More about Mapi
Tell us a little about yourself and where did you grow up and what has been your life journey so far.
I’m a sister, an aunt , a friend and a brand strategist born in KwaZulu-Natal more than four decades ago. I grew up in KwaMashu and today I stand in the world between my childhood and the future South Africa that many people of my generation are trying to build. Decisions I make have national consequences in both the public spaces and my own private life. I’m accountable to my professional colleagues but most importantly I’m responsible to the people I grew up with and without whom I wouldn’t be who I am. As a child I witnessed Ubuntu almost every-day during my childhood. My mother, a teacher a single parent on the income Black women earned, would warmly welcome and feed strangers, despite her meagre resources, already stretched to keep her family clothed and fed. In fact today I have more brothers and sisters that came as result of my mother’s act of Ubuntu, people with whom I share the bonds of close siblings because of the mothering they received from a humble but formidable woman. Some of beneficiaries of my mother’s largesse were among the emotionally and mentally disturbed. She used to call them in from the streets to offer a meal, speak with them, spend time with them. One day after – as children always do-we complained that one of my mother’s constant visitors was rather smelly, my mother ran a hot bath for him and proceeded to scrub him. Afterwards she dressed him with my oldest brother’s clothes. His smile afterwards was priceless. We learned from this to share, not for the possible return of our time, energy and resources, but for the joy it brought, to the humility it taught, and the gratitude it made us feel for the grace of having something to give.
These lessons have guided my life journey. My professional life started 25 years ago when I was at Technikon Natal. As a theatre crafts student, my first job was that of a dresser ( helping artists with costume changes) at Natal Playhouse. Here I witnessed talented A plus personalities performing in a highly charged environment. I watched their joy when they received good feedback from the audience and their despair when they performed to an unresponsive crowd. On a bad day they would lash out backstage and dressers like myself would have to face their wrath. The perils of performance and need for validation were laid to bare. But in their vulnerability I learned the power of connection. A skill that was further enhanced when I joined SABC Radio division as a sound technician with a key focus on producing religious live broadcasts and cultural documentaries. Here I learned about the power of religion and faith. One of the memorable projects I did was documenting one of the most hidden and impenetrable religious pilgrimages in the world. Early in the new year, clothed in white, members of Nazareth Baptist church, also known as the Shembe, travel barefoot across the rolling KZN hills to their holy mountain in Ndwedwe. I was humbled by the four day journey, watching old agile African women tackling those mountains like professional climbers, all in the name of faith. What I saw as pain, they celebrated as victory. I learned not to judge but to respect the deep connection that people have with their God irrespective of whom they perceive him to be.
The early years of my career were by no means easy. It was also around these times that I had an unforgettable experience of racism, unforgettable it that I didn’t like how it made me feel. It however allowed me to learn a valuable life lesson .It happened at a rugby match at the Kings Park stadium. As a sound intern, I was operating a rifle microphone that followed the ball around the pitch. During the first line out I had to stand as close to the action and point the microphone to the ball, and of course I had to do this standing. The predominantly white male spectators threw racial insults, an exercise that lasted for the entire 80 minutes. When I related this mother later that day, she asked what did they take away from you? I told her my pride and she went on to say pride is the easiest thing that a stranger can take from you and I should not spend my happiness and energy protecting it. I continued to cover rugby because those days I had less control of time and choice of which projects that I was tackling. I had to rely on the guidance my mother and other people who had far more experience and who were generous in sharing that wisdom.
It is these individuals that I’m for ever grateful to have crossed paths with. From former Ukhozi FM Head of Religion Rev Prince Zulu to former SAFM colleagues. The list is endless but one the people who unwittingly changed by career direction was former SABC KwaZulu-Natal Assignment Editor Ami Nanachand. As a technical intern, I learned to be an all-rounder, operating studio cameras, doing sound, and being a VT operator. And in my different roles, I had something to say about all the stories that were produced for news. One day Ami challenged me to stop being an arm chair critic and to start telling television stories. Thus began a television career than has seen me rise from being a reporter , to bulletin producer, from executive producer to head of Assignment and to MD and editor-in-chief of South Africa’s most watch 24 hour news channel, eNCA. Through this journey I’ve worked hard, took career knock downs, learned from them and transformed my world view.
Why do you assert that having these conversations is life-affirming?
Conversations about these subjects within families can help us prepare emotionally for our deaths and others. These conversations are empowering for everyone, we get to state how we would prefer to live our final days, and how we want our lives to be celebrated and remembered. Those who are left behind honour the loved one with a clear knowledge of their last ones. My assertions are based on my lived experiences.
It was Friday morning of 16 April 2004, I had just produced one of the most successful election broadcasts for a radio station. As I was preparing to broadcast the final results, I received a call from my mother asking me to come home. She was anxious to speak to me in person, but assured me that no one had died. In what seemed like the longest bus trip from Johannesburg to Durban, I spent the next eight hours contemplating what could be wrong. It never crossed my mind that she wanted to tell me, her last born and the apple of her eye, that she had less than six months left to live.
Upon my arrival, all my siblings were at home and we were joined by my mother’s best friend. Their grim expressions were the first indication that I was about to receive bad news. Then, my mother became teary eyed as her friend explained the nature of her illness, and that at 68, age was not on her side such that chemotherapy was not an option they could explore to treat her metastasized cancer.
I was suddenly thrust in the process of managing her last days. I did this by starting a conversation with my mother about what she would like for her funeral. This was of course a culture shock for everyone in my family and community, because these discussions are not common in black families. Even for the world most respected statesman, Nelson Mandela, when he was in his nineties and plagued by health problems, South Africans still battled to talk about and come to terms with his pending death .
My mother and I started with the budget and operational planning. I had to manage the budget, plan the programme, and engage with the people who that my mother had asked to play a role in the service , from priests, her best friends, to her butcher and other logistics. I battled to get the buy-in from the rest of my family, whose worldviews and expectations were firmly founded in Zulu patriarchal culture and I was the youngest daughter. My mother had to step in and inform everyone that a well-planned funeral and fewer cultural rituals was her dying wish and that she expected nothing less from my siblings than to fall in line. She relied on her status as a mother and an older woman to back up my work with authority. She managed to persuade them. I did not only gain valuable lessons from planning my mother’s funeral, but I continue to draw strength from the experience years later. She gave us an opportunity to honour her last wishes and with that LoveLegacyDignity.
What makes you want to be a co-founder of LoveLegacyDignity- why does this matter to you?
People suffer when loved ones die- and they suffer even more when certain conversation have not happened. We live in a world where people die unexpectedly or after short or long illness.
Making decisions about death and dying before we’re in a crisis situation allows us to think about our options deeply, consult with people like family, friends and doctors, and live life knowing that our wishes have been made clear.
As a journalists I have told several stories about death and dying and families being torn apart because of conversation that never happened. Even today we continue to read about families taking each other to court over funeral arrangements. There is no need for families to suffer. We’re all capable of giving ourselves and love ones lasting LoveLegacyDignity.
Moreover I’ve done LLD workshops and this has made me live more intentionally. I live my life knowing that while death is certain, there is nothing preventing us from create something that would last longer.
What do you want LLD to achieve and what do you see as your unique contribution to making this happen?
Death is our constant thus a subject that we cannot ignore. Our desire to collectively mourn as families , as communities , as nations , suggest that we are constantly having conversations about this subject. However, we talk about death retrospectively as a form of social discussion which seeks to share light about how death happened and but never about what could have happened differently I want LLD to enriched these conversations by driving the narrative of what should happened. I want families irrespective of race, class, religion to give themselves a gift of lasting LoveLegacyDignity.
As someone who has been at the forefront of setting the national news agenda for the past 20 years, I bring story-telling skills that I would share with people who are battling to have difficult conversations.
People expect these conversations as appropriate for the elderly and the dying- why does LoveLegacyDignity take a strong different point of view about the need to work with everyone.
We live in violent societies where sudden death is a reality for all mankind. Our relatives are spread throughout the world, they are susceptible to terrorists attacks , and other freak accidental deaths. We need to have conversations that matter to ease the suffering.
Furthermore, not everyone has access to private health care; many are dependent on a public health that is strained and uses a triage system to provide health care. Dying without proper healthcare is a reality for billions of people, relatives need to be empowered to deal with both living and end of life.