She’s an unapologetic feminist, a broadcaster, writer, director and producer based in Cape Town and Johannesburg. Kgomotso Matsunyane, host of television talk show ‘Late Night with Kgomotso’ and one time Commissioning Editor of Drama for SABC1, South Africa’s biggest public television broadcaster, was recently in Accra on a familiarization tour and we got chatty when I caught up with her at the Golden Tulip Hotel. Describing herself to me she said “I’m very strong-willed…my mum would probably say stubborn but I’d say strong-willed…I’m quite gregarious and engaging…very interested in the world…I’ve got a huge curiosity for the world and I’m passionate about this continent”. With her jokes and what could best be described as a ‘wicked’ sense of humour, the renowned television talk show host got me laughing for the most part of the interview.
She soon revealed that the women in her family were noted for their sense of humour, and that she probably inherited her sense of humour from her maternal grandmother whom she’d been named after.“I love people and I love to make people laugh…there’s a power about making people laugh…if you’re able to make somebody laugh you’ve got them forever. So with everybody I meet, I always try to make them laugh at least once; preferably ten times…making people laugh is probably the one quality that I admire most in people”, she quipped.
Discussing how she’d been able to break through the pre-dominantly male-dominated media industry in South Africa, Kgomotso said “in South Africa, journalism, television and radio is still an industry dominated by men and for me I never thought of it in terms gender. It’s just something that I wanted to do and I did it…I think it’s a combination of opportunity; being at the right place at the right time but most importantly for me it was just the desire I had…my mother raised me to believe that I had to be successful; failure was never an option. So if I put my mind to doing something, I just assumed that I was going to be successful at it”.
The one time editor of the ‘Operah Magazine’, in South Africa, further explained that she was relentless in that if she wanted something, she’d go out there and get it. “I had wonderful mentors; people who believed in me, opened the doors for me and allowed me to enter and make me believe in myself that I would be successful in what I wanted to do…so you’ve got to be a bit gutty. I don’t believe in doors…there’s no such thing as a glass ceiling, if they exist then I’m there to shatter them”, she declared.
Being a feminist, Kgomotso expressed frustration at the fact that women in Africa generally had low self-esteem. “I worry when women often say ‘I may be a CEO in the office but when I get home I know my place’…as if to earn that CEO position. I think we say that to make men feel better, and I don’t want to patronise men…we have the same God-given abilities to be able to succeed so why should I treat you differently?
I think that in general women in Africa have a low self-esteem and so through my feminist and gender-orientation work, I try to focus on trying to make women believe in themselves and to shatter the myth that men are more superior or intelligent. Men have more opportunities and nobody ever tells them they can’t do anything and that’s why they do it”, she disclosed.
Talking about some the challenges she had encountered in her line of work, Kgomotso first observed that she was impressed seeing many young people at post when she visited TV Africa and TV3. “You get sexism and racism. I don’t know about Ghana but in South Africa, you still get an enormous amount of racism and it is institutional and most black women and black people still have a low sense of self-esteem. It’s been only twenty years since our democracy and if Ghana was the first to be liberated on the continent then South Africa is probably the last, and so we have a lot of catching up to do…I went to TV Africa and TV3 today and I was astounded…I was surrounded by young dynamic black people who were so confident and were in charge. I love that…you don’t see that in South Africa…most black people feel that they have to earn their keep…you’ve been practicing for twenty years and yet white people still make you feel like you’re inferior. It’s still something that we have to fight on a daily basis”, Kgomotso disclosed.
According to the South African talk show host, her remedy to dealing with these challenges has been to be excel at whatever she does. “I was raised by a feisty woman and I went to school in the US and that’s where I became a feminist. I had the privilege of becoming editor of the Operah magazine in South Africa at some point and there’s a fantastic quote that I’d like to quote by Oprah and she quotes Rev. Jesse Jackson. When Oprah was 16 years old, she went to a talk that was given by the Rev. Jesse Jackson and he says “excellence is the best deterrent to racism…excellence is the best deterrent to sexism”…so, be excellent! When you’re excellent nobody can touch you…they may not like your demeanour but not everybody would like you”, she said.
Kgomotso currently runs her own Film Production Company ‘One Man and His Dog Films’, and says she’s looking forward to continuing with feature film production. “My focus right now is to make feature films that would really resonate and also make series around the continent…my ambition is to conquer Africa”, she declared.
South African series have become popular in Ghana and series like ‘Rhythm City’, ‘Scandal’ and ‘Generations’ obviously have substantial viewership. When asked the reason for which most South African series employed the local dialect, she revealed “I used to be Commissioning Editor for Drama at SABC 1, and ‘Generations’ was one of my projects at the time and it as exclusively in English…it took quite a bit to convince the Producers that it was for the common good of all, not just the station but the program, to change the language to more accurately reflect how people speak…and now all our drama series have sub-titles. People can tell fakeness and just because they’re watching doesn’t mean they don’t see what’s going on…So it’s a way of telling the audience that we love you and we respect you and therefore we’re going to reflect you in your language and how you use it. There are eleven official languages in South Africa and there is a huge number of other nationals…so if we’re to be a country that is a serious player on this continent then we have to embrace the other African countries and not act as if we are this exclusive island called South Africa”.
Concluding the interview, Kgomotso said her message to women in broadcasting was “the world is your oyster, demand what you want and go out and get it because it’s already yours”.
By Rudolph H. Asumda