehend.

Muzi: Community radio stations,through storytelling,interviews,and music,can be a great way to preserve culture and traditions”.How important is your voice in the community in preserving culture,particularly Sowetan culture, given that the majority of your listeners are from Soweto?

Refiloe: I’m a die hard Sowetan girl, born,raised, went to school, and Jozi FM is located in Soweto so I work in Soweto lol. Soweto has its own culture, also times are changing we constantly have to keep up.

Muzi: What are you currently busy with, any future plans?

Refiloe: I am currently working on a number of projects, the first of which is Apara Local Friday, where every Friday we wear locally made clothing from different places such as Soweto, Thembisa and Voslorous and as an influencer I showcase their business on various social platforms, something that I’ve been doing for a year. I enjoy supporting and promoting local businesses, from salons to restaurants. I also work with Jozi FM on a school shoe and hygiene project, where we distribute school shoes and hygiene materials to various schools on a monthly basis.

Finally, growing up in Soweto there is a culture of spinning cars, especially BMW (Gusheshe) and I have always been fascinated by this space since I was a little girl and I plan to explore this male dominated industry and as for the future, I can’t reveal much, but you will find out in time.

Catch Refiloe weekdays 3-6pm on Jozi FM (105.8FM)

jozifm.co.za

Refiloe Motsei Instagram

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Women In Sports – Tsoanelo Pholo

Black women in sports do not receive the recognition they deserve, and as we just celebrated women’s month in August, we want to recognise and celebrate one exceptional woman in sports: Tsoanelo Pholo, a former South African international athlete, and head coach of the South Africa women’s hockey team, guiding them to a commendable 4th place finish in the Hockey5s competition at the Youth Olympic Games Buenos Aires 2018. With 25 years of experience in hockey as a player and coach, Pholo has a deep understanding of the sport at a global level. We had the privilege of speaking with Pholo about her journey in hockey and her insights on diversity in sports.

Muzi: You have had a remarkable journey in the sports industry, particularly in your career. Let’s discuss your experience and delve into what you consider to be the highlight of your career.

Coach Pholo: My involvement in sports began at a very young age, coinciding with my ability to walk. Over the course of 40 years, my relationship with sports has been a mixture of love and frustration. My passion for hockey was ignited during my time in high school, and it was an instant connection. Even after 27 years, my love for the sport remains as strong as it was on that very first day. 

Throughout my playing career, I have achieved numerous accolades, including the Junior World Cup, Champions Challenge, Indoor and Outdoor World Cup, and the 2004 Athens Olympic Games. However, the pinnacle of my career is yet to be reached, as I am currently focused on my role as Coach Pholo.

Muzi: Let’s talk about your sports experience as a black woman and explore your perspective on institutional racism and other structural barriers that have historically hindered people of colour and marginalised groups from fully participating and succeeding in various sports activities.

Coach Pholo: I participate in a sport that heavily relies on financial contributions from both players and coaches. Consequently, a significant portion of our nation lacks access to favourable opportunities.

Muzi: What are your thoughts on the issue of hockey being perceived as lacking racial diversity, primarily due to economic barriers associated with participating in the sport? As a black woman, how do we bring or make hockey popular in the black Community?

Coach Pholo: As Coach Pholo Hockey, we are actively engaged in development projects aimed at promoting the sport, which has traditionally been perceived as primarily accessible to individuals of Caucasian descent. Numerous initiatives across the country are dedicated to increasing visibility and facilitating the expansion of hockey.

Muzi: What projects are you currently involved in, and what can we anticipate from Coach Pholo in the coming months?

Coach Pholo: I am currently engaged with Coach Pholo’s coaching services, which encompass personalised 1-on-1 sessions as well as comprehensive 3-day camps. These sessions cover various aspects, including technical skills, nutrition advice, and conditioning training. Additionally, we provide a range of clinics and workshops designed to enhance the growth of hockey in South Africa and internationally. 

Recently, we had the privilege of participating in the World Camp organised by the International Hockey Federation in England. We are thrilled to bring back the knowledge and insights gained from this experience to benefit South Africa. 

Stay tuned for updates on what to expect from Coach Pholo. Exciting developments are on the horizon.

INSTAGRAM

coachpholo.com

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CATCHING UP WITH SIV NGESI

I recently had the opportunity to catch up with Siv and his progression from stand-up comedian to television host showcases what is possible with passion, dedication and an authentic voice. Sivuyile “Siv” Ngesi is one of South Africa’s most vibrant and versatile entertainers, possessing a multitude of talents that have allowed him to make significant impacts in the South African entertainment industry, traversing a remarkable path as an entertainer, evolving from humble beginnings as a stand-up comedian to hosting acclaimed television shows and establishing a production company “Our CompanY” that creates award-winning content for South African audiences.

 

MUZI: How has your journey been so far, and what would you consider your career highlight? From being a child star to presenting shows such as The Man Cave and Global travel show Wing It, to producing TV shows and plays at the National Arts Festival that received nominations for the South African Film and Television Awards (SAFTA.

SIV: Throughout my career, I have accomplished several noteworthy achievements and received multiple awards nominations. It is challenging to pinpoint a single career highlight; instead, I see all my experiences as part of my journey. Winning my first South African Film and Television Award after being nominated for three consecutive years for best presenter was undoubtedly one of my highlights. Being able to go on that stage, thank my mother, thank my friends, and truly celebrate and share a message on national television meant a great deal to me. Working with Viola Davis on The Women King was simply a groundbreaking experience and being part of that film. Thus, those two moments were definitely some of my favourite career highlights.

MUZI: What are you currently busy with?

SIV: I recently completed filming a movie for both the big screen and Amazon and in a few weeks I’ll be working on a Netflix project followed by producing a couple of movies that I will also be acting in. We’re getting in front of and behind the camera as much as possible, creating content and opportunities. Significant projects are on the horizon both internationally and locally.

MUZI: As someone who has followed you on social media, I know you share your genuine views, not what others expect. Many criticise you for it. How do you handle cyberbullying, especially from trolls?

SIV: Firstly, many judge me from all sides and it’s none of my business. Dogs only bark at moving cars, never parked ones. As soon as you’re doing nothing with your life, people have nothing to say, but when you start moving forward, people have things to say. So people’s opinions mean little to me except for those I’m close to, so I carry on doing what I want to do, I live my truth and my authentic truth. Cyberbullying is an issue, they do try it with me all the time, the internet is giving people a platform to put others down without showing their face. I actually miss the old days when someone says something, there were consequences.

MUZI: You mentioned in one of your interviews that you are really passionate about drag, which piques my interest; how did this come about?

SIV: I’ve always been fascinated by drag performance and any artistic form that allows people to express their creativity. For a long time, I observed drag from afar before participating myself. Many people don’t realise how difficult and important of an art form drag is, and how individuals around the world who try to make being queer illegal, especially throughout Africa. Therefore, for me, drag is just a very important art form that needs to be protected at all costs, and I have been performing drag for about two and a half years now, an experience that has transformed the person I am today.

MUZI: Finally, where to from here, and how do you want to be remembered?

SIV: There is plenty more to come, with lots of content production for various channels around the globe. I’ve been able to hire people and I look forward to hiring more talented friends to create films and television series that will show the world what is possible in South Africa. I’m so passionate about not just being remembered for my talents, but for changing lives.

TWITTER: iamSivN

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MOSHE NDIKI | FROM YOUTUBE TO MAJOR TV PRODUCTIONS

MOSHE NDIKI | FROM YOUTUBE TO MAJOR TV PRODUCTIONS

Moshe Ndiki is a South African comedian, actor and television presenter who rose to fame in 2015 thanks to his viral YouTube videos about poverty and unemployment. Since then, he has made a successful transition to mainstream media, appearing on a number of television shows. I had the opportunity to hear him speak about his transition from traditional to mainstream media.

 

MUZI: Recently, YouTubers have had difficulty transitioning from traditional to mainstream media, whereas you have seen immense growth with your YouTube presence. What was it like for you to make that transition? 

 

MOSHE: I have a Bachelor of Arts degree in Television presenting and acting. So the transition was seamless. YouTube was more of a gateway to what I wanted to do, what I was born to do and what I studied and always wanted to do. But in terms of YouTube, it was my “how” (laughs) and I really don’t know if it’s just about getting really aligned and knowing what you want. Are you on YouTube just to be recognised as a content creator or as a creative? Are you doing it as a platform to get yourself on TV? So I think it’s very important to know why you’re on YouTube.

 

MUZI: Also, social media entertainers often only find success through their own channels, but you’ve also made an impression on mainstream media – can you tell us more about your journey and experiences?

 

MOSHE:  The journey was amazing because I did not have an agent or manager. So when all of these things happen to me, I’m like, what the heck? Wow, I’ve accomplished so much in the last five years. It comes as a bit of a surprise to me, but it’s one of those things I knew was going to happen and had to happen at some point or points in my life. That’s how badly I wanted it. So I did my research and knew everything there was to know about the shows I wanted to appear on. I made an effort to network with people in those industries, and I literally went around asking for jobs.

 

And if I’m working with a production company, for example, I wouldn’t be afraid to ask about the next job and also keep checking them because I don’t have a manager or agent. So, basically, I did what I needed to do in order to do what I wanted to do, and that’s how I’m feeling right now..I do all the things I want to do and not necessarily things I need to do.

 

MUZI: What would you say are some of the key things that people should know about the showbiz industry? 

 

MOSHE: Know yourself and don’t get caught up in the hype. This has been said to some extent, but people don’t understand or realise the extent until they work in the entertainment industry, where it’s so easy to lose yourself, and I’ve been fortunate to be grounded by myself, therapy, and, most importantly, my family. Consider your profession to be a job, not a way of life.

 

MUZI: So, not a lot of people are aware of your multiple talents as a comedian-actor-cook! In 2021, you launched ‘Moshe’s Kitchen’, a spice range – how did that come to be and how has it been doing?

 

MOSHE:  It’s going really well. I love it! I enjoy playing with food, not in a bad way, like my mom would yell at me, but I enjoy food. For me it is a language of love. I love cooking for people, I love cooking for those I love, for me it’s a way of saying I love you, I see you, so I actually thought none of the spice brands are coming on board , so let me just start my own spice, which is very similar to how I got into television. Since there aren’t many roles available on television, I decided to start my own YouTube channel. So basically, if nobody wants to play with you, build your own tennis court.

 

MUZI: Finally, what projects are you currently working on and what can we expect from Moshe Ndiki in the future?

MOSHE: I’m currently working on You Promised To Marry Me for Moja Love, Gomora for Mzansi Magic and Seven Colors for Honey TV, which I co-host with Mama Lillian Dube. So, I literally have three projects in which I act and present, and then I have my spice line, Moshe’s Kitchen, and I MC, do campaigns, and am an influencer, so yeah. What else is there? Actually, there will be more, just wait for the announcements, which will be made very soon in March, yeah. I can’t say anything about it yet.

MOSHE’S INSTAGRAM

MOSHE’S KITCHEN WEBSITE

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ARE WE OBSESSED WITH BLACK EXCELLENCE?

This month recognises black resistance to historic oppression. Hashtags like #blackgirlmagic and #blackexcellence inspired the publication Istyleblaq to champion amazing individuals embodying blackness.

Unfortunately, during sponsorship meetings with two unnamed white-owned organisations, I was asked insensitive questions like “Why do I  have to celebrate black people?” or “What difference does that make regarding white superiority?”, which is disappointing unless there was no awareness of black history.

Celebrating black strength after centuries of oppression does not isolate but uplifts equality. Professors Phakeng and Twala expressed why applauding black excellence matters: “For me it means celebrating black success, showing the world we can succeed in a white environment,” said Phakeng. Twala added black excellence shows “daily excellence, reinventing when needed, focusing on dreams/purpose, projects beyond self-interest.” In essence, it spotlights our community’s greatness capacity.

Let us acknowledge liberation helpers’ courage and strength this and every month! Happy Black History Month from iStyleblaq!

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Thoriso Magongwa – The world respects excellence

There are many concerns about diversity in the ballet profession. According to Thoriso, many factors contribute to ballet’s lack of diversity: Economic inequity (ballet training is notoriously expensive), a lack of role models for aspiring black ballet dancers to look up to, and a lack of funding for underserved communities are all issues. Thoriso Magongwa is the first black ballet dancer to perform at the Czech Republic’s national theater. He studied at the Ballet Theatre African Academy and the National School of the Arts, and has performed in South Africa, Germany, Austria, and Russia.

Muzi: I am just curious, how did you end up in this profession and why ballet?

Thoriso: It is quite a simple story actually. I was at school and we had extramural activities and ballet was introduced. I used to be an academic when I was at school and I was always very curious as a child and wanted to do things that expanded my vocabulary and would lead me to unknown lands and when I started off with ballet, it was something I didn’t know anything about because in my family we don’t have a history of ballet dancers, my family is very academic.

When I discovered this world something just attracted me to it.  I like the physical aspect, the French terminology, I loved that it involved my body and I liked that it seemed quite exclusive. It was a huge challenge. It had this elitist thing about it that made me want to fit into it because I’ve always aspired to be the highest version of myself so I always wanted to be a part of that. So I went to ballet and my body was not the right body type but I pushed through, I was very diligent and focused and I knew that this struck the core with my tastes. I had a visceral connection to the synergy of the body, the music, the lifestyle and it took to become a ballet dancer, so that’s how ballet happened to me.

Muzi: You mentioned exclusivity; how do you feel about ballet being perceived as a white profession?

Thoriso: That is a question that people are always drawn to. Ballet is a Eurocentric art form that originated in Italy and France. It is not a black and white art form; rather, it is a Eurocentric art form, and if you look at the history of Europe, you will notice that the majority of the people are Caucasian. Later on, it spread throughout the world, and people became interested in it. It later entered Africa as a result of colonisation. When we look at it in that light, we realize that black people were oppressed by apartheid and were denied access to the worlds of theatre and the fine arts. We only had to educate ourselves over time.

So yes, the majority of people who do ballet are Caucasian because it has been in their cultures’ history and DNA for so long, but that does not mean that it is not open to black people. The same could be said for horseback riding, cricket, or tennis; nobody is stopping us from becoming the next Serena Williams, for example. It is a matter of taste, interest, knowledge, and determining whether you truly desire it for yourself. I don’t think it’s a black-and-white issue, but rather one of personal preference.

Muzi: How can we bring ballet to the townships, particularly to township schools that do not have it? Ballet is taught in your multi-racial schools.

Thoriso: The tricky part is that ballet is not a cheap sport; leotards are expensive, shoes are expensive, stockings are expensive, fees for ballet exams and teachers are expensive, and so on. It also excludes people from underprivileged societies, making it difficult to participate. I know a lot of people in South Africa who go to the townships to do projects, but they are usually short-lived because money is required.

You need help from the government and sponsors; you need people to give you money so you can pay your rent and go teach the kids who can’t afford it. Most of the time, it is linked to the fact that you need to find a space to teach that ballet class because you cannot teach ballet on the field; you need that hall with the wooden floor-specific type of floor. Not every community or school in the township has that, so it’s a very complex and complicated conversation, but it’s one that many of us black people who do go into the ballet world can relate to.

Muzi: What lessons have proven to be the most beneficial in your dance training, and how are you putting them into practice?

Thoriso: Ballet is a very complicated art form. The most important aspect is the constant pursuit of one’s best version of themselves, which is taught through aesthetics, body type. Is your body forming the most beautiful, elegant classical lines? Are you in proper shape and form for the art form? Are you living up to your title and name, the ethereal being of a ballet dancer? That has so many things and avenues in trying to become that kind of person, and I think I took that into my personal life out of the stage in just emulating a very graceful persona and just being very regal and having a very classy persona (so to speak) because I learned through ballet and my training.

Thoriso: Can I answer categorically, and this isn’t just about dancers? It’s about the entire world. The dance industry, like soccer, rugby, or orchestra, the world respects excellence. People will accept you if you are good at what you do. People will notice and identify with a mediocre dancer, black or white. We have a tendency to look for excuses, categorize things, and try to figure things out. You must first determine your body, technique, goal, motivation, and what you want the world to see, and then project that to the world. Own your talent, your gift, and allow others to see only that. When I realized and learned this, I was able to project that energy in the brightest way possible, and it was the thing that opened the doors for me. Understanding that fundamental concept has led me to where I am and where I have been- the world responds to excellence.

Muzi: What are your current and future plans? Where do you see the ballet profession in the future?

Thoriso: I am currently preparing for the debut of a new show called Bolero. Unanswered Questions, a piece choreographed by my artistic director, deals with gender identity, heteronormative society, and the zeitgeist of what is happening right now in the world about people and pronouns (them, they, us, etc.), so he’s going into that whole conversation, which is quite interesting. Right now, I’m also dancing this extensive repertoire. I have a Sleeping Beauty production coming up, as well as a Nutcracker production, so I’m still in our company’s repertoire.

On a personal level, I’m not sure how much longer I’ll be a stage ballet dancer. I’m using the universe and my talents, I don’t know if you know, but I have a YouTube channel and I do a lot of moderation for ballet galas and premiers and I interview a lot of artistic directors and ballet icons so I am pushing that and it is really taking off here in Europe and a lot of people like me for that and I want to expand it into beauty pageants and becoming an international presenter and also turning myself into a business and not just being looked as a ballet dancer. My future is a big question mark, but it will be a great one. In terms of Thoriso Mogongwa, the future will see me being celebrated and recognized for all of my hard work.

Instagram

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Kojo Baffoe – African Fatherhood

Photo by Victor Dlamini

‘Who I am today was heavily shaped by my father who raised me, by my steps and missteps in work, relationships and life, and by my children’ – Listen To Your Footsteps, extracts. Kojo Baffoe, who is best known as a writer, poet and author, talks about his book, important life lessons he learned from his father and myths surrounding African fatherhood.

Muzi: You are a writer, poet, blogger, media consultant, producer, columnist, speaker and former editor of destiny man magazine. Would you describe yourself as a jack-of-all-trades and to what extent should the quote ‘jack-of-all-trades, master of none or one’ be considered?

Kojo: I have always joked and said I am a professional jack of all trades because I have held different positions in different industries and never defined myself by my title. I think in today’s world, we need to be able to navigate different areas and understand different sectors and areas.

Muzi: Having held various positions, what would you say is your career highlight, and what is your true love?

Kojo: I do not focus on the idea of a career to define my life. I have never really focused on building a career in the traditional sense so I have never sat down and reviewed my ‘career’ to determine where I am now. My goal is never to be that or to reach a particular position. It is about the life that I am building and living. As far as the highlights, they are certain moments, certain things that have happened or that I have achieved that are memorable or significant, but each one kind of falls into the step of the journey. Publishing my book is one such highlight. When I self-published my poetry books in 2005, that was a moment, and I think having children and getting married are also moments.

My work has been publicly available, from publishing in magazines like Afropolitan and Destiny Men to hosting a talk show on Kaya FM, but a lot of what I do today, and a lot of what I have done in between, is not necessarily publicly available. While I do think, in this day and age, we need to acknowledge and celebrate things, more important for me is that I am doing the work. My focus is always on the work, whatever work that is, and the life I am trying to build.

Muzi: Your latest book, Listen To Your Footsteps, is a collection of essays, thoughts and poems that reflect on your journey so far and the lessons you have learned and continue to learn along the way. What inspired you to write and share your journey?

Kojo: In terms of the actual book, I have always wanted to write a book and have wanted to for about 10 years. The first conversation with the publisher was in 2011/2012, but it did not happen. I was too busy being a magazine editor at the time. I write every day and I always have because that’s my job so it – the desire to write and have a book published – was something that was always there, to some degree. Plus, even though I am always writing, I felt a little inadequate as a writer because I had never written a book before.

Muzi: In your book, you mention that your father made you the person you are today. What lessons from your father have proven most valuable and what is your idea of fatherhood?

Kojo: There are certain values and principles that I grew up with that I have taken to heart and that I can bring to my parenting in my own way. At the same time, being a parent is challenging because you try to guide your children and teach them certain values, but in everyday life things are constantly changing. Overall, I try to teach my children to be empathetic and respectful and to approach the world with the same respect for others and themselves, which is something that my father always reiterated. That and we always have a choice so we need to be deliberate in making said choices ensuring that they reflect our values.

Muzi: I grew up with a single mother who did everything for us and we did not feel the absence of a father figure. What is the important role of a father? What difference does having a father make?

Kojo: Part of the challenge with a question like this is that we equate parenting exclusively with doing. For example, when we talk about single mothers being able to care and provide for their children, it is possible. I too was raised by a single parent, just in this case, it was my father. At the same time, I believe that every child should have two parents, and I should say I don’t focus on the gender of the parents. It’s just that I have children and I have found that in raising our children, there are certain things that I struggle with and there are certain things that my wife struggles with, and it has a lot to do with our personalities. Two people raising a child bring different strands, different personalities, and they complement each other. The reason I say that is because I have gay friends who are married and have children, and it’s the same thing.

The irony of this country is that when I first had children, people asked me, “How do you feel about absentee fathers? I do not know what to say. After all, you are talking about your point of reference, your context as opposed to my context. I do not understand it, because I do not understand the attitude that you say ‘you know you have children, but well, you’ll see what happens’, and you are not present in their lives. I guess it’s a problem all over the world, but I feel like it’s more prevalent in South Africa. When I was growing up in Lesotho, for myself and the people around me, our fathers were there. Even if they were not perfect, they were there.

As for the role of the father, I do not focus on what I provide but rather on how I am, as a parent. What example am I setting for them? Just as there is the notion of motherly love, there is also fatherly love.

Muzi: Do you have a message for young fathers or fathers-to-be?

Kojo: Simply, be there. Be present for both your child and the mother. Most times you won’t feel like you are getting it right, whatever that means, but keep trying to do and be better and keep being there. Being a parent is a journey and our children force us, if we allow them, to become better versions of ourselves. They watch us and so we need to practice the lessons and values we are trying to instil in them. Ours is to provide them with the tools – emotional and otherwise – to build the lives they want. We are their example.

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WOMEN IN LEADERSHIP: Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng

Whenever there are talks about Gender and Diversity, the biggest question that arises: “Will we ever reach gender equality in the workplace?” or is it just a theory that can never be realised. In this woman in leadership interview feature, Istyleblaq connects with one of the most influential women leaders in Africa, Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng. I am delighted to have someone of her stature in our interview series for the blaqnifiscent feature.

About Prof Mamokgethi Phakeng

Mamokgethi Phakeng is currently the Vice Chancellor of one of the Top Universities in South Africa, the University of Cape Town (UCT). A professor of Mathematics Education, having graduated from the University of Witwatersrand with a PhD in Mathematics Education. She has occupied many leadership roles such as that of the president of the Association for Mathematics Education South Africa (AMESA), President of Convocation of Wits University, trustee of the FirstRand Foundation and a member of the Board of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR).

Phakeng is the founder of the Adopt-a-learner Foundation, a non-profit organisation that started in 2004 and provides financial support to learners from township and rural areas to acquire higher education. In 2013, she received an award from CEO Magazine for being the most influential women in education and training in South Africa.

MUZI: You have occupied senior leadership roles and sat on different boards, and you’re currently the vice-chancellor of UCT – How is it like being a black female in leadership and how are you handling it?

PROF PHAKENG: It is rough but it can be done. Firstly – I think handling it is accepting the fact that if you’re a woman in leadership, particularly a black woman in this country, you are going to have scrutiny. Scrutiny on you will be excruciating and you will just have to accept that. Secondly, you will also have to make peace with the fact that not everyone will like you. You are here to do a job and thirdly, you are here because you can do the work. There will be detractors but you always have to be convinced that you can do the work. That doesn’t mean you are a God but it means you are capable; you are able and you can do it just like any man can. I think those three key aspects are
important.

MUZI: Have you ever had any instances where you felt undermined in leadership because of your gender and how did you deal with it?

PROF PHAKENG: Yes, I have been undermined many times and it depends where the undermining happens. When it happens in meetings, I have so far kept quiet and let the people who are undermining beat themselves up doing it but if it happens in a meeting where it’s just the two of us I will call it out because, but in a big meeting, I don’t call it out. That is the burden of being a black African woman in leadership in this country.

MUZI: How do you feel when that happens? Honestly, for me, I am very emotional, and such instances break me.

PROF PHAKENG: I feel humiliated, and I have felt humiliated many times at such meetings. I have felt bullied but one thing that my mother told me when I went into the world of work was that I must never cry at work about work. So, there are times when tears want to come out, and I hold myself that I will not cry at work. You do it at home, so I hold my tears – I will never cry at work. I have now accepted that this is the burden of the black woman, so I don’t respond any more in meetings. I just keep quiet and let the man or whoever is disrespecting and humiliating please themselves and I hope that people in the meeting will notice. It doesn’t always happen but I still keep going because the idea is to remove your attention from the work.

Remember that if you are a capable woman the agenda is to prove that you are not capable so if you remove your attention from the work, you get absorbed focusing on these issues of interactions and whatever and not doing the work and then they can catch you on the work, you know. If you are competent, Of course, there is nowhere else where they can catch you so that’s why they have to irritate you on that side.

MUZI: What are your thoughts on women empowerment? Is it about gender equality or is it more than that?

PROF PHAKENG: Yes it is more than that, it is a subset of a much wider issue about how we build diversity and inclusivity into the way we make decisions that will affect people. Either people in our place of work or the country or anywhere else but it’s a subset, you know, it doesn’t hang on its own, it comes under building diversity and inclusivity. I am saying that because under the umbrella of building diversity and inclusivity there is a whole lot…there’s gender, there are women but there is also diversity in terms of making sure that we get LGBTIQA+ into our spaces, in terms of people living with disabilities and of course if it’s women living with disabilities then the burden is way more. So, this umbrella of diversity and inclusivity that’s where women empowerment resides, I would say.

MUZI: There’s a small percentage of men who feel the focus is more on women and they are forgotten and side-lined – How can we involve them in this process or concept?

PROF PHAKENG: Good question. I think we need men who can be allies and I am a mother to young men. I have raised them to be feminists, to be pro-women, to see and be irritated by toxic masculinity. So, how our sons, brothers, fathers, partners and male colleagues see themselves and their important role in supporting their daughters, sisters, mothers, partners and female colleagues is hugely important. This is not about protecting, it’s about supporting, you know. So, you can become an ally and be that support and as a mother of young men, I have made it my problem that I want my sons to be good men…to be feminists. So, I identified the mix about the power of masculinity so that they can reconsider important roles that men and boys need to play in balancing the world so that violence against women and children can be unheard of in future generations, if men can do that if they can understand they’re role in balancing the world. I think gender-based violence should be a thing of the past for future generations.

MUZI: Where do you think we are as a society or as a country when it comes to women empowerment? Is there balance, especially in the workplace?

PROF PHAKENG: Not at all. I want to say that there will never be balance. The balance will never be about numbers, it is about regarding women in the same way that you regard men, giving the same privileges when they’re in the boardroom and not assuming that women are making one decision because they are angry. You will never hear anyone saying a man is angry, that a decision came from anger. So, it’s about the voices of women also being equal to the voices of men, it’s about women being regarded as professionals, as capable, that when you make a decision, the fact that you’re a woman should be irrelevant. Even in the interest of the institution, or country or organisation it should be that way. If we can’t get to that level then we’ll never achieve gender equality even with the numbers being the same, the number of women being the same or more.

At the moment it’s not, there are too few women in boardrooms across the country, too few women vice-chancellors in the country. In 26 universities you probably have six women vice-chancellors. The power of patriarchy, of masculinity… patriarchy always stands together and we as women are the target to be co-opted into supporting patriarchy and we should resist that because that’s going to help bring us to gender equality. We’ve got to start with the numbers so that we’ve got the critical mass and when you’ve got the critical mass it becomes easier to increase the voices of women.

MUZI: The University of Cape Town created a programme to empower women in local governance. Can you tell us more about that and how it is going?

PROF PHAKENG: I feel like I should tell you about that but I should also tell you about when I came into office, I also created a program that’s called #forwomenbywomen. It is empowering women and we invested R25 000 000 to appoint women who can research areas of study where women are in
short supply and secondly in areas that research aspects that affect women like GBV or reproductive science and so on.

Also, in #forwomenbywomen we made the requirement that we want to develop capacity so these women that won the grants to do research also have to mentor other women. As a woman vice-chancellor, I felt like that’s important to do and that was the first project that I launched.

Then in 2019, we launched the programme to empower women in local governance. The idea here is that we as women want to be the change that we want to see in our communities, in our municipalities, in our state-owned enterprises and our lives. So, we did this programme as the UCT Nelson Mandela School of Public Governance, we partnered with the South African Local Governance Association (SALGA) and the Zenande Leadership Consulting and we created this women leadership development.

The programme is about leading and being the change so the course includes an accredited short course training. It also includes access to individual coaching sessions to support the women who enrol for this programme, to support them on their learning journey and thirdly it includes one-on-one mentorship. In addition to them doing a course and getting these coaching sessions to support their learning journey, we give them one-on-one mentorship of who can work with them and it has been very successful. So far 110 women leaders participated in the open invitation August 2020, we advertised it in 2019-2020 and 110 women participated. The 70 women leaders will graduate from the programme this year in October and they work in all dimensions of the local government sector with most of them having about 10 years of experience. So, it’s a way for us to contribute to good governance in the country and empower women, not only those who are in academia but also those who are in the municipalities, who work with men so that we can see women leadership roles rising.

MUZI: What are your future hopes for women out there?

PROF PHAKENG: My future hope is that as women we can come together and coming together is about supporting one another. If you see a woman struggling with something, go to them and help them do it better. Women are being co-opted into patriarchy and we need to change that mindset. Never go into the boardroom with a CEO that is a woman and you have an idea of bringing her down. Every time you bring a woman leader down, you’re bringing yourself and many other women down because when any woman fails, it is all of us that fail.

We’ve got to accept as women that there will be someone better than you, and that’s okay. If they are in a leadership position, you should know that they are in the struggle, support them because it’s tough. If you don’t support them then there is nobody else who will support them. Stop criticising them for whatever they’re wearing, their hair or whatever…men don’t do that. We have got to build women.

MUZI: Finally, what does black excellence mean to you?

PROF PHAKENG: For me it means celebrating and showcasing any excellent work that is done by a black person because that gives the message that we CAN, in a world that’s dominated by whiteness and being western. If the world was not dominated by whiteness, there wouldn’t be any need for black excellence but we live in a world that is dominated by everything western and everything white is the best, it’s the way to be and so black excellence has to be highlighted, celebrated and embraced in this country and the world because it says to younger people coming after us that we don’t have to be white to be a pilot or that kind of athlete or leader, black people can do it and it means you can do it too.

Prof Kgethi Phakeng@UCT_VC

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Monde Twala Talks Leadership and Black Excellence

I have always been fascinated with leadership. Over the years I have found that people are naturally more inclined to follow one leader over another. It is a decision often premised on preferences made due to differences in leadership styles. This begs the question, what makes a leader effective? Below, Monde Twala, Senior Executive of Global media and entertainment company, ViacomCBS unpacks effective leadership.

Monde Twala has earned his stripes as a respected leader and an executive at a global company. He is currently the Vice President of ViacomCBS Networks Africa’s BET, Youth & Music brands and is responsible for driving the development and growth of iconic music, youth, and entertainment brands BET, MTV, MTV Base, and MTV Music24, across Africa.

Istyleblaq had an opportunity to talk to Monde Twala about his leadership journey.

MUZI: Your track record is impressive, having occupied senior leadership roles in several large-scale companies. You are currently leading one of the biggest organizations In Africa. Have you always wanted to be in leadership?

MONDE: My background and upbringing molded me into who I am today. Ngingu’mntwana ka gogo – I was raised by my grandmother. As the eldest at home, there was a lot of expectation and responsibility put on me from a young age. This is where my creativity, understanding of people, and inclusivity grew.

 MUZI: What do you like most about leadership?

MONDE: In all my years of leadership experience, I have occupied different roles with the sole aim of leading with purpose and leading from the front. I pride myself on my ability to listen attentively and understand people from different walks of life. I think leaders in today’s world need to not only listen to hear but to listen to understand, particularly, when dealing with young people.

Over the years I have worked with various brands including MTV, BET, MTV Base, Nickelodeon, Comedy Central, and this experience taught me the importance of having a diverse understanding of markets and trends that shape this industry. There is an old adage that says that Umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu which can be loosely translated toI am because you are”. This is an adage that continues to inspire my leadership style. When you look at it, modern-day leadership requires a level of flexibility, adaptability, and agility. It also requires a broader understanding of your team and their skillset. I do not believe in being the jack of all trades and a master at none.

Our recruitment systems enable us to bring skilled people that are experts in their fields and have truly mastered the industry, and I often lean on them to produce meaningful work. Modern-day leaders should not only lead but also allow themselves to be led. Through coming to the party with an open mind and a collaborative spirit, leaders can achieve great strides and meet growth targets in any organization.

MUZI: Different leaders have different leadership styles – What do you think is Effective Leadership, and how would you describe your leadership style?

MONDE:  A good leader is one who is able to carefully assess their challenges, consult broadly and collaborate with his team to produce exceptional work and bring solutions to the table. It is also about appreciating my team, their skills, talent, and their ability to pull it all together and deliver meaningful work. Passion is also central to everything we do because if you do not have the passion, you will struggle to lead people.

MUZI: The ability to effectively lead, motivate and direct a group of people – whether it is in business, community, or politics – requires a very complex set of skills. Is leadership born or built?

MONDE: I believe everyone is a leader in their own right. In whatever situation you find yourself in, whether personal or in your professional career, leadership is something you grow into. We are all called to lead at some point in our lives. Whether you are a sportsman, musician, or across any space, people can grow into becoming leaders.

As a soccer fanatic, my leadership style is inspired by sport. I played soccer in my youth and through this experience, I learned some principles of leadership that I still apply today as a leader. For example, in soccer, as the captain of a team, you are required to lead by example. Similarly, in my experience as a leader, I have found that when I lead by example, my team is more inclined to follow. It also helps that I have a strong foundation of values of respect, objectivity, and authenticity.

MUZI: You pride yourself in the projects you have successfully led such as the BET Awards, Africa Music Awards and you currently lead the BET international team. How is that going?

MONDE: Leading BET international is an opportunity that allows us to learn from our international colleagues while also providing an African perspective.

I think this role is important because it allows me to shine the light on African perspectives which is re-imagining Africa and ourselves, and elevating culture and business, and making sure that we can grow the South African and African economy. I am particularly excited for this new role because it provides opportunities for many other young Africans and young leaders who aspire for international success. It’s a proud moment for not only me but also for Africans globally.

MUZI: What are your thoughts on empowering black people and ensuring that there is a balance in leadership roles in the workplace?

MONDE: It’s a responsibility we have as leaders to bring others along. If you look at the population, you find that the African population is a young one. If you look at the projects that we choose to do, for instance: Boity, Own Your Throne on BET, showcasing a young, strong, independent, and talented African female – and how we used Boity’s profile and journey to highlight the importance of empowering young girls. That is an important factor because it inspires not only me but the business as well to consistently look at how we can elevate and groom new and fresh talent into the industry. It is something I have been passionate about throughout my career; I have always collaborated with amazing talent across the continent. Leaders who share knowledge are the most powerful.

MUZI. According to the African Report, Africa has deep leadership issues- Leaders stay in power way past their time, endless corruption, shortage of skills, and the youth floundering in many ways. What is your take on this?

MONDE: Leadership is a challenging position to fill. With that said, if you are the type of leader who empowers your team, takes the time to understand different perspectives, and use your ability to pull everything together into a strategy or solution, then you will progress and achieve your goals. I believe that we need to become more attentive to African problems and use international exposure to build case studies that can give us solutions.

MUZI: What advice can you give to aspiring leaders, any programs available to help develop future leaders?

MONDE: There are many programmes that are driving a positive impact while grooming future leaders by equipping them to identify their roles and responsibilities and think beyond self-interest. I think that more of us can lead while firmly rooted in making a difference and an impact.

As a continent, we have great leaders, and we have to pay attention to how we groom young people and foster their energy towards the right things. Wanting to be a leader that has a positive impact on the world is a noble dream that has to be nurtured in young people. This should be at the heart of every leader’s agenda.

MUZI: Istyleblaq celebrates and promotes black excellence – What does black excellence mean to you?

MONDE: Black excellence speaks to showing up every day in excellence and consistently reinventing ourselves when needed. It is a concept that speaks to being focused on your dreams, your purpose, and being engaged in projects that are beyond self-interest. Black excellence is a culture that can create, commit, and execute with great focus. It is about innovating and bettering your standards and those around you.

Black excellence is rooted in African culture. We strive to achieve black excellence in entertainment, storytelling, elevating and discovering new talent, and ensuring that this talent is successful beyond our borders. I mean, look at Trevor Noah who started on Comedy Central, and how he is shining the African flag on The Daily Show. It is about constantly challenging ourselves to be better than yesterday.