Keeping it real

Keeping it real

We put talk-show host Anele Mdoda in the hot seat. By Lauren Shapiro

I’m so used to seeing her dominating those plush grey armchairs on screen that it’s a bit surreal to see her perched on a regular restaurant seat like a mere mortal. She’s dressed in a relaxed rust-brown jersey, black tights and white tackies, but 33-year-old Anele Mdoda conducts herself with characteristic vivacity. ‘Effervescent’ doesn’t do her justice – she knocks the socks off Berocca and is bubblier than Champagne. And it looks like I’ll be needing both – the vitamin cocktail to keep up with her boundless energy, and the champers because, with this upbeat lady, everything is a cause for celebration.

Aptly, we’ve met at Vigour & Verve at Tsogo Sun’s Elangeni & Maharani hotel on Durban’s Golden Mile. While the waiter dishes up the drinks, Mdoda dishes the dirt on her career, her family and her celeb status.

Radio gaga

In 2004, Mdoda joined the University of Pretoria to study politics and international relations. ‘But I needed to do something besides just study,’ she explains. She saw a flyer advertising DJ posts at Tuks FM, the campus radio station. Ever the all-rounder, she auditioned and got a part. She felt right at home in the studio and soon began to make on-air magic with fellow student Grant Nash. Their chemistry continued at Johannesburg station Highveld Stereo in 2007 and later nationally on 5FM. Today she’s back on Highveld (now known as 947), hosting The 947 Breakfast Club with yet another fellow Tukser, Frankie du Toit.

Over the years, Mdoda has cemented her place in the nation’s heart – and has the prizes to prove it. In 2008, she was rated ‘the hottest thing on local radio’ by the legendary Alex Jay. In 2012, her 5FM slot was named Best Commercial Daytime Show In SA at the MTN Radio Awards, she was voted Most Stylish Media Personality at the SA Style Awards (also in 2012), and in 2014 she was titled Favourite South African Radio Personality at the Nickelodeon Kids’ Choice Awards.

‘Radio is phenomenal,’ Mdoda gushes. ‘It’s one-on-one, heart-string-pulling, immediate and personal in a way no other medium is. Reading, watching television or going online is a conscious choice, but people often have the radio on in the background, so it becomes like second nature, like a soulmate. It has a very valuable role to play.’

‘So, video didn’t kill the radio star?’ I quip.

‘NEVER!’ she exclaims. ‘Radio won’t ever die!’

Getting real

All that said, Mdoda has made pretty good use of the screen too, initially as a show-stopping celebrity contestant on the fifth season of reality dance competition Strictly Come Dancing in 2008, and then as a host of shows such as SA’s Got Talent, Clash of the Choirs South Africa and Dream School SA. She’s also been a judge for two seasons of The Road to Miss South Africa, as well as the pageant itself.

In 2014, she turned her attention to talk as a co-host of chat show Tongue in Cheek. It was only a matter of time before she took on her own show, but that time came a lot quicker than she expected. ‘It’s one thing Hlaudi got right,’ she laughs, telling me how what had been a five-year conversation suddenly accelerated after SABC COO Hlaudi Motsoeneng announced his 90% local content policy last year. ‘I was literally told I would be on air in three weeks!’ she recalls.

I ask her how on earth she managed to pull that one off, and she smiles her irresistible gap-toothed smile. ‘I have a great team behind me,’ she reveals. ‘And I’m the queen of knowing what I can’t do,’ she professes modestly. ‘I focus on my strengths, and let others focus on theirs.’

Mdoda’s innate optimism and can-do attitude saw her through. In July 2016, she launched Real Talk With Anele. In 2017, the show won a SAFTA (South African Film and Television Award) for Best Talk Show. I put this down to Mdoda’s natural confidence and screen presence. She handles topics as diverse as health, finance, technology and current affairs with ease. The sheer diversity of her guests makes them hard to categorise – she’s interested in absolutely everybody.

When I ask about her favourite type of guest, she tells me: ‘flawed, talented, loving human beings.’ Well, that narrows it down, then! When pushed, she admits that she would particularly love to interview Oprah, Winnie Mandela, Vladimir Putin and Prince Harry. (So, if you any of you are reading this…)

What makes Real Talk so entertaining is Mdoda’s ready wit. She has a wicked sense of humour and manages to find the funny side of pretty much everything. Her 2012 autobiography, It Feels Wrong to Laugh, But…, balances her candid honesty with cutting humour. In it, she tackles everything from radio to hair weaves and owning your size. ‘People mustn’t comment on my size, or my gap,’ she shakes her finger at me. ‘It’s not exactly breaking news. But be creative, come up with a new insult – then I will respect you!’

Woah, mama!

Family has always been incredibly important to Mdoda and, in August 2015, she welcomed her son Alakhe-Ilizwe into her life. Having lost her own mother to cancer nine years ago, she is keenly aware of the importance of the role. ‘My aim is to spend twice as much time with Alakhe than I spend money on him,’ she pledges. ‘I hope to raise a kind, confident person just like my mother did. She didn’t teach us those things; she showed us.’

Motherhood hasn’t had a major impact on her career, she says ‘It’s simply made me more focused. You build a support structure around you that works for you.’ She points out that she has great examples all around her of women who have kids and work, including her own sister and late mother. And with the help of her ever-supportive father and three sisters, she is doing very well indeed. ‘I sometimes just shove Alakhe in their direction and say, “Do what you did with me!”, because I turned out okay.’

On being extraordinary

For someone who’s usually running the show, Mdoda makes an excellent interviewee. ‘I know what it’s like to interview someone who’s not playing ball – it’s like drawing blood from a stone!’ she laughs. She’s been so open and honest about everything I’ve asked her; the only point on which she takes a stand against me is her celebrity status. ‘I’m not an A-lister,’ she insists. ‘I’m proud that I do my job well, and of the recognition that comes with that, but I wouldn’t call myself a celebrity.’

‘Well, so many South Africans look up to you,’ I counter. ‘What do you have to say to them?’

She smiles serenely and considers her response: ‘That I’m a very ordinary person striving to be an extraordinary being.’ Real talk from a real role model. Now that really is extraordinary.

styling: Jodi Cohen; stylist’s Assistants: Rojaun de Vos & Lungani Gumede Photographer: Avron/SupERnova; Hair & make-up: Pakiso Zwane

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