Rare Diamond

Rare Diamond

Lauren Shapiro catches up with South Africa’s favourite celebrity, Minnie Dlamini

I have already settled into a plush booth at The Met Grill in Joburg’s glitzy Montecasino when she walks in on a pair of sky-high Christian Louboutins. Minnie Dlamini maintains perfect balance – not just on her stilettos, but in her uncanny ability to stand out from the crowd without being flashy. It’s a gift – she’s at once one of us and something very special.

From the bottom up

She greets me warmly and slides into her seat, placing her perfectly accessorised handbag and shades on the upholstered bench next to her. Lunch with Dlamini is an experience. A natural entertainer, at age 27 she already has nearly a quarter of a century’s experience in showbiz – she’s been singing, dancing and acting since she was three. She tells me that her all-time favourite role was Evillene, the Wicked Witch of the West from The Wiz, which opened at Durban’s Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre on her 16th birthday. I nearly choke on my halloumi and avo salad. The image just doesn’t gel. Dlamini smiles graciously and allows a little laugh as she turns back to her lamb cutlets. There’s clearly more to South Africa’s favourite celebrity than meets the eye.

It wasn’t until 2010 that Dlamini was discovered in a countrywide talent search for SA’s leading music show, LIVE. Her first public appearance for the show was at Innesfree Park on 11 June, the opening game of the 2010 Fifa World Cup, she recalls. ‘I was so nervous, of course – to this day I get nervous,’ admits the starlet. ‘But I realised that I was where I wanted to be, and that inspired me. It was an indescribable feeling.’

She dropped out of her studies at UCT to pursue her career in Joburg, but while she was busy honing her craft, she asked her producers if she could intern ‘to optimise my time and to stay out of trouble.’ She spent the next two years at Urban Brew Studios, learning how to do everything from booking talent and operating a camera to writing scripts and producing content. Dlamini says, ‘It is important to start at the bottom in this industry because the more you understand, the better you are at it.

Queen of the screen

This experience stood her in good stead when she went on to present a wide range of programmes (including Mzansi Insider, Soccerzone and, most recently, Tropika Island of Treasure). She’s also earned the title Queen of Award Shows for hosting almost every glittering event in the country, from the South African Film and Television Awards, Metro FM Music Awards and Miss South Africa, to the SA Sports Awards and the Premier Soccer League Awards. Dlamini has graced the stage at the Africa Magic Viewers’ Choice Awards in Lagos and even the highly prestigious Black Entertainment Television (BET) Awards in Los Angeles.

‘It is a huge honour to be asked to host events like these,’ she says.’ We should always celebrate those who have worked hard and have made their dreams come true.’

But as much as she adores the screen (and the screen adores her), her first love, she says, will always remain acting. She has already notched up quite a formidable list of accomplishments. After making an appearance on the country’s premier soapie, Generations, Dlamini went on to star in M-Net’s The Wild and Rockville. She is now the proud owner of her own production company, Beautiful Day Productions, and is currently working on her first project.

What a sport

Meanwhile, Dlamini has yet another project on her plate – a new sports and lifestyle show. Dlamini is no stranger to either lifestyle or sports – in 2013 she joined the team of SABC 1’s Soccerzone, holding her own in the masculine world of sportscasting in a dress, heels and flawless hair and make-up. Personally, I have always found that combination fascinating; but for Dlamini, it was a no-brainer. ‘I’m actually a huge tomboy,’ she surprises me. She notes that she earned provincial colours at school for touch rugby and tennis, and she still enjoys playing with her brothers. ‘I love sports, but I need to stay true to my style,’ she insists.

She speaks affectionately of her Soccerzone co-host Thomas Mlambo: ‘It was an amazing experience working with T. He’s one of the most knowledgeable and credible sports presenters on the continent. He taught me everything I know.’ But Dlamini was looking for something broader, something to merge her love of sports and lifestyle. In May this year, she launched Homeground with co-host Lungile Radu (of Mzansi Footballers fame), airing on Mzansi Magic and SuperSport.

She’s the business

For all the fashion and make-up, Minnie Dlamini is far more than just a pretty face. She has an enterprising mind for business and is a consummate professional – but this didn’t come without a price. ‘I’d made my first million by the time I was 20, and I blew every last cent,’ she recollects. ‘I looked around and had nothing to show for it – not even a fancy handbag!’

After learning that lesson, she was determined to look after herself, and to make the most of the opportunities life had to offer. ‘I worked really hard to build up my finances again, and made a commitment to invest in myself and my future,’ affirms Dlamini, who now owns her own home and car.

But she is also very generous, and loves to share her fortune with others. Last year she bought her parents a new BMW X5. ‘As children, we can never really thank our parents for all they’ve done for us,’ she smiles. ‘So, when the opportunity came to spoil my parents, I did.’

In 2014, she inaugurated the Minnie Dlamini Foundation, with the aim of giving young girls in impoverished communities the opportunity to receive quality education. Using her extensive business networks, Dlamini raises funds for building schools and improving education in these areas. ‘I wanted to be more than just someone talking on TV,’ Dlamini confesses. ‘I wanted to use my platform for something good.’

Refining moments

Dlamini calls herself ‘SA’s diamond’: ‘I was completely rough – a lump of coal – and South Africa gave me the chance to refine myself,’ she reveals. However, when I ask her what it feels like to have ‘arrived’, she laughs. ‘I am not even close!’

‘But the whole country knows you,’ I argue. ‘You have more than a million followers on Instagram!’ (And, notably, she’s the first South African to achieve this status). The smile on her face seems to tell me that I ain’t seen nothing yet.

Diplomatically, she responds: ‘I always strive for excellence and I’m not afraid to try new things. It’s the innovators in society who are able to make change.’ And on that note, she gathers up her handbag and shades to move on to her next commitment, the stars in her eyes every bit as dazzling as those in Montecasino’s twinkling ceiling.

Styling: Jodi Cohen & Sharné Cupido; Photography: Gareth Van Nelson/HMImages.co.za, Courtesy Image; Hair And Make-Up: Kimlyn Sisam

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