LIVE BY DESIGN | What do you want the praise singer to say about you?

This week, Mapi and I started teaching our last LoveLegacyDignity (LLD) programme of the year, Live By Design – Finish Strong. Our emphasis is to encourage people to review their life as they live it now and consider how they might want to reshape it going forward.

The intention of doing this exercise is twofold. Firstly, it affirms you. We’ve had so many people give us feedback about how their self-esteem and confidence were boosted by doing this reflection. Secondly, the forward-looking part helps focus your mind on what matters most to you and the implications of recognising that. For example, my parents were immigrants from large families – my father, the youngest of fourteen, and my mother, the second of seven. There was no money for travel. I grew up without the presence of grandparents and had dozens of cousins whom I never knew in my childhood.

I’m especially sad I missed out on grandparents. When my mom died, I took her ashes to be added to my father’s burial place. We planned the occasion to create a reunion of the family diaspora. I organised an evening of dinner and storytelling. The stories I loved the most were the ones told by the grandchildren – by this time, they were in their mid-thirties. Grandchildren get to know your parents in a completely unique way. I could hardly believe my ears as I listened to some of the tales of my mother (so strict with her own offspring), indulging my teenage children, letting them sleep late, even smoke, and emptying her purse to help them financially saying: “Vell, I can’t take it viz me,” in her thick Eastern European accent.

I’m now a grandmother to five. I want the praise singer to be able to say that I was a fab grandmother. Last week, our eldest grandchild turned nine. He doesn’t live in the same city. So far, we’ve been to every one of the nine birthdays, and I, who am not normally a baker, have made most of the cakes. This time was a stretch – he asked for a cricket cake, which meant two-tone green butter icing to create grass and a cricket bat of white cooking chocolate. Memory-making, that’s what we try for as we weave the fabric of long-term relationships.

What goes into drafting a praise-singer speech? It needs to be more personable than a dry biography of achievements.

Here is the one (abbreviated) I got Mapi to craft as a demo for our LLD course:

We are here to sing the praises of the magnificent Mapi Mhlangu! Mapi, as we know her, was born Ngiphiwe Mhlangu. Her mother, Busisiwe Mhlangu, gave birth to her during widowhood. Mapi is a lovechild who never knew her father, and by the time she was old enough to want to seek him out, he was deceased.

Her lineage is that of strong women who have never felt the need to choose between strength and womanhood. These women imbued her with the deepest sense of self-worth and valuable legacies, which she has honoured. She draws strength from being a woman in her community with other women. 

Mapi developed her core personal values through stories told by her mother, a lifelong teacher. Her mother’s stories confirm she is meant to be here, meant to survive. She was born after a difficult pregnancy. There was the time she escaped the deadly bite of a python, the time that a ring of fire surrounded her as a toddler while she was asleep. The essence of these stories validates her and reminds her that it was not by mistake or fluke that she is in this world. It is a reminder of the affirmations received from her mother that she has a greater purpose. From these stories, Mapi draws strength and hopes to sustain her optimism when faced with challenges. 

The Mapi we know, who we are celebrating today, is ignited with a passion for storytelling. She pursued a career in journalism, climbing the ranks to become the managing director and editor-in-chief at eNCA, South Africa’s first 24-hour news channel. 

She’s grown as a leader and knows when to care for and thank people. After one tumultuous news cycle when journalists had put in long hours, she took the time to write: “I would like to thank the families of all my team members, from the individuals who have to deal with exhausted partners, to children who were deprived of quality time with their parents. I’m truly humbled by the support you’ve given to the people you loan to eNCA.”

She’s well on her way to becoming a global media thought leader. Mapi is invited to speak on international platforms. People seek her out as a judge for local and international news awards, including the Emmys.

Today we’re gathering to celebrate in person her proud achievement of being awarded her MBA. She’s authored a brilliant thesis, integrating all her experience and moral values. She’s studied the interplay between good governance and media practices within the media. 

She’s taken these values and experience into the founding of her content creation company, Minsight Content Creation. Alongside Minsight, Mapi puts long hours into the social enterprise LoveLegacyDignity, an organisation that deals with difficult conversations around mortality that she co-founded with her one-time mentor. Through LLD, Mapi pays tribute to her mother. She is inspired by the wonderful gift of her mother’s courageous conversations with her family as she lay dying of colon cancer. 

What we also admire and celebrate in Mapi is her role as a daughter, sister, aunt, niece, and friend. Mapi’s professional success allows her to help develop and support her nephews and nieces. Her nephews, who she calls “the soccer club”, say she is a firm but cool aunt. Her siblings say she “spoils” her nephews. 

The Mapi we know finds joy in living. She lives fully. She’s fun to be with at book club. She is a fabulously loyal friend. She enjoys wine. She cooks the most delicious oxtail! She is a fashion addict. She creates opportunities to go to the African bush.

As we celebrate her today – she’s not yet fifty years old – we raise our glasses to her, and we are curious about what she will do in the years to come.

Now, imagine you, the reader, are to be celebrated. Write in the present tense. Have fun. And then, think what you would want the praise singer to be able to say differently sometime ahead.

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