Jambo Africa Online has partnered with Masingita Masunga – a transformation advocate, television personality, founder and brand ambassador of abOVEnormal (a fitness and sports gear) – to launch a news portal version of her series of face-to-face conversations with various leaders to unpack all aspects of leadership. In this season opening edition of “Vantage Point”, she gets close and personal with the doyen of socio-economic transformation, Nolitha Fakude, the Chairman of Anglo American. The first part of the interview took place in Nolitha’s office, and the last part at her house where served the crew with a sumptuous soul dinner meal she personally cooked…
Masingita Masunga (MM): Welcome to this season of Vantage Pond – the second on television but the first on this news portal. I am so excited that this show is coming back on a high note. I always tell people we always rise like a phoenix, you can never put us in ashes, because you never know how we will come back.
Today I’m hosting sister. She’s seen me grow up in the industry and she’s helped me so many times. So, when you see me excited, you need to understand. Welcome, Nolita Fakude, thank you very much for accepting our invitation.
Nolitha Fakude (NF): My sister, I don’t know where to start because I am as excited as you are to be part of your journey once again, especially when we are starting a new season of your programme, but also, more importantly, I’m just excited to see the young sassy and energetic woman that you still are. I describe you as young because in my eyes you will always be my younger sister. So, I still see the young woman who has just matured and continues to blossom, but more importantly, to be so grounded in your leadership purpose, in all that you do, and you continue to do the things that you do and now on top of that, you even have a brand of clothing. I mean, what else can you not do? So, thank you very much for including me in this journey.
MM: I was reading your book, and found that in so many ways, I guess that’s why I regard you as my sister, we share so much in common: our personalities and characters, are the same.
NF: You are the other side of me. Why am I saying this? We are the two sides of the same coin.
NF: In my kind of worst moments, when I’m feeling like down, I think about you and become inspired and vow nothing is going to stop me. I think about you and say: she was a 12-year-old when I first met her many years ago, more than 25 years ago, and she has moved mountains to be where she is today, so I can do the same.
NF: And you were always a determined young person ready to be part of the engagements, the discourse, and whatever we were talking about, when it comes to transformation and inclusion. And in my worse moments, I’m thinking about how we are still talking about the same problems we spoke about 20 or 30 years ago, and then I think: what would Masingita say about this?
MM: (Giggles) We still continue to tackle the same issues…
NG: We have to continue pushing harder. So, we are really alike, and then I think, us as women in South and black women in particular, over the years, we have learnt that, you know what, you rise and fall and you bob and weave, and you navigate your way, to get to meet your own goals and your aspirations and get to do what you believe you were put on this earth to do.
MM: And actually, that’s what leadership is about. Navigating the way, so that others can be able to walk your path you paved. And the challenge is, with most of us, pioneers, we don’t understand that we are paving the way for others, and it’s not going to be easy. But, the challenge is, you look at what is happening in the country right now, it may seem like we’re encountering the same challenges we’ve been dealing with over and over again. I actually encounter more barriers now than ever before. How do you feel about that as somebody who has been in transformation for so many years. Somebody who’s tried to break the barriers and as you were about to think you have succeeded in breaking those barriers, then you get a feeling someone has come and built them up again for somebody else.
NF: Well, you know, this is a journey. And the reason I am saying this is a journey is because if you are trying to change a system, a culture or a way of being that society has embraced over many many years, it’s never going to take one person to change the situation. It’s also not going to take one action. It’s not an event. You can’t say today we have a Masingita or Nolita, who is doing this and that, and therefore we have arrived. It’s a journey. And because of that, when we are on a journey, and you understand this better my sister, you get to that point where you are so focussed on what you believe is possible and what you see is something that will unlock opportunities for many other people, but also just to let you achieve what you believe in, you as a person can achieve. Because remember, it’s about you first, before you even talk about wanting to achieve things for other people. You’ve got to feel inspired yourself. You then forget sometimes that, you know what?, there’s still people coming behind me, because I am so focussed on doing what I’m doing that I even forget to check, have we put in place the right foundations where we really cleared the way properly, so that the grass doesn’t come back again, you know, where I’ve walked. And that you have to on an on-going basis, continuously go back to check, continuously touch base with people and find out from your peers, from your colleagues, from your friends, how is it going? How are you doing? Where are we? That’s the only way you are going to realise whether they are making progress or not. Do remember, in your own chosen career and field, you are going to be meeting your own challenges. In my own, I met my own challenges. Somebody else in their era, they met their own challenges, but its only when you come back together, compare notes and also just to congratulate each other, that you realise we’ve come so far, that you realise that actually there’s still a problem in this one or how have we supported the others to get through this process. And I guess, that’s why, even earlier on when we met more than 25 years ago, I was with an organisation, the Black Management Forum, because it was, and still is, an organisation where you get together as professionals, to not only support each other, but to advocate for change. And to make sure that systemic issues are dealt with, once and for all.
MM: I want us, we’ll come back to this and to the change later, to talk about the little Nolitha. Reading your book, there’s something very profound that you say in your book, that, from a very young age, you’ve been aware of your own privilege, and you always wanted to use that privilege to empower others, instead of oppressing them. You actually tell a story where you wish people could see that difference is not a weakness. Actually, you define it as a potential to be used as a tool of empowerment of society. Tell me about those days?
NF: Ah, okay, so the stories of childhood… having been a child who was born in the 60’s, and growing up in the early 70’s, in rural South Africa, ahh, in the Eastern Cape. Even though you didn’t clearly appreciate how privileged you’ve been, I think, you realise later on that, actually, as a family or even as a child, I was privileged in different ways. And privilege is, as we know today, it’s because we had access to resources, it could be you got access to influence, because you know, today I’ve got water and you don’t have water. That creates privilege. Uhm, and in my particular situation, because in the village, my family had a general dealer business. You know, so when we have a shop in the village, obviously, as a child, we’ve got sweets that you can get from your mother’s shop, whilst other children have to buy. So, that’s privilege at a basic level. But, for me the biggest point was always what my mother used to say. That, you cannot eat in front of people who are hungry and not share. And for her, the lesson was always that, you must share. And at any given time you must remember at home, there would be about 20 people, per day, that if you are cooking, you are cooking for 20 people because it’s people who are working in the shop; people who are working at home; its family; its other kids; and, its friends. So, you can never say, well, I’m cooking just for me and the two or three people. You share whatever you’ve got. And sharing what you’ve got means you get more joy out of sharing because, now when we are eating, no one is going to be chased away because it’s time to eat and when even at home they do not have anything to eat.
As a child remember, you want to continue to play with your friends, or you want to make sure that as happy as what you are with your achievements, I want also my friends to be happy for me. And also, I want for me to be happy with their own achievements. Because we live in a village, we live in a community. So my mother taught me about social solidarity without realising that. Because that’s really what social solidarity is about. You can’t be an island of prosperity or of joy, or any progress where the people around you are not having any opportunity.
MM: I don’t think when you juxtapose that to what is happening in the country today, where so many are still denied access to opportunities or whatever, many are being adverse, are being added by those who used to be added. How does that make you feel and what do we do especially that generation that grew up, knowing that you cannot eat and be full, while people around you are hungry?
NF: You know our challenges as a country are multifaceted, and obviously we are going through a generation still, of changing. Because we, our lifespan in this new dispensation, it’s still in its early days, although it’s been too long. So, I look at it from two perspectives, there’s one: the perspective of value, of who you are as a person, or at least who we are as people. And your values shape how you engage with the world, how you engage with people, how you interact with people. So, if your values, at a personal level, are not grounded in essence with universal principles, where in our situation in South Africa we talk about ubuntu. You know, that’s a universal value and principle that we should, or at least most of us, aspire to live by. So, that value to me is an important one because ubuntu means, not only the direct translation of it, but it also means that what do you do to show your humanity. Dealing with people with respect is important. Because I want to also be treated with respect, so I’ve got to respect and treat people with respect. I want my dignity enhanced when I engage with people, so I’ve got to do the same with people when I engage with them. I also want people to listen to me and hear me, for who I am, that little girl who said, “you know I can do this, if you give me half the chance, I can really be the best that I can be”. But for me to be heard, someone must listen and give me the opportunity. They gave me those opportunities, along my career, so I’ve got to do the same now as I continue on my journey, give people the opportunity to tell me who they are; to show me what they can do. And in some instances, they disappoint you, but you still won’t say, “Well I won’t deal with people like that again. But that we do. So, now we have to reclaim those fundamental principles that I think a society as a people has probably lost along the way. Which then come to the second part and say, when we’ve got privilege of an opportunity, of being either a business leader, or a political leader, or community leader, or a teacher, or even just a leader generally in society, how do you use that privilege position that you have access to. Because now, you are there for a reason.
MM: Yes, yes
NF: Unless you don’t understand that reason and that reason should be influenced and shaped by your values that we’re talking about. So, if I’m sitting, this is an example that I always use and I use it a lot, even in the early days, that if I’m given a budget in the corporate environment, and I make an example in the book about sponsorship management. At some point, I was responsible for the sponsorship budget of Sasol and the question I first asked was: what kind of sponsors are we? What kind of initiatives are we supporting? Who do we associate with in our sponsorship, that really will demonstrate our commitment to transformation, that will demonstrate our commitment to inclusivity and diversity, that will demonstrate our commitment to development of people and excellence? All the values that even as a company, we were talking about it at the time. And guess what? So, when you look at that at who we sponsor and support, so then it said, it’s cute, where are the women? We didn’t have significant sponsorships that were focussed on women. Where are the communities? We didn’t really have significant opportunities. So, my role as a leader, with my team, was to challenge my team and say, so, let’s find opportunities, because they are out there that then can demonstrate our commitment to all these values that we are talking about and the aspirations that we’re talking about. And whilst we were looking into that, we came across Banyana Banyana (South Africa’s woman’s national team), who at the time, had no sponsor at all although they were part of the national soccer federation.
MM: One of those (giggle)
NF: They didn’t even have their programme of action and when we went to the federation and said may we sponsor them. They said: “Aahhh, you can give us the money, but it’s difficult to organise the games.” We said: “No, no, we will partner with you. Tell us what is their schedule, so that we understand what it is we can do to support them.” And obviously, after a lot of discussions and negotiations, we understood that actually this was such a good opportunity and platform for us as a company, to demonstrate our commitment to these issues of transformation, nation building and inclusion and we worked and took Banyana Banyana from where they were really not being considered as a viable sponsorship to five years later them going to the Olympics in the U.K – they were champions and the rest, as they say, is history.
And we had, next to that a sponsorship of rugby. Sasol was the sponsor of rugby. You may not even remember those days, the Springboks. So, it was looking at what were we doing for the rugby sponsorship, visa vis, what we were doing for Banyana Banyana and ensure it was the same… equal.
MM: And that’s what equality means, it’s about equal opportunity. How a person uses the opportunity offered? That’s up to them, but not up to you.
MM: …to dictate (giggle)
MM: You know you talk about equal opportunity. I know, some of my colleagues, especially when in the early days, in the BMF, said you know, we couldn’t call it equal opportunity because obviously the playing fields were not levelled. So, our roles as leaders is to level the playing fields.
MM: Yes, yes
NF: And then, once you levelled them, now you can say, now equality and equal access to opportunity starts happening. So, as a black person, as a black woman, and then as a black woman living with a disability, your playing field is so unequal…
MM: True, true
NF: … that someone has to consciously say: I’m removing all the stumbling blocks to create a situation where you are not starting at such a negative position, and then say you got equal access. Because that’s not equal, that’s not equality and that’s why we have pursue transformation – I mean your question earlier on around: “Why are we seeing this situation where we think we are making a difference”, and then later you realise, we still have a lot more to do. It’s because of these processes that we became the pathfinders. We didn’t even comprehend how to connect the dots to see. It’s not just about bringing in people into the organisation and say: “oh well, I’ve brought in twenty black people or twenty women”; but it is: “how am I creating a culture in this organisation that will enable this black person, when they’re coming into this organisation, to thrive and be the best that they can be.” I have to take away all the other cultural stumbling blocks that are found in this organisation that would make it difficult for a black person to live, to be the best person that they can be professionally. Because this organisation we are coming into, already has got history and legacy of how they have enabled, ahh, white people to succeed. So, it was not designed for a black person. So, when you come in as a black person, you need to check and don’t just say: “Well I’m in and, therefore, its okay.” Say, “I’m in, now that I’m in, what are the barriers,” and, and that’s what I talk about in my journey, in the book and, because I know most of my South African peers, people of my generation went through those kinds of challenges, where you came in and you said: “Well, we are all in here, but you know, guess what, it’s not as simple as I envisaged….”
MM: It’s not, it’s not.. No…
NF: … so, you’ve got to understand where those barriers are? Who are the people that can support you? Who are the white colleagues in this environment to create an enabling environment for you as a black person and others to come in? Because you are shifting and changing your whole culture in the system.
MM: I always say about the barriers that it because the system was not designed for you. I always say to people who say to me: “You are such a non-conformist”. I say: “It’s not that I am a non-conformist, how do I conform or fit into something that was not created to fit me?” The only way to fit in or to come in is to rip it apart.
MM: You go to …..
NF: … to redesign it.
MM: To redesign it altogether and because you are doing that, that takes time on its own. You’re taking time and then somebody will make you feel like as if you’re not making an effort. But, it’s because you are still dealing with so many things, it’s like when we say you need to do something for two hours, but when there are so many factors that’s against you, you’ll probably take five hours.
NF: That’s exactly the whole issue around equality – we first have to level the playing fields. For example, before we can say the journey to Cape Town is two hours, we have to be mindful that it could be more to others. This takes me back to the issue of what the systems were designed to support. As we all get into organisations and institutions, as leaders we’ve got to think first: “What would it be that would hold back other people…
NF: … people who look like me, who talk like me, who come from my background, or even, who are not in the conversation today so that they feel included. And they know they are included, not just feeling that, but knowing and experiencing this culture or this environment is an inclusive one.
MM: Let’s explore the side that really most people don’t know about you. Are we still slaying? You have introduced the construct of slaying in my previous conversation with you. Would you call yourself a Slay-Queen? I need to understand the “Slay Queen” connotation because, obviously, it now has a new one in the mainstream media. From my generation, anyone who excels in what they do, yes lane the dragons – that’s really the original slang. You are excelling, you are excelling in your role…
NF: And then a black woman, has so many dragons…
NF: That we are building this barrier.
NF: So, in that context, I slay as a parent, I slay as a daughter, I slay as a woman, I slay as a professional, because in everything I do, I want excellence. So, that’s why I need to understand, where this connotation of negativity on Slay Queens emanates from. Obviously, I’m from the other generation. So, you need to teach me now, why this “Slay” is the issue.
MM: You know, I am a very proud Slay Queen, and I say it to young girls. When somebody gives you a crown, wear it with pride.
NF: What was that context that…..
MM: (Giggles) Miss Confidence (Masingita used to host Miss Confidence beauty pageant for ladies with disabilities)
NF: Miss Confidence (giggle). By the way, here’s another issue: I’m going to be the slay queen in the kitchen and cook. That’s what it means. Or you will be the Slay King, if you cook in the kitchen.
MM: Yes, yes, if you want a queen, you must be the king and you must create a proper kingdom for this queen. That’s all I’m saying. One day, we just have to organise a real dialogue and a masterclass about the issue of Slay Queens. Because we really need women to take their power back.
MM: You’ve always been involved in these different sectors that seem to be very rigid and very strict. How do you balance that to the human being who at least has fun and have a life outside corporate confines?
NF: Yeah, I think the best way to explain it is to repeat how I have said to people in the past. As a woman, I’m multi-dimensional. You know, I can do different things and I have different moods. And also, as we talk about the different dances, it means, for every situation, I can bring in the woman in me.
So, I say, I’ve got five pairs of shoes. And my five pairs of shoes are not boring. Because I got the normal boots that you have to wear, which are the working boots, safety boots. That means that they are appropriate for that job.
But I wear high-heels, which make sure that I stand head and shoulders with my peers, whether men or women – I stand shoulder-to-shoulder. This is with my high heels.
When the time is right, I wear my sandals. Because my sandals are the ones with flowers and bells and all sorts of other girlie stuff, because I don’t want to take myself too seriously. And I want to have fun, whilst I’m working hard and dealing with serious issues.
Then, I also have sneakers, which means then I can be agile and flexible and even be able to run and do the things that need to be done, without being stuck or be unsafe.
And then the fifth pair I have is my slippers. So that I can just be comfortable, and you know, when I get home, then I feel like I’m comfortable, I mean in my own space.
So, it’s the whole issue of saying: every situation you find yourself in, there’s a certain leadership essence and core ways of being, which do not take anything away from who you are as a person and as an individual.
MM: Do you still love choral music?
NF: Yes of course. I still love choral music. My friends think I can sing, by the way.
MM: I always end my conversations by asking the person to something that people have never heard or seen them doing. So I’m hoping you’ll sing for me.
But before that, when you look at your life, do you have any regrets?
NF: Hm, well I have my regrets. Since I’m at 57 – 58 years old, there are certain situations and circumstances that I think I could have handled better or differently. So, a life without regrets means that it’s a life without any risks having been taken. It means you haven’t made any unconventional choices we’ve been talking about. So, for me, it’s some of those regrets such as thinking maybe I should have pushed harder on some of these issues we’ve been talking about – particularly issues around gender transformation.
MM: Yes, yes
NF: You know, those are situations when I say: “there I could have been much more bolder, harder and actually driven the agenda much more harder.”
MM: There’s a question that I want to ask before we close which is about the issue of inclusion we earlier spoke about. The reality we live in is that we’re still very far when it comes to gender equality and pallet, if we be honest. However, you still find many women like me, being mistreated by other women. I’m very much aware of transformational issues and I’m very much aware that we need women, and we need gender representation, but I find myself asking myself: “how am I supposed to rally behind someone who has mistreated me? They need to be voted into certain positions, they need our vote, and then you sit and think, but how do I vote or choose someone who mistreated me? How are they going to be like when they are in a more powerful position? How do we balance this? Truth is we can’t run away from needing women. But what kind of women are we supposed to pursue? Sometimes, one feels manipulated, but is it a fair trade? Their choice is really made by the system, but how I was shifted, how do we deal with it, how do we balance it?
NF: That’s a very deep and important question you are asking because it’s fundamental to the transformation agenda that we are driving. All of us often want to believe that just because there’s a black person in a particular leadership position, then it means that there will be more black people coming in; or just because there’s a woman, there’s going to be more women coming in because a woman or black person is a decision maker.
And I think, when we move from that premise, it’s not a completely fair premise to move from. Because there are good women, there are bad women; bad men, good men; and good and bad black people; and good and bad white people. So, for me it has to come back to the issue of – Who are the leaders? What kind of leaders do we vote for? Who do we nominate into positions? Who do we appoint in our organisations? And what are the value systems that we are looking for from each one of those leaders? Because then, the people who open doors for us, it could be you as a young woman, it could be me or it could be a black man, or it could be a white man. But why are they opening doors? It’s because of a particular value system or because they got a particular agenda. So we’ve got to understand those issues. And it’s unfortunate that the narrative of women not supporting each other still continues to come through. At the end of the day my view is that it’s about the individual, rather than saying, well, women don’t support each other. Certainly for me, I’ve been one of the fortunate ones, if that’s what you call where I have had women whom I didn’t know, even knew existed, who paved the way for me as I’m saying. And by them paving the way, they were asking the right questions in the boardroom. Where are more black women? Where are the women? Why don’t we have enough women in this organisation occupying these positions? What are we doing about women in the supply chain space? Where are the companies that are owned by women? Those women, though I don’t know their names, were championing the women empowerment and that’s why for me when I say, when we have access, and proximity to power in decision-making and influence, we should also realise that the responsibility that comes with it is when you are there around the boardroom table, ask the question: “What’s happening to the young people? What’s happening to young women? What’s happening to black people? What’s happening to all the people who are meant to be here, the voices that are not represented around this table? Otherwise, it means we will never be able to see any meaningful change. Also, it means, we will never ever have allies, because even for the first person to be in that boardroom, someone has been an ally, and said: “let’s bring in someone who’s different.” So, for me the diversity and inclusion is over and above the numbers that we need to have visibly – because, obviously, we want visible role models, but we also need to know that when people are there, you’ve got, what I refer to as an implicit mandate, whether you like it or not, I’m here as a woman and I’m also here carrying the voices of many women and therefore need to open the door for women as much as I’m opening for people from diverse backgrounds, who are not represented here, around this table. So, we need this dialogue and we should have this conversation.
MM: We should do… So, this is how we end our conversation. By the way, I don’t consider myself the host of the show, I’m a guest and every person who is having a conversation with me, is hosting me, because you host me in your space. So, I don’t close this show because I’m not the host, I’m just a guest. So I’m just going to thank you for hosting us and the rest of the nation. This is how we say goodbye. But before thus, tell us what does good leadership entails and after that you can then sing a song for us. Over to you.
NF: Well, well, you are definitely, not conventional in that way. So, firstly, I want to say thank you very much for including me in this journey. As I have said earlier on, I feel privileged to be part of your show because I admire you greatly…
MM: Thank you my sister.
NF: … and you have previously inspired me and continue to inspire me even nowadays. So, thank you very much for thinking of me and including me in this conversation line up and also for just being gracious with all the conversations we’ve had.
For me, good leaders are, leaders who, regardless of where they are at in their organisation, understand that you can learn from other people. And we should be leaders who listen. And, someone once said: we’ve got two ears and one mouth, so you use them that way – listen more and speak less so that you can be able to act and make the decisions that will make a difference in people’s lives. And making a difference in people’s lives means also allowing the others to come through and showcase what they can do better than you can as an individual.
So, thank you again, for taking me into your space and really including me. I feel very privileged actually.
MM: Thank you.
NF: So my cellphone is going to help me sing for you.
MM: So you are doing what we used to do, when we were growing up, singing to the song …
NF: Exactly, we can get into this and seeing that it’s a Friday.
MM: So we can hold our own Karaoke?
NF: I love Karaoke. So when I have parties with family and friends, there’s a point in the evening when they will ask: “Where is the National Anthem of your house?”
MM: So let’s be Idols – let’s sing “It’s my house”.
NF: Yes, this is my National Anthem. – (the duo is singing and dancing as the song, “It’s My House”, blurs from Nolitha’s cellphone.)