As a thought-provoking columnist on SA’s most renowned publications, a spirited sports presenter’s on Cape Town’s KFM radio station, a hilarious blogger and owner of one of the most popular Twitter accounts in South Africa – featuring Sibongile Mafu was an absolute no-brainer! Having broken through the male-dominated field of sports journalism, the world certainly needs more women like Sibongile, a fierce believer in the collective interests of women. Read below as Sibongile takes us through the journey of her growing media career and sheds light on the importance of fostering community amongst women…
Full name: Sibongile Nthabiseng Mafu
Age: 25 years old. Turning 26 on the 7th of December 2014
Current title/company: Sports anchor at KFM Breakfast, social writer and columnist at Sunday Times, online writer COSMOPOLITAN magazine
Educational background: Bachelor of Journalism specialising in Television Broadcasting, Rhodes
Current city: Cape Town
Sibongile, your career has transcended many forms of media – opinion writing, blogging and radio to name a few! Could you take us through the journey to where you are now?
I’ve always enjoyed writing. English was my favourite subject at school – it helped that I was good at it. I loved the library and books so it came as no surprise when I ended up being a writer.
I also really love talking. I was part of the debating society at school and was good at arguing my way through things, and when I started studying at Rhodes University in 2007, I knew that I had to join the campus radio station – Rhodes Music Radio.
That is where I fell in love with radio. I did everything, and I mean EVERYTHING at that station! I anchored my own show, did sports and news bulletins, produced my show and was even part of the management team at some point.
During my four years at Rhodes and at the station, I learnt as much as I could. It really helped in propelling my career forward. It also gave me the confidence to believe that this was something I could make a career. I was studiyng Journalism and Media Studies at the time and decided to pursue TV Broadcasting as my specialisation – I’d essentially arm myself with the tools to make it in broadcasting. I’d have both the radio skils (thanks to RMR) and TV (thanks to my degree).
I graduated and before I made the move to Cape Town to start working at Primedia Broadcasting, there was a 6 month period where I was unemployed. I had been tweeting for a while (since my student days) and had built up quite a following so I decided to start a blog. At the very least there would be a few hundred people who would maybe read what I had to say, and I would have an outlet to write.
The 6 months flew thanks to that blog, and I moved to Cape Town from my hometown of PE and started working as a videographer at Primedia Broadcasting (whilst still maintaining my blog).
I was using the skills from my broadcasting degree to make online video for the stations at Primedia. After a year I became the content producer for LEAD SA and during this time my blog was getting attention. News24 approached me to write a weekly column for them. It focused on life as a young, black South African woman and essentially became an extension of my blog, just on a MUCH bigger platform. I did that for over a year before the Sunday Times approached me to write a monthly column for them and also be a Social Events writer for their Lifestyle supplement.
I had not forgotten about my radio dream, and while I was at Primedia, I would do short features with the presenter. I’d chat to them for a few minutes about the LEAD SA diary (events that were happening in comunnities to do good) while I was the producer. I also love technology, so I had a tech segment on the talk stations – 702 and CapeTalk – on Weekend Breakfast which because quite popular.
This wasn’t enough for me. I had to do more. I eventually signed up to do Overnight Live – the graveyard slot on the talk stations – during the weekends. I did that for about 6 to 8 months. I was also freelancing as a sports anchor for Primedia’s stations until I was offered the job as the new sports anchor on KFM Breakfast!
By this time, I was a proper freelancer. Writing for my blog, magazines and the Sunday Times, which I still do.
Readers of your columns and blogs will know that you write about a myriad of pivotal issues affecting South Africa today – of all these issues, which one most keeps you awake at night, particularly in regard to women?
I try to focus a lot of the work I do in empowering young women – whether it’s through talks or my writing or just mentorship in any way I can. I work in sports journalism and I’m painfully aware of how we need more women in that traditionally male-dominated environment. There are so many stereotypes around women and sport, and I work my hardest every day to break them. The message of “doing anything you want to do” sits very strongly with me. No door is closed, and if it is, knock it down.
You have managed to build a reputable following for yourself on social media. Seeing as our generation uses Blogs/Tumblrs, Social Media and imagery to form an opinion, have you ever felt a responsibility to act as a voice for young women in South Africa?
I wouldn’t call it a responsibility, but I’ve always tried to remain as authentic as possible in all that I do. That, I hope is what has resonated with people. People are not the same but there are definitely similar experiences that we go through, particularly women – whether it be in our upbringing our education, our families – and when I talk/write about them I try to bring the humour in those shared experiences. I think that has helped me cope with whatever I’m going through, and hopefully has helped a few others as well. If that is “being the voice” of something, I’ll take it.
As someone who has managed to build a strong online media presence and successful media career concurrently, how do you think we as women can use the platforms and modern resources we have available to us, to make a positive contribution to the society at large?
We can start rallying around each other. Women are fire, and now more than ever we are recognising it in ourselves. The best thing I did for myself was become a feminist. I just know that women are magic and I will raise them up at every opportunity I get.
For so long people have tried to keep black women in particular, quiet, and now that they’re realising we have legitimate things to say, they’re taking notice. The internet is amazing isn’t it? We haven’t had to ask for permission to use it. We’re able to share our thoughts and experiences freely, and we’re able to form groups and communities that look out for one another, and most importantly challenge each other.
Our best resource as women is other women! We can support each other’s work, be a shoulder if we’re going through something personal in our lives – offer advice or just an ear. We’re telling our OWN stories. It truly is remarkable to live in a time when all of this is happening.
Followers of your career will be aware that you have written about pivotal issues for platforms such as News24, maintain a personal & lifestyle blog on sboshmafu.wordpress.com and are currently a sports anchor on KFM – it is evident that you cannot be boxed into a particular category! What is the elusive trick to South African Millennial women balancing the different sides to her?
I can give you the naughty answer – I’m bored easily and need to be stimulated by different things. Or my smart answer – I need to have a reason to wake up in the morning. I want to look forward to my life. I have been very fortunate in that I’ve placed myself in positions where I downright refuse to be ignored. Make it impossible for people to forget you. Treasure relationships – not just business, but friendships. I’ve also made a whole lot of new friends. That Drake verse “no new friends,” is absolute nonsense! I have learnt so much from people who’ve done this before me. I love each and every facet of my career right now. I get to work with amazing people – from my KFM family, to the almost all-women team at COMSOPOLITAN magazine to the different faces I bump into when I work for the Sunday Times. There is one common thread – these people are obsessed with media just like me. So to answer your question, I balance everything through a controlled obsession with what I do.
How did you ultimately determine the type of career you were most passionate about? Has the “ah ha” moment taken place?
It has taken place, but in different forms. I write everything down. Everything that has happened for me, I had the courage to write down.
Some of it I’ve written for myself. Sometimes I’ve tweeted it so other people can hold me accountable. It has helped me be a bit more ruthless about my dreams. People talk about dogged determination. When you write down what you want, you’re crafting a social contract with yourself to do it, or else. When I was finding it hard to sleep because if I closed my eyes I would miss out on my life, is when I realised that I was where I needed to be.
As a blogger, writer & sports anchor what have been your biggest obstacles and how were you able to overcome them?
Two things – self management and relationships. You could be the mmost efficient person on Earth but at the end of the day we all only get 24 hours out of the day. You can’t take everything on. Somethimes you need to say “No”, regardless of your boudless enthusiasm. There was a time when I was drowning in all of the amazing opportunities that were coming my way that the quality of some of my work suffered. It’s ok to slow it down.
And relationships. Being able to look after the relationships I’ve built. Finding the time to re-connect with family and friends after a manic last few years where you sometimes feel the rollercoaster is going way too fast. Cherish and water your relationships.
What is a typical work day like for you?
I wake up at 4:30 am every weekday to be at the KFM studios by 5:30am for the KFM Breakfast show at 6:00am.
At 9:00am, I stick around for meetings until 10:00am. I’ll then go and answer e-mails somewhere until I go to COSMOPOLITAN at 11:00am until 4:00pm where I work as an online writer.
Evenings are usually reserved for events that cover for the Sunday Times, or events that I get invited to as a blogger or KFM presenter. Weekends too.
Amongst all of that I maintain my blog and have meetings. Lots of meeting with various people with regards to whatever project I’m working on.
Advice for aspiring creative?
BE AUTHENTIC. BE FUNNY. SCRIBBLE THINGS DOWN.
There are so many platforms to showcase what you do, that there’s no excuse anymore. From vlogging, blogging, podcasting – you are your own champion. Champion your work and ideas. Be relentless and don’t be afraid.
There is this popular phrase that is going around social media– “Stay in your Lane.”
I say don’t, sometimes the only way to disrupt things is to swerve into one or two lanes. Just rememebr to use your indicators.
Morning or night? Morning… no choice!
If you could have lunch with any woman, who would it be and what would you order?
Cheese – lots and lots of cheese and wine. We’d talk about her great arms and and how she’s made kitten heels desirable again.
I wish I knew how to: Ride a bicycle – I never learnt!
African women are… Magic.
South Africa is… not where your world ends.
Worst money mistake… When I bought 4 pairs of sneakers in one month at a cost of over R5 000. I love them but there should have been a smarter way to do it.
Best investment… My Beyoncé Fund – savings account to see her performing live somewhere in the world.
Tennis Grand Slam Fund – savings account to watch Roger Federer and Serena Williams in the US Open in NYC before they both retire.
Motivation in 3 words… My Twitter bio: Eat, Slay, Love.
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