The world is changing fast and to keep up you need local knowledge with global context.
Change offers many opportunities to grow. Change allows people to become more thoughtful and considerate. It embraces learning to forgive and allows us to move on from past painful situations. Change makes us become a better people.
Melusi is a disrupter of the norm, he loves challenges and takes them head on. His career of 20 years, as an advertising creative, groomed him for the new chapter of his life as the shepherd leading South African’s from different walks of life to break bread with one another. Using social media, Melusi is breaking down barriers and educating all South African’s, one Zulu word at a time.
The frank, funny and honest, Melusi sat down to talk to Ruda. He shares everything about being an ad man, navigating corporate South Africa, his passion for isiZulu uniting South Africa and building the foundation for a great country for his children.
Hello and a very warm welcome to another session of the Change Exchange. My guest, Melusi Tshabalala, an advertising man who has now found sudden fame … because of something he started as just a Facebook post in the first place, but we will get to that. We will tell you all about it. Melusi welcome, thank you for being here, for taking time …
Thank you for having me, it is an honour.
How did you get into advertising?
It’s a convoluted story but my aunt, who is now passed on, worked for a family that was in advertising production, so they had a production house. And so, I was interested in knowing what it is that they do and so I picked up my interest there. And when I finished matric though, I mean no one in those days tells you anything about advertising, you know … so I wanted to go into advertising, but I was steered towards engineering but fortunately we couldn’t afford to send me to university. So, I didn’t have to do engineering. But in that year straight after university, I then spent time making phone calls, trying to get a job and I called this placement agency, right and I had found this job in the newspaper. And this woman she said, “Look you’re not qualified for this job that you’re phoning for but come see me and let’s see if we can find you something”. And so, she got me in odd jobs like weird stuff and at some point, I was a waiter. And one day she said you look like a very bright guy and if you can get yourself into an advertising school, I will pay your first year’s tuition and you then have to find a bursary to pay for your second year, cause (sic) it was a two-year course.
How fortuitous that you came across a person like that.
Yes, very much so …
So, I went to the AAA advertising school and this was in 1998 and when I got there I didn’t know what courses or majors or anything of the sort they have cause … so, I asked them, what was is it that I can study?
That you can do [laughs].
And they took me through a list. It’s art direction. I said what does that do? and they told me, and I said no I don’t want to do that and account management, what does that do? I said no I don’t want to do that. Eventually they had gone through everything and I didn’t want to do any of it. And I said is that it? Is there nothing else? And they said well there is copywriting. I said okay tell me about that and they told me, and I said I’d like to do that. They said oh but you not a first language English speaker. I said I don’t get what the point of that is.
So are 99 percent of the country around me. Your market.
They said no, no most of it is in English. I said just give me … In fact, then they gave me a test. I went home, I did the test. I returned it and they accepted me. Right and I went back to this woman and I said I have been accepted. But fortunately, at that very same time, there was a man who worked at an ad agency, whom she was representing, as he was trying to find employment elsewhere and he then told her that at the agency where he worked they were giving away bursaries, so I got that bursary, so she didn’t have to pay for me.
Sjoe, networks. One person leads to another, leads to another.
So that’s how I got into advertising.
And once you started, I mean you said that every course they mentioned was not something you wanted to do. Once you started studying it and doing it, was it something you wanted to do?
To be honest, it was a very foreign environment for me, even though I had been fortunate enough to get one bursary to go to a private school, another bursary to go to a different school. I had never actually had white classmates. So that was my first encounter with white people of my age and it wasn’t always pleasant. And so that was a shock. Another thing that really, really shocked me, is that when I arrived the first day, I was a bit late because I had never been to the area before because you get lost with the busses. The parking lot was full of cars and I remember saying to the guy I was sitting next to; this school must have a lot of lecturers and he said no those are the students’ cars. And for me I couldn’t comprehend, you know what I mean like students’ cars? How do students have cars? So that was a disconnect, a completely new world for me. But when you started studying, you could that, see that even the lecturer, this was new to her, having black kids in her class, so we were all trying to adjust.
What percentage, more or less, in how big a class?
I think that if there were 20 students, four were black. And …
So very much a minority?
Very much a minority. And so, it was hard also to get our stories across. To get ourselves understood but also to get across the fact that we know what we’re talking about. You know what I mean, cause a lot of that stuff would relate to speaking to the black consumer but you’d still get told that you’re wrong. So, there was that struggle but there is still that struggle in advertising, anyway.
So, you find that there are preconceived ideas that you just can’t get past?
Yeah, I think because certain people exist in their own world. It’s hard for them to accept that they don’t know everything.
Because the moment they say … they have to accept they don’t know everything. They feel as if their value diminishes. So, they have to remain in control. Which is not great but that’s the struggle we face every day in this industry. But then, one of the funniest things was that, I’d gotten bursaries and then it had been a struggle to get through school, my mom is a domestic worker. And there was one day, I got to class and found my classmates on the floor screaming and I said well what’s happening here? And they said no, no the lecturer said we must get in touch with our inner child. And I thought hayi, this is not going to help me in my life. I’d never been told to get in touch with my inner child. I need a career, I need money.
I need to be an adult.
Yeah, you know what I mean, but … and then I went to the company that had given me a bursary, on one of the school holidays and I think they were getting pressure from one of their clients to say where are the black people in your company. So, they offered me a job and I said hey I am not going back to that place that, where I have to be in touch with my inner child and I took the job and yeah, that’s how I got employment in advertising.
And how did you find the situation race wise? If I may be as direct as that in the company that you had stepped into – because this was what, 20 years ago?
We were seen as if they were doing us a favour. Our ideas and thoughts were rarely taken seriously, do you know what I mean. So, every day it was psychological warfare, you know. So, for you to stay positive and feel that you were bringing in value and again, you were very much a minority.
Especially because you were now also young, and you didn’t have an extra qualification.
The qualification issue wasn’t really a biggy. It was the skin colour and the age, you know. So, you had to fight those battles. So, every day you had to put on amour and you say I’m going to fight, I’m not going to back down. So ja, there was a lot of that, but it wasn’t always doom and gloom. There was some people who really did help – there was people in our corner who made sure that we didn’t get treated badly. There are some people who really did help you know there were people who were in our corner who would make sure that we don’t get treated terribly but there were those who would just day, every day, every day trying to make you feel less than, gonna and you had to survive that and still do your job. And the other thing that there was a bit of a mismatch, is the company and most agencies are that side of the world Sunninghill. So, in order to get there, you have to travel really far you know and then and …
You didn’t have one of those cars in the parking lot.
And then your colleagues are just driving from Bryanston you know and, and that’s who you’re up against. By the time you get to work, sometimes you’re tired because there’s seen taxi violence you know or the taxi got stopped by police and it didn’t have the relevant licence and now you’re late and no one is trying to understand your story but you survived through all of that you know when you know who you are and what you are about.
How does one not become just angry and resentful? Because that would just dampen any creative possibilities.
Look you know, you, you encourage each other, encourage each other um but yeah I can tell you personally I was very angry and resentful you know, it’s something that I’ve only recently let go off you know as I turned 40 last year and that’s when I thought you know man I can’t go through life like this you know let me try and find a better way to go through life. But yeah there is a lot of that anger and resentment especially in corporate South Africa where people just feel they are not taken seriously, and they’re treated like their children and you know there’s no understanding or empathy of where you’re coming from and …
Yeah and, and that’s why I mean a lot of us when it’s Friday, you know yoh at least I don’t have to come back to this place for another two days you know because corporate South Africa is not a very welcoming place for black people.
Yes, still. The conversations that we have around our homes in our braais, is you know, I love my job but jeez yeah it’s, it’s just hard, the people, it’s actually the people that make it difficult you know because they, they come from whatever worlds they come in, come from and they have their perceptions and you have to deal with them you know and you have to find each other but some people are just block, block, block, block.
Did you make really good friends with the other black guys or black people who were working there because you shared this experience?
Yes and not just the ones that you worked with in the same agency because of the industry’s pretty small, you end up knowing each other and being friends because you need each other, you know, and also the shared experiences you know and, and that’s where the encouragement also came from, was when you find out that oh it’s not only me going through this others are going through it somewhere else and you encourage each other and also when you move agencies and you move jobs yeah, yeah. But a lot has changed a lot has changed I mean you see guys that I got into the industry with you know holding executive positions and they are able to now effect change you know they’re able to change the, the culture in those in those companies and, and their approach and the sort of people that they bring in so the older people are going out and the new generation of leaders is coming in and, and that’s helping a lot yeah.
Tell me how you started studio two-one-four, your own company, your own business?
Growing up I had no ambitions of being an entrepreneur you know, which is you grow up and you need to find a job. I mean even the, the, the kinds of jobs I would speak to my parents about they’ll just be like be a taxi driver or something, but you need to earn a living.
How many siblings?
They’re just two of us. I’ve got a younger brother and but when I started working in advertising I thought you know I don’t like this. I don’t like been given instructions every single day, when I have ideas of my own about how things should work. So, the first time I ventured into entrepreneurship was in 2001 so having started as a junior copywriter in 1998. In 2001, I left, and I started an entertainment company, right, it was meant to be an experiential marketing company but most of our clients were alcohol brands and all they wanted were parties, so it became an entertainment company and my business partner was a DJ. So that that’s what we did and after two years I thought no we’re drinking too much here, I need to go get a job, a real job. I went back into advertising but …
I’m sure your mother was really happy.
My mother doesn’t really … has always given me the freedom to just try and, and work and find my way in the world yeah but obviously her things that she’s she was unhappy about and she became very happy when I went back and got a, a proper job again and so I went back into advertising again worked through the ranks and got to creative director and then in 2009 I thought all right I think I’m ready now and the company that I was working for had just hired a new executive creative director who didn’t like me much and so when he offered voluntary retrenchment I said I I’ve been here long enough, so if I take the retrenchment, I have enough money to fund my own, my own …
Venture, so I took the voluntary arrangements and started building from, we started with freelancing and it wasn’t it, wasn’t even Studio 214, when we started it was called 76. No, no it was called June 15 first, so it was like the day before June 16, the planning right yeah, yeah the revolutionary vibes right and so.
You and a colleague?
Yeah, yeah there were three of us and then two of us, the two creative partners decided we don’t know we don’t want to work with that other guy anymore. So, we left, and we started another company called 76 again, we were young, and we were honouring the spirit of the young people who fought for change and lost their lives in 1976 and so with then partnered with other friends of ours, who were also running a two-man shop called Mother Russia. They had communist ambitions and we became 76 Mother Russia and then it just kept evolving and evolving so it’s been a journey of just lots of evolution and, and I enjoy that about it you know like for instance maybe the next time you see me I won’t be running Studio 214. I’ll be doing something else and, and I quite enjoy that.
And have you managed to find clients, who will trust you?
It’s again, again you know it’s very tricky. You, you think you’ve got a foothold and then something happens, and you crush back down but a big problem is their perceptions that you know when you walk into a room they look at you and your small black company. There is a trust problem you know even, even the marketers on the other side who would say to you know we would love to give you business but you’re a small company, and, and sometimes they’ll be frank if, mostly if they’ve liked as long as I say I would give you business but because we’re both black if anything goes wrong I’m fired cause they’re gonna say …
It will explode in my face.
So, they going to say I’d give it to small white company because they forgive those. But if yours messes up, you get fired and I get fired, so you’ve got all those sorts of challenges to, to deal with. But again, people are becoming a bit more progressive, so you do have agencies that are that are starting to thrive and so we’re also not doing terribly so it’s improving but you still have those challenges. That’s why it’s always funny when people complain about BEE, you know and say oh black businesses are thriving you say no you know on paper yes you’ve got the big businesses that are owned by the Cyrils and Patrices, but the average black entrepreneur has to deal with just lack of trust, people blocking you know what I mean. so, it it’s the small businesses are really struggling it’s the big guys that are thriving where BEE is doing well.
How is this going to change?
I think it’s a, it’s a very tricky question.
Is it just time?
Look the problem with time, is that the time is now.
Ja and it is time in your life … yes.
You know what I mean. The time is now, people need to earn now, and then feed their, their families now, you know. So I think the one thing that is important is that the legislation that is in place stays in place the, the BEEs and affirmative actions and is enforced, you know because what’s amazing is that you’ve got companies, who were forced to work with small black businesses and now they’re thriving because you bring life experiences particularly in something like advertising, that I needed. So what people need to see is that it’s actually a benefit to your business. you’re not doing me a favour, I bring something to the table I come from the market and I think the moment we stop thinking I’m doing you a favour and realising that no actually if I’m talking to these people, I need people who understand them to help me reach them effectively, you know so I think, I think the maturity issue. People just need to grow up.
Not find their inner child, not at work.
We need to, we need to stay young. You need to stay fun but they’re just certain things where we, we have to grow up I mean it’s a similar situation, with, with women-owned businesses and, and women in in the corporate sector and especially again black women you know. So if I’m sitting here complaining you know you have no idea what our sisters and our wives and and, and our cousins are going through. It’s much, much worse for them.
Yeah you know. so, this stereotyping you know what I mean and, and glass ceilings and then sexism. So all of that manifests itself interestingly in corporate South Africa. That’s the one place, where we all get together, and people bring their prejudices from home, you know. Your patriarchal men bring their patriarchy to the workplace, you know and try and suppress women, you know. Tribalists bring their tribalism to the workplace and try and suppress those who are different, and racists bring all of that to the workplace. So, the workplace in South Africa is a very stressful place, you know, and I think part of my reason for wanting to do my own thing was also that. I was just like I can’t wake up and then five days of my life, I’m dealing with the stuff it’s too much and I know a lot of my other peers who also started their own businesses. It was just like I need to get out of here.
I need to shape a space where I feel at home and welcome.
And have you? Do you feel like that now? When you go to the office on Monday morning do you feel that I can be relaxed here.
Yes so, so because your stresses that are reduced. Your stresses are, are we delivering a good product, are we getting new clients, you know, are we doing the right thing. Not, am I going to have to deal with X, Y and Z nonsense that is not related to what we are doing here. Yeah you know so it has its own stresses obviously as a small business you know it’s very stressful but minus one stress you know. I also, I don’t have someone saying to me speak English, I don’t understand you. Whereas you not even talking to them, you know. So, you know all of those things. one of the things that we’ve tried to do with that company is, is encourage people to be themselves, you know to create an environment where if you are Tsonga, you are Venda, yeah knock yourself out, speak whatever language you know and if we can’t understand each other we’ll try and find common ground but there’s none of this, speak this language because I don’t understand you and I think it’s important as South Africans to let each other be and if you are the one who doesn’t understand it that is your problem you need to fix it you know if I am talking to person X and person Y feels left out because they don’t understand person X’s language, because they haven’t gotten out of the way to learn other languages, that’s not really my problem, do you know what I mean. We can try but it gets to a point where we say listen you live here, you need to learn at least one language you can’t keep catering for you.
Melusi, that’s also the basis of your Melusi’s every day Zulu but it started as a fun, just venting on Facebook really.
Its roots were actually not fun, its roots were again based on my life in advertising.
Well that’s why I say venting. I hear a note of I will get to you.
Yeah but so it was so.
I mean when I read your pieces … there a little bit of a …
Yes, no no there always has to be, you know, there will be. For me, with that forum now that I’ve got a big audience you know it can’t just be laughs and laughs and laughs and we don’t address real issues. So, it’s an opportunity for me to discuss issues that are affecting us all as South Africans packaged in a fun and engaging manner.
How did it develop? Because as I say you just started it and then suddenly there was an audience.
So how it came about first in advertising when they create a radio campaign right, most radio campaigns start life in English right and then they get translated into the 10 other languages including Afrikaans, okay and then and that’s fine they’re the translating it’s not perfect you know but that’s fine. That’s not where the real problem lies. The problem is when they go into studio to produce the actual adverts. The agency producer, client service person, the client themselves and the creative, who more often than not is English-speaking. Will go to the studio, produce the English ad and then leave and then the other languages have to be looked after by language supervisors and …
The technical people.
The translators and all of that. So if you’re someone like me, who’s multilingual, you’ll be listening to a radio station that’s, that’s in English and you hear an ad and it sounds awesome and then you listen to Ukhozi FM isiZulu and it’s the same ad but it’s of poor quality because the quality control is, is not the same and that’s just upsetting.
And there hasn’t been any creative input. It’s a kind of faded carbon copy
Yes, exactly there is it. So my thing was I wrote this but also so I wrote this article that was meant to go in the papers putting up a business case right to say clients you need to stop working with agencies that do this because not only do they not care about the audience that they speaking to it makes no financial sense.
Because you not getting the best product.
Yes you’re spending hundreds or tens of millions on a product that no one has ensured is of high quality, of the highest quality and when I read this article it was quite funny but got to the point and then I thought, they know this stuff right, even though I’ve come from a different angle, they know the stuff and it’s just gonna sound like more ranting and raving. And then I thought okay on Facebook a lot of my friends in advertising and in marketing. So, let me start celebrating my language putting respect on my language, so that they could see that there’s so much beauty in our languages and that if they treat them with respect in their jobs and they careers amazing things could happen right and that’s, that’s what I started doing. I would post one isiZulu word with its English equivalent or translation and a ridiculous story around it right just stories sometimes completely mad, and so it was growing steadily, I’d get like 10 new friend requests the day I wasn’t really paying attention to it you know but I was doing it every day and then this one day I went to a meeting, when, when I came out I had about forty friend requests on Facebook, I thought okay this is very strange, I don’t know what’s happening here but it’s time I went to another meeting and I had about hundred, and I thought okay maybe there’s a glitch or my account has been hacked but I’ve never heard of a hack that gives you friends. So, I left it again and by the end of the day I had about 3 000 new friend requests.
And so, and then I went into the requests to see what is happening here and most of them were middle-aged white women. Okay this is, this is a bit odd.
I have become a pin-up in a funny space.
This is very strange you know and, and I called her a friend of mine who’s a middle-aged white man. I said listen since you a middle-aged white man, maybe you understand middle-aged white women. What do they want from me and he said maybe they just want to learn isiZulu, maybe they like this project. I said okay I will take your word for it and I’ll accept these friend requests if they turn out to be racist and I will just unfriend and, and all of that and then someone inboxed me and said you probably have no idea what’s happening but there was a blog that wrote about this thing that you’re doing and that’s why, oh and I thought alright fine I said I was going to accept these friend requests and look at the person and then … but it all became a hassle so I just friended everyone in one go and I said I’ll unfriend as we go, you know as we speak now, I had to set up a different page it’s sitting at about 8 000 followers and I think out of those people, I’ve only had to block about 20, you know just for, for racist comments and racist attitudes yeah and for me that has been eye-opening you know because as we as we were speaking earlier I was angry at how we’ve been treated day to day and now here you interacting with thousands of people of different races because it’s not just white people and even though we don’t always agree and we don’t come from the same world what what’s become interesting for me is that people speak from a place of respect.
So, you also in turn built up a kind of stereotype of the white world.
Yes, yes you do and so I even I was even saying to my friend is it just that advertising white people you know but that it that is not the truth. but so, through these interactions some of my other friends’ worlds have also kind of been opened up with it maybe it’s not as bad.
Maybe they are not as bad.
Yeah, yeah but then we’re still driving traffic and we get called the K word when someone cuts you so, so South Africa’s still got a long way to go just because there are 8 000 people who get along on some little Facebook page, it doesn’t mean things are sorted but, but it does give me hope you know that the conversations that happened there those people then take them into their own lives and share them with other people and hopefully that spreads.
Tell me about Ubudlelwano, I hope I am saying it correctly.
Ubudlelwano, it was a bit closer.
Yeah well Ubudlelwano, it’s … first it’s the isiZulu word for relationship, it relates to eating. So Ubudlelwano is breaking bread. It happened because of the interactions that I saw on my Facebook page with people who otherwise would never talk to each other we’re talking to each other and we’re discovering things about each other and and I could see that it was helping their worldview and their lives you know, it sounds like this grand thing, when I say their lives but I mean I’ll give you an example there was a time when I was threatening jokingly threatening to shut down the page and this one young black guy said no, no, no you know this is the only time I get to speak with white people who are not my employers, so keep the page going right. And so, this Afrikaans journalist, his name is Jo Prins, he and I got into discussion and we said …
On the Facebook page?
Yes, on the Facebook page and we decided to set up this thing Ubudlelwano. Ubudlelwano is once a month people from different walks of life, get together at a venue eat, drink and talk to each other. There is no set agenda, the agenda is you just meet new people talk about being South African in South Africa and see how we can take this country forward together.
How many get togethers have you had?
We are having a fourth one, yeah.
And how have you experienced it?
It’s, it’s been great I mean for me because well, I participate and meet and sit with different people, but I also have to observe because I’m running that thing and you can see people’s eyes opening to, to new worlds you know. people even people that I know personally you know who like I don’t trust this thing of yours, you know we’re thinking because it with white people, you know they should know better already but when you sit and, and, and you speak with, with people you start to gain an empathy you know to say oh I see you know I mean for us one of the greatest learnings was, it’s not that white people don’t want to know about black people, it’s that a lot of them just don’t know where to begin and a lot of them are scared. So, when you’re sitting on this side and you say yes someone says they’re scared of you it’s offensive, do you know what I mean, until you sit and try and understand what is it that you’re scared of.
What does it actually mean for the other person.
Yes so for, for me it has been a lot of that. People just understanding why the other one is angry, why the other one is scared, you know not to just say you’re crazy for being angry, you’re crazy for being scared but to say even if you think it, you know you just try and understand and also the other thing, that we, we try and do is make sure that we set the tone to say this event, this environment is not about winning in one over, it’s about listening. So yes, we can, we’re human beings we will argue or disagree but the one thing that you should try and take out of there is that you learned something new about somebody else’s world. Not that you convinced someone about your worldview. If you did, that’s great but if your attitude is that you’re coming here to convince people about your worldview regardless of your age, your colour, your sexual orientation, your gender, you’re doing it wrong.
It’s not what it’s about.
It’s not about that. It’s about listening, you know, and it’s not just about race it’s about class, it’s about education level, it’s about social influences, it’s about sexual orientation, you know. So, there are people who are coming there who had one perception about what a gay man is, and they found themselves sitting having a drink with this really awesome guy only to discover that he is gay and oh my god, I just thought people are this or lesbian women are that. So, it is that sort of environment and there are some heated discussions, there are tears you know but the general spirit is positive.
Sounds absolutely amazing. I wish you the very best of luck. And in your own life you say that your wife doesn’t want anything to do with the public profile. So, I promise not to mention a name or anything like that, but I do want to know where you met her and how and what made you decide she was the one.
That’s my standard question.
Oh, right oh I was 20-something. Okay we met at a nightclub okay, they say you can’t find love in a nightclub, I did. We became partying partners you know. So, I would see her where she parties and I’d go there, and we’d party and eventually started dating. We dated for eight years and before we got married because I’d previously been engaged, and I was just jaded like, and not because the other person did anything wrong to me, just I wasn’t interested in jumping into anything too quickly.
And what attracted you to your wife?
She had a calm about her, you know. Even though she was fun and outgoing she looked like someone who, who will help you find peace you know. And, and I needed peace in my life so that’s that, that’s … so it was an energy, you know and, and also she’s extremely hot, so that that didn’t hurt, do you read I mean, but I just liked her vibe and just how she carried herself and how she spoke to people. she was she was kind also yeah, yeah she was also kind to me even before she was interested in me, she was just nice.
It helps and now its X years later. How many?
Uh, I think it’s our 15th or 14th year of being together.
And what keeps it going? Because you both, I think, have very busy lives so how do you connect how do you keep the closeness?
You know to be perfectly honestly there, there, there are times when it’s really hard yeah, we were it’s very tricky, but we remind each other of why the other one is special to you, you know. And, and we literally sit and talk about you know this is what I like about you, sometimes it’s hard because you like nothing about them at that time you know. but also, it’s it’s, it’s about being practical right because the love is there I don’t, I don’t think people fall apart because there is no more love. I think people don’t talk about the practical stuff you know, that even though I don’t like you right now, I don’t like you for X, Y and Z but I still love you and then we can work on the things that you don’t like about me right now you know. But if you don’t talk you think you’re no longer in love whereas it’s not that just I don’t like X, Y and Z. So we would really try. I’m more of the talker so I have to get things out of her sometimes I can feel that there’s a distance between us and she doesn’t like talking so I have to and sometimes it makes things worse because she doesn’t like talking. But sometimes I just find myself talking by myself.
And that turns the stereotype, another stereotype on its head. Women always talk, and the man doesn’t want to talk.
I’m the talker. I’ll let her know very quickly, if I’m not happy about something. If something doesn’t work for me and sometimes that irritates her.
But we, we talk we talk it out.
And three kids one from the previous relationship, who is now 15 and two little ones 6 and 5.
Well the one is turning seven now now. Yeah and the one is still four, so yeah.
How did they change your life? Affect you? Change your worldview maybe?
The first kid you know was a struggle for me. I was still partying yeah well, I was in my 20s. I didn’t think I’d be a father at the time and, and his mom and I ended up not being together so that was challenging and I’m trying to now mend the relationship between he and I. The other two are probably … the, the daughter, who’s the number two is probably when the wife and I said okay let’s get married now you know, and she fell pregnant and I said let’s get married. So, she’s the little glue that bound us and then we’ve got our little boy he’s just a little, a little baby. Uhm but yeah, the three of them they’re really great kids, very sweet. I mean even when I’m out with them somewhere at a restaurant people literally come and compliment me on how well-behaved they are. How are other people’s kids, I think, if they feel the need to compliment you know but I think they’re really sweet, nice kids and they’ve brought a calm into, into our lives because you know that you’re … for all three of them, you know that you’re living for something bigger than yourself and I think a project such as Melusi’s everyday Zulu is also linked to that in a way. Where I’m trying to build a legacy that will live with my children forever. Coming from a poor family, whose name and I’m gonna say this loosely, really stood for, for nothing you know as many families in South Africa. For me it was important to build something that when my children say I am Akhile Tshabalala, you know that they are proud, and they can point that my father started this, my mother did this, that, that, that, that, you know. My pride is that my mother you know, had the resilience and, and the way through it all, that through poverty and apartheid but still be able to put us, because there two of us put us through school and, and help us build futures for ourselves but it is now our time to take it a step further than just that.
And your home? Where have chosen to live?
I live in Fourways.
Why did you choose the house that you live in? Do you like big trees? Do you like space? Do you like lights?
All that I’d ever wanted was a double storey house with the swimming pool right and that’s what I got. At that I could have. It was the only house with the swimming pool there was double storey that I could afford and that’s the house I got, and I’ve been happy there. But growing up I mean we lived in, I’m from Soweto, born in Soweto we lived in a backyard, so someone had like a little four room house and then they had rooms built at the back and that’s where we lived and all I’ve ever wanted was a home of my own. I mean we eventually got a house, but you know that never leaves you and there’s always in the township there’s always the house at the corner owned by an entrepreneur. You know they would have a double storey house and maybe a swimming pool and so you grow up wanting that so. When I eventually got that you know I was like ah, you know, all the efforts that my mom had put in and I put in as well something is starting to happen yeah and …
How do you turn a house into a home? Because you walk in its empty or did your wife do that?
Yeah it was my, it’s, it’s got a lot to do to do with my wife but also for me it’s not even about that adornments or it’s about the people in the home.
You know so my children and, and my wife you know make it a home even before we had children. What made it a home is that it was the place where she goes off and she does her thing, she goes to work or she’s spending time with her friends. I’m doing the same but when we come here it’s a place of peace of being together yeah so that’s what makes it a home.
Melusi, thank you so much I’ve really enjoyed this, and I wish you well. It’s a wonderful project and you want to make I think a really meaningful contribution yeah to the future for us all so thank you for that.
Thank you and and, and I then for me what’s important we would this project is it you know we have a terrible history as a country you have many, many angry young people but from here you know we can make sure that future generations have a better history than us but we cannot do it by being passive you know by just sitting there – we have to get out of our own skins, get out of our comfort zones and go out there and speak to each other and do things that are outside of our routine, our day to day so even having the opportunity to share my story you know is important to me and hopefully someone will see it and it’ll touch their lives and inspire them to try and do something.
You have homework neh. Until the next time, go well.
Cyril Ramaphosa: The Audio Biography
Listen to the story of Cyril Ramaphosa's rise to presidential power, narrated by our very own Alec Hogg.