The world is changing fast and to keep up you need local knowledge with global context.
Some people really do have it all. Jo-Ann Strauss is a classic example. Although she has beauty, brains and business acumen, it hasn’t all fallen into her lap. She’s had to work at reinventing herself. Here, Jo-Ann chats to broadcast journalist Ruda Landman about how she has continually worked on bringing about change in her own life for the better. – JC
By Ruda Landman
When fame came knocking at 19-year-old Jo-Ann Strauss’s varsity res fourteen years ago, she opened the door wide – and embraced the big, glamorous changes it brought with it.
And the changes haven’t stopped: These days, Jo-Ann is a mom, wife, and successful business woman. Ruda Landman caught up with Jo-Ann in Cape Town to chat about her change journey. Watch the video or read the full transcript of the interview below.
Ruda: Our guest today, Jo-Ann Strauss, lovely Miss South Africa from 2000 and a businesswoman since then, and my colleague on the board of Media24. Very happy to have you here.
Jo-Ann: Thanks so much, Ruda, it’s always lovely to chat to you and especially in different capacities, I’m looking forward to a good catch-up.
Ruda: And we have spoken to Jack Parow and Jo-Ann says he’s almost your neighbour?
Jo-Ann: Absolutely, we actually live in the same neighbourhood in Tamboerskloof, so it seems to be this sort of bohemian mix right there, so ja, we enjoy living in Cape Town.
Ruda: I want to start your story in 2000. You were a student, you were doing law at the time, and then you entered a beauty competition and won.
Ruda: What change did that bring?
Jo-Ann: Well, Ruda, at that point in time I wasn’t really as interested in world peace as I was interested in the brand new car that I could win with the pageant, but the change, yes, of course, as a student, staying in Minerva in my res, to all of a sudden staying in a beautiful apartment in Sandton and driving a beautiful car and having my first stamp in my passport… so I think in terms of change, it changed me a lot as a person but it also changed me a lot in terms of seeing the other side. From student life, to the glamour life. It was quite a taste of what I enjoyed… or what I thought I would enjoy as time went along. It was a great experience, and definitely a big Change Event in my life.
Ruda: But you kept going with your studies. Did you have to make a conscious decision? Because the world of fashion and glamour can swallow you up?
Jo-Ann: It’s a fickle industry. For me, my dad was adamant that I went back and finish my degree. So, we had a lot of… I would call it “healthy debate” on the topic, and then finally I decided yes, I went back and finished my degree. So I did my BComm Law at Stellenbosch and… yes, my dad is still waiting for me to go and finish my LLB and my articles, but dad’s going to wait a little bit longer, I think [laughs].
Ruda: Are you glad that you did that? That you hung in there?
Jo-Ann: I am very glad. Really, I think for me it’s also one of those things… The media industry is fantastic, but it also is an important thing for people to note – that there’s media and there’s the show part of it, but there’s also the business part. People always go they love show business, but there’s show and there’s business. And they sometimes forget that those two need to be seen together in context for you to actually become a successful person.
Ruda: Do you sometimes feel that you have to prove that you’re more than just a pretty face?
Jo-Ann: Ruda, it does happen from time to time, but I think less now as I’ve become older. As a 19 year old Miss South Africa, yes. People do think you’re there and instead of asking you valid questions about the economy, even though I had my major in economics, they would go “O, dis darem ‘n mooi rokkie wat jy vandag aan het. You’re wearing a cute little dress today” and this or that, and you sort go into a big meeting thinking that’s not all I know about. But yes, as you grow older and you gain experience, it does become easier. But I also think that sometimes it’s a pro to be underestimated, so you walk in and you’re always going to have people on the backfoot when you do mention that you know a bit more about the financial statements or whatever the case may be at that point in time.
Ruda: I found that when I first interviewed National Party politicians in 1985, and I was … however old I was, but they did not see me coming, because I was a young woman in the Afrikaans culture.
Jo-Ann: You know how to bake koeksisters, and that’s it. [laughs]
Ruda: Ja, and so it can be an asset.
Jo-Ann: Absolutely. It’s… I think that’s the great thing, I mean now as times have progressed, people do expect more from women, but it is one of those things. As a young woman walking into a business environment, you are often underestimated.
Ruda: And moving on to tying the knot. You’re married to a German orthopaedic surgeon. How do you bridge the culture gap?
Jo-Ann: Well I think firstly, my husband is from Southern Germany, and I think there’s actually between the Bavarians, because they feel yes, they’re German, but they’re very much Bavarian. Between the Bavarians and the Afrikaans cultures there’s a lot of synchronicity, to call it that. But he loves Cape Town. He is actually, he’s worked a lot in various township hospitals here, he’s very cute – he speaks Afrikaans with a Cape Town accent, so he’s like “het dzy lekka geslaap bokkie” [laughs]. So it’s amazing. He absolutely embraces the culture of Cape Town, of South Africa and I have embraced his culture as well, so I’m actually going to the Oktoberfest and wear my little German dress and it’s a bit of a change, but I enjoy it.
Ruda: How did being married change your priorities?
Jo-Ann: I think, when it comes to marriage, firstly I often say to people that in today’s society people spend more time planning the wedding, instead of planning the marriage. And the wedding is one day, the marriage is hopefully for decades and decades thereafter, and my husband and I, we read a book by George Chapman, “Things I wish I knew before we got married” and we actually just spent quite a lot time speaking about what it means to both of us – being married. But ja, how things changed with marriage, I think because we’ve been together for such a long time, the relationship itself… One could say it’s stronger because now we’re in a more official sense. But I think it’s important that you say “I do” every day. It’s not just one day, that every day you make a conscious decision to be married. And I think that stood us in good stead.
Ruda: Ja, I think being married 37 years now… [laughs]
Jo-Ann: Wow. I’m taking notes from you, then! But yes, you do need to keep saying “I do”.
Ruda: Yes, the consciousness is unbelievably important, because you can so easily just drift along and then drift apart.
Jo-Ann: And take each other for granted. I think that’s the other thing also. That the small little things, one has to notice the small little thank you’s and the small little things also. All of that sort of is a summation of a whole.
Ruda: You kept your wedding very small. How does one choose only 30 people to come?
Jo-Ann: Very difficult to have such a small wedding, especially from my culture. But I think for my husband and I we also said that if we have 31 people at our wedding – actually it was 30, 31 including the priest, who decided to stay for the party, which was great! Our priest also happens to be our neighbour, so yes, we do keep everything in the neighbourhood. But, it was a big decision for us to just have a small, intimate wedding where we could concentrate on each guest that was there, and each guest meant something very special to us. And we had subsequent parties afterwards to celebrate the fact that we were married, but the actual ceremony itself, that was very small and very intimate.
Ruda: What was the most unexpected part of… I don’t think being married, because as you say it was one step in an ongoing relationship… But in the relationship, in sharing your life, being part of two?
Jo-Ann: I think the most surprising part, if I really had to put my finger on it, was probably the fact that you know now that a small fight doesn’t mean shut the door and have silent treatment. The small fight, which could become a big fight, you have to nip it in the bud. You’ve got to make sure that you actually go “Okay, fine, what went wrong, sort this out, no time for drama” – and oh, “I’m not going to speak to you” silent treatment does not work. [laughs]
Jo-Ann: If you plan on being together for a long, long time.
Ruda: And you’re investing consciously every day, because today changes how tomorrow develops.
Jo-Ann: Very true. Ja.
Ruda: How did your work on Top Billing and all that stuff influence you when you had to set up your own house?
Jo-Ann: Well, we could say that our house is very minimalist? But I’d actually just say it’s undecorated! [laughs] We have been so busy. Went from the wedding, having a baby and it’s just… I’m constantly on the road. I spend so much time commuting between Cape Town and Johannesburg, we’re in the process of decorating, but I think that’s also for us a lifelong process. So when I look at the Top Billing houses, that are amazing and you walk in and it’s turnkey and everything’s amazing… Our house is not quite there yet, but I like that.
Ruda: What makes a house a home?
Jo-Ann: I think what makes a house a home is probably when there’s heart and soul of the people living in it invested in the house, and not just a blank paycheque. I think I enjoy putting little pieces, or even little quirky things that just my husband and I would understand in the house, so for example when you see a little glass snail on one display cabinet, you know that glass snail represented blah blah blah. So I do think it’s got to have a sense of humour that comes from the owners, and one of my favourite books is from Khalil Gibran, it’s called The Prophet, and he also speaks in there about a house and how houses also dream and they long to be in valleys with trees and all of that, and our house sort of feels like a treehouse, which I enjoy about it, and for us we sit, we discuss the long days over a glass of wine with a kaggel, the fireplace, on and just overlooking Cape Town… that makes it home for us.
Ruda: Where did you find each other?
Jo-Ann: We found each other in Camps Bay, nine years ago, the 28th of August, yes. I walked up to him and said “you look nice, you dress well. This is Cape Town. Are you gay?”
Jo-Ann: [laughs] Which is a logical question in Cape Town, and nine years later we’re happily married with a baby.
Ruda: That’s a very nice pick-up line.
Jo-Ann: Direct! [laughs] Absolutely. I wanted to know. What’s the point of wasting time? I needed to know then, is it actually worthwhile investing any more time in the pursuit. So yes.
Ruda: How long did it take before you knew that you were together?
Jo-Ann: I think that it was pretty much a case of… well you could say love at first sight. Yes. We… a friend of mine did actually remark that “there goes my future husband”, so she was right.
Ruda: And when you introduced him to your parents? Someone so different?
Jo-Ann: My parents… no they actually… they fell in love with him from the beginning. I think it’s also again the German culture and the South African culture, or the Afrikaans culture maybe, very, very similar. So they got along very quickly.
Ruda: Jo-Ann, and the new baby? Not so new? How old is it now?
Jo-Ann: Five months old. Born on International…
Ruda: That’s the cutest stage!
Jo-Ann: Born on International Happiness Day, so I think it’s a good omen. So ja, 20th of March he was born.
Ruda: Planned? Did you want him then?
Jo-Ann: Definitely. You know Ruda, it’s one of those things as well. As much as I enjoy being a career woman, I think motherhood is something that one is blessed to be. And ja, absolutely. I was planning at 33 and at 33 he came. So very blessed that everything happened according to plan.
Ruda: And how has he changed your life?
Jo-Ann: I think to say that he’s changed my life is probably a big understatement. It’s all consuming, but I think it’s also one of those things, I think very much a happy mother is a fulfilled mother. And I’ve never been as tired in my life, but I’ve also never been as happy. So it is one of those things… I’m fortunate to be able to work on occasion. I also think it’s interesting when people say “oh, you’re a stay-at-home mom… you don’t really work” – stay-at-home moms actually work the most of any people that I’ve seen. And I’m trying to not be a stay at home mom, but even just the taste of stay-at-home-momness is quite overwhelming! And yes, I think it is such a blessing to have baby and I’m absolutely enjoying every single moment.
Ruda: But you had to juggle the balls very carefully? I read some of your blogs – what’s your blog called?
Jo-Ann: It’s called Modern Mommy, so modernmommy.co.za – shameless punt – and but yes, I sort of have my musings and my feelings on motherhood are sort of expressed there. I thought it was easier to do it that way instead of doing magazine articles about motherhood. For me, that way it’s what I want to speak about, in terms of motherhood and I try to keep my son out of the media, so I don’t really mention his name in media or there’s no pictures out. There won’t be any exclusive stories or the first pictures of him. But with Modern Mommy it’s just my chance to sort of share some thoughts on motherhood.
Ruda: It’s difficult sometimes to be such a public face?
Jo-Ann: You know, Ruda, it is. Yes and know. Because for me I made a conscious decision to be involved in the world of media. My husband and my son did not. So that’s why I try to keep things separate. But yes, my husband is a doctor. And for him there’s no glamour in what he does. My son… I don’t want to have pictures out there. I think one day when he’s old enough to say he wants to be in pictures, great. But until then I’m going to try and protect him. But yes, I do manage to keep the private and the public life separate. So I think I’ve been relatively successful thus far.
Ruda: And practical pointers for… women are forever struggling with the balance-thing.
Jo-Ann: Yes, I think with the balance it sort of… you feel guilty when you are at home and you feel guilty when you are at work. So it’s a constant sort of a… ja… you constantly try to balance what it more important, and it’s not that one is more important than the other and vice versa, you just constantly feel guilty about where you are. But in terms of the balance the important thing is for me, my mom has been such an important figure in my life, especially now as a new mom. And I realise now how much my mom loves me, because I think of how much I love my boy. But in terms of the balance it is important that when people offer help, accept it. I think sometimes being such a strong woman you want to do everything yourself, but I’ve learnt also that you do need to accept help. When friends offer, when they come round and they’re like “you need to take a shower – do you want to hand the baby over?” Say yes! When they offer to bring you something to eat for dinner because you’re going to have take-aways for the fourth night in a row, say yes. So yes. Accepting help and sometimes realising that you’re not superwoman.
Ruda: And the fact that you are not there all the time. How does that affect the relationship between your baby and his father?
Jo-Ann: I think the important thing is a husband or father… it is such an important role in a child’s life, to have a father. And I’ve been very fortunate to have a very hands-on husband. He loves fatherhood.
Ruda: He isn’t afraid of things getting messy?
Jo-Ann: He isn’t afraid. He’s changed more diapers than I have, so he’s absolutely amazing. And I think yes, I think fatherhood, especially in our country and our generation, sometimes people underestimate the value of having a strong father figure, and my son is absolutely in love with his dad. Of course he is mommy’s little boy, but with his dad his face lights up. His first smile was for his daddy.
Ruda: But with you it sounds like you had a very close relationship with your dad?
Jo-Ann: I do. My dad is amazing. He is… we’re very close, we do, like I said, have very colourful debates and we both have very strong wills, so it takes a while to convince him of my opinion, but we’re very, very close and I think I’m a lucky woman to say that. Because my dad from being this very authoritative figure and always I must do this and I must study this and I must do that, we have fun. We chuckle. He often says to me when am I going to get a real job. And ja… I think that’s why he’s still waiting for me to go and finish my articles and become a lawyer. Ja. The joys of fatherhood.
Ruda: What was the most unexpected part of being a mother?
Jo-Ann: The fact that your time is never your own. I actually posted something on Instagram a few days ago and it was a picture of the bathroom door closed and a little hand underneath, crawling through going ‘they will find you’. [laughs] So going to have a shower is an absolute luxury there days, an uninterrupted shower, or yes, it is a fact that your time is definitely not your own anymore. So ja. I suppose I did expect it, but the sort of level of time consumption by such a little person. It’s amazing how much such a little person needs.
Ruda: You don’t get to read… we were talking about the Media24 documents. I remember that I couldn’t read more than a newspaper article because there’s not enough time.
Jo-Ann: Well this is it. My husband was joking… so I will actually show my little repetitive strain of thumb injuries – my husband is joking it’s because I’m sitting on my smartphone constantly scrolling, because that’s the only way I can read these days. These little bite-sized articles. But yes, it is quite amazing to see how much time you have to invest. But again, the smaller they are, the more dependent they are on you and I think I’m enjoying that. I mean even when he starts to walk or is able to dish his own food into his mouth I am going to miss being the absolute go-to person for everything. So ja, it is amazing.
Ruda: You started working quite quickly after he was born. Was that a conscious decision? Or was it just life?
Jo-Ann: Life. I had accepted the directorship with Media24 at that time I think I was seven months pregnant. My first board meeting was supposed to be a week after giving birth, and I thought I would make it, and I ran to the car all dressed and I couldn’t unfold my pram, and I didn’t know how to get into my car with the baby seat and… so I only managed to go back to work two weeks after giving birth, but I did try a week after. But yes, it is, I enjoy working and I think a satisfied mom in terms of work… I think whether you’re a stay at home mom or a working mom, the most important thing is that as a mom you’re happy, because that then reflects on your child as well… so I’m very lucky to be able to have a kind of a flexible career where I am able to do both.
Ruda: And is it sometimes difficult to connect those two? Because your television persona is so glamorous and being a mother is not?
Jo-Ann: Currently I am hiding rice cereal spills and I think there’s a little bit of apple puree underneath this jacket, but I do think also what I enjoy about my work is I get to put on my make-up and go and do something that’s glamorous and I get to come home and put on my littleskaapvel slippers and just be mom. So it actually makes you appreciate both sides a lot more.
Ruda: Good luck! I hope you will be a very happy mom for the rest of your son’s life.
Jo-Ann: Thank you so much, and hopefully there will be more changes and we’ll add more to the brood!
Ruda: Let’s do that. Well… let’s talk about that when it happens.
Jo-Ann: Absolutely [laughs]
Ruda: Thanks Jo-Ann.
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