The article below is an exclusive interview between the Voice of Africa and Mrs Minnie Dlamini Jones — a South African TV personality and the owner of MD Body, on the need to educate yourself
Hello, it’s your host, Kadmiel Van Der Puije and Welcome to TVOA TV and podcast, today We have a very special guest with us, Mrs Minnie Dlamini Jones. She is a South African TV personality and the owner of MD Body, Mrs Dlamini Jones. Can you please tell us a little bit about your childhood growing up?
Minnie: I had a really awesome childhood, I grew up with my mom and my dad and two brothers. My parents were very big on us being involved in a lot of different activities. So I grew up playing sports, dancing, group singing and group acting. My parents felt like it was really important for us to be involved in a lot of different things in order to just grow our diversity and our knowledge and expand our reach when it comes to meeting new people. I think that’s one of the reasons why I ended up doing what I do today; it’s just my experience and lots of different codes whether it was sports or music or the performing arts. It really got me to understand how different we all are and my passion for wanting to entertain.
TVOA: Were there any role models that you had or still have that you can confide in his or her process?
Minnie: Oh, yes. I’ve had plenty of role models from my godmother who is a federal judge in South Africa to my mother who I absolutely admire for just being a woman who held our family together when things got really tough. It showed me independence and strength while being a wife and a mother. And of course, I’ve had some amazing industry people that I’ve looked up to; my predecessors: I look at Connie Ferguson, one of the most successful producers started out as an actress in the country and is now one of the biggest and best producers in the country.
The likes of former Miss South Africa, Basetsana Makgalamele (KUMALO) who’s now the formidable businesswoman in South Africa. And basically, these are women who have used their platforms as entertainers and performers and were able to evolve into successful businesswomen. That’s really where I take my motivation from.
TVOA: Throughout your professional and educational careers did you find that you have had to prove yourself or defy people’s assumptions/expectations because of your gender and or racial identity?
Minnie: A hundred per cent. First of all, when I started in the entertainment industry, I was just 19 and everyone expected me to last six months because I was just the new pretty face on the block and 10 years later, I’ve proven them wrong. In my teen years, I started off with music, lifestyle and entertainment. Then I made the really big decision to go into sports entertainment and that was really tough because it’s a really male-dominated industry; women were and still are not really taken seriously in that space.
Had it not been for the career, credibility and the following I had built, I don’t think I would have been able to really stick it out and hold my own. Being a female in the sports world is very difficult. It’s difficult to be taken seriously not only in the structures of production and the fraternity itself but also from the viewers perspective. You have to prove that you’ve got something to give and you’ve got something to show for it. I found my male counterparts didn’t have to jump through as many hoops as I had to in order to prove themselves.
TVOA: How do you go about encouraging women in the industry and look to develop and find female talent to take on creative roles originally monopolized by men?
Minnie: We speak about it; the entertainment industry and just basically the world is a very male-dominated and a patriarchal society. There is this very weird misconception with the entertainment industry that you need to sleep your way to the top, and I think that’s one of the first things I want to dispel; we’ve seen the Harvey Weinstein Saga. That’s probably the BIG Hollywood Story that we know of but it’s going on in so many different countries and so many different regions and it’s being perpetuated as a norm and I want to tell young women that your talent is good enough, you are worthy and there are critical structures that will get you recognized without you having to compromise who you are and compromise your dignity.
That’s the first thing. The second thing I want to say to women is, we do have to work harder. It’s not fair but we have to. Put in the effort to make sure that no one can question your credibility and talent. Educate yourself, surround yourself with people who know better. Get to know more people who have experience in the field that you’ve chosen to be and whether it’s entertainment, business, whatever your field of expertise or interest, surround yourself with people who know better and never stop learning.
TVOA: Your passion for setting an example for women and girls like yourself is so inspiring and much needed– you said you feel an appetite to challenge traditional media by paying it forward as someone else has done for you– can you talk more on that experience and how that person shaped who you are today?
Minnie: It was important for me to understand that I am the person that I am because of people who have walked before me. So it’s important for me to, once I get to a certain level, pay it forward. I’m able to be the inspiration that I had growing up. I wouldn’t be walking the path that I have or the path that I am working if it wasn’t for the woman that worked before me. So it’s important for me to share what I know. It’s important for me to share my mistakes. I’m very big on that. A lot of people want to act like their Journeys’ been perfect and I really I’m big on sharing my mistakes.
And the reason why I do that is if I’ve made those mistakes, you don’t need to and that’s something that’s really important to me. On top of that, we also need to understand why we are the people we are; what is your purpose? My life’s purpose is not just to be on television as not to have this big successful production company, but it’s really to inspire young people to be all that they can be and I think that’s what’s important for me. I want to be an inspiration to young women in any field. Let’s challenge society and let’s go out there and step into the spaces that people said you can’t stay into whether it’s because you’re too young or black or female; let’s go out there and in the words of our current Miss Universe, “Let’s take up space.”
TVOA: How does a TV personality as yourself work both in front and behind the camera and how are those two occupations similar and different?
Minnie: They are incredibly different. When I started in the entertainment industry, I knew I wanted to be behind the camera. It’s always been a passion of mine to create and when I got in and I got my first presenting role, the first thing I did was, I became the production assistant. So I started off carrying camera bags. I was the girl who was sending tea to the entire building, booking the equipment, the cruise, running around like a runner. I was a runner for the longest time and then eventually I told them that I could write, then I got promoted to writing the script. From there, I told them that I’ve got some really cool ideas and I got promoted into creating some of the concepts, elements and features around the show.
That’s really where I got to hone my craft as a producer and I knew that my longevity in this industry is not going to be in front of the camera, but it was going to be behind. And the difference is, they’re two different fulfilling moments. When I’m in front of the camera and entertaining, I’m connecting, but when I’m behind the camera, I’m creating and I’m shaping what our entertainment industry looks like. I’m extending boundaries—in terms of what can be done, what is being done and what isn’t being done. I’m so grateful to have had the opportunity to create shows that had never been produced in South Africa. I produced a wedding documentary series when I got married and it had never been done in the country. It was the highest-rated show in the country that year and I was just so grateful that I had the opportunity to challenge the status quo and say, I know this hasn’t been done but give me the opportunity.
TVOA: So, how do you build up that confidence to finally step out and reach out to your bosses or whoever might be above you to let them know. “I feel like I’m creative enough to give you some ideas that might help boost your ratings or business in general?
Minnie: I guess I’ve always been the throw-me-in-the-deep-end-and-watch-me-swim kind of girl. I like challenging societal norms. I’ve always had a knack for it. So I tend to think I’m quite fearless when it comes to asking for things and asking for opportunities. I think this is where the lesson is and what I hope to portray and teach people that, “Never be afraid to ask the worst.” They can say ‘no’ But you know what? One good day, they’ll say ‘yes’ and you’ll get to prove yourself and that’s what I’m all about; Shoot your shot.
TVOA: Are there any stories you’ve had personally of hardship that you would like to share? An exemplification of endurance?
Minnie: Yeah. I worked in the industry for about two years. I wasn’t getting paid and I remember it being one of the lowest points in my journey because I was on air every week. I was this big shot celebrity in this country, but I was flat broke and I had to keep up appearances. I remember it was at that point where I realized that it’s important to be loyal in this business. It’s just as well important to take care of yourself. When the people that you work for are no longer taking care of you, don’t be afraid to move on. It was a really difficult decision because I am a loyal person. I love to work with the same people.
I love to build and stay in a place and really grow with it to see if I could take it to the next level, but it was important for me to also understand that I needed to take care of me and I needed to take care of my pocket. My loyalty was starting to compromise my pocket. So don’t be afraid to leave your comfort zone—that was one of the lessons that experience taught me.
TVOA: What project have you worked on that you feel most passionate about or enriched by?
Minnie: One of my favourite things is what I currently work on right now, which is my show home ground, that I co-host with Lungile Radu and what I love so much about the show is that I worked in sort of traditional sports broadcasting to four years and that’s really where I got to hone my craft but I was doing what everyone else was doing in the sports entertainment world. And when I managed to move to my current employer Super Sports, they sat me down and they asked me, “What are you hoping to be on?” “What kind of show are you hoping to present?” I said, “I want to present a show that’s never been presented ever before. I want to show that there is a bridge between sports and entertainment.
A show where your sports lover will be able to watch and get the stats on who won what over the weekend but also the show where they can also enjoy amazing lifestyle entertainment.” So the home ground was born, merging my love for sports and lifestyle and at the moment, it’s the only show that some will cast on two channels, two separate platforms in South Africa and on the continent. It’s my biggest pride because I got the opportunity to say this is what I want to do. I want to carve a niche; something that hadn’t been done and I was given the opportunity to do that.
I guess the second and probably my proudest moment was the first television production that didn’t involve me. So obviously the first show that I spoke about was my wedding documentary becoming Mrs Jones which broke all the records but the next show that I did was actually a show called Spirit of Mzansi and it was a car reality show.
That show, I didn’t do the voice nor do any feature at all other than in the credits of the executive producer and we got to conceptualize that from scratch with the sponsor and we produced a brand new show, a brand new concept again that hadn’t been seen on South African television and the show was a huge success. The fact that I didn’t have to rely on my stardom in order to produce a successful show, showed that I really earned my chops as a producer in this country.
TVOA: Apart from being a creative and the pretty face on TV, you’re also a business owner. Can you give us a little background of why you started MD body?
Minnie: Sure. So my beauty products actually started because if you know anything about the television industry, especially in South Africa, it’s not really the most lucrative. We don’t get paid that well, but it really does put you out and gives you the platform to attract bigger business that every performing artist is looking for—that big International global endorsement contract even if it’s local because that’s tangible money and they’re big paychecks. I really wanted to be the face of a beauty brand and I waited and waited and waited and it just wasn’t coming.
Then I finally got a team together who started presenting me to these big companies and putting me out there and saying things like, “This is who Minnie is, I think she’d be a perfect fit for your brand and these brands just weren’t biting.” I was either too big for them at the time or I wasn’t big enough. I was either too young for the brand or I wasn’t young enough. There were just so many different obstacles that came about and I realized that I didn’t have to sit around and wait for a guy in a suit who had probably never seen me on TV before to decide if I was worthy to be the face of their brand.
I realized that sitting and waiting for an opportunity was just a waste of time. So I decided to get my hands dirty. I did a lot of research. I partnered with some incredible people and we decided to develop my own beauty range; that’s how it happened.
TVOA: What do you think has set you apart from your competitors?
Minnie: I think I’ve always sort of stayed in my own lane and I’ve never really competed with the mainstream, entertainers who were out there. One of the things about me is that people always say that I’m quite relatable and I think it’s one of the reasons I got into the entertainment industry. I stood in a line and I auditioned with thousands and thousands of South Africans on national television and people voted. So I’ve always felt I’m the people’s entertainer and the people’s brand. I always feel indebted to them and indebted to being as authentic as I possibly can and not only to myself but to the people who voted for me initially.
I need to stay true to their goal. I was completely unrefined. I had no training whatsoever. I’ve really got to learn on the job. I learned to refine my craft. I also learnt that what people really love is authenticity and I think that’s what separates me from everyone. If you go to my social media page, there’s no beautiful background, no gorgeous filters. It’s just a lot of randomness. It’s a lot of me. It’s a day in the life of me whenever you get to see me. I try to be as authentic as I possibly can to the brand that I’ve created because I think that’s what people appreciate.
TVOA: What are some ways that you have overcome the obstacle of getting products to black women in a market that normalizes lighter skin tones? (ie makeup products/foundation shades)
Minnie: I’ve actually never had a problem with that. At the end of the day, I think what’s really important is that everyone is entitled to do whatever they want to do. I love the colour of my skin. Sometimes, I even go get a spray tan so that I get a little bit of sun-kissed bronze. If someone feels like they want to have lighter skin; I’m not going to sit there and advocate for what’s right and what’s wrong. I feel like everyone has the freedom to do whatever they want. And I think that’s the most important thing.
We have become such a judgmental society and more than anything people just want to live their truth. So whatever makes people feel comfortable. That’s what they should do. I would hope people keep their original skin colour and promote that because beautiful melanin is gorgeous. But if that’s not really what they want to do then each to their own as long as you’re happy.
TVOA: How has it been more difficult to attain and maintain success in this industry in comparison?
Minnie: Oh, a hundred per cent. As I said, the entertainment industry is very fickle, one minute you’re hot, the next, you’re not you know. Sometimes the paychecks are coming in, other times, they don’t. So it’s very important for you to create an environment that becomes stable in a very unstable environment. I think this is the biggest question anyone in the business should be answering: how can you create some sort of stability in a very unstable entertainment industry?
TVOA: How can media personalities command more respect dollar-wise in the industry?
Minnie: I think it’s important to know your worth. Know what you stand for, but also everyone is so consumed with what the next person is doing. What are you comfortable doing? I think everyone gets comfortable until they find out what the next person is doing and then all of a sudden there’s a huge issue. You need to educate yourself on standard industry practices, on what’s right, what the benchmark is for every level in this entertainment industry and also be honest with yourself about where you stand. I think a lot of people over sensationalize their position in the entertain statement industry.
That’s a huge issue in the sense that you overprice yourself. Surround yourself with people who are going to give you the right numbers, the right stats; you can’t just do that on your own. There are companies that can analyze your analytics, you can find out exactly where you stand. Find those companies. Sometimes it is payment but it’s an on-time payment that I think is worth it. I think a lot of people are so comfortable doing things on their own and not willing to open themselves up to get professional help and sometimes it’s necessary.
TVOA: How do you wish to see the industry in Africa in the next 10 years?
Minnie: I think my biggest vision for the entertainment industry on the continent right now is to see some structures. Right now, it’s just like a hangout spot where the new hot person comes in now and then another at another time. One person gets paid this much then the next person doesn’t. It’s incredibly fickle; the rules are being rewritten constantly and I feel like we need to standardize things. You need to have people who are coming into the business understanding that you don’t take anything less than a certain amount nor ask for too much. I think we need some structures.
Right now in our country, most of us entertainers pay tax, but in this COVID situation, we were like, okay well do we get a relief fund? We’re nowhere to be seen because we don’t have any formal structures. So we can’t claim anything and of course, I’m generalizing but I’m just talking specifically to getting formal structures. We’d be able to benefit from the entertainment industry a lot more. You wouldn’t find athletes who are incredible today and then tomorrow, they’re back living in their parent’s houses.
We really need to start structuring the business around the entertainment industry and stop looking at it as fun and games and although it is and we have a great time with it, it is a business and we need to start approaching it and changing the way that we do things in a proper business-like structure. That’s my vision.
TVOA: How can The Voice of Africa support your causes?
Minnie: The Voice of Africa just you know, get it out there. Let people know what we’re doing on this side. At the end of the day, the African continent is so rich not only in culture but in creativity. We’re doing some incredible work. We’re producing some incredible content, but also there’s a lot of help that’s needed on the continent. We have been for a really long time the poorest continent in the world and we really need to do something about it. The Voice of Africa could really speak about it; whether it’s gender-based violence, poverty, hunger, education, etc. We need the world to know what is really going on on the continent.
I think if we can start focusing on improving the structures that are in existence, we’ll be able to alleviate a lot of these issues. If our businesses are supported, we alleviate poverty, we alleviate a lot of the issues that we have, we need proper investments and proper businesses to be created on this continent. I think that’s what we need. We just need more people to know what we’re doing, what we’re about and what we’re capable of.
TVOA: Thank you for coming on this platform for helping amplify Africa’s voice. Do you have any advice for any of our youth following in your footsteps?
Minnie: Yeah. The biggest advice I would give you is to educate yourself! educate yourself! educate yourself! Then, of course, surround yourself with people who are experienced, people who have walked the path that you’re trying to walk and also surround yourself with people who are doing things that are completely different to you so that you’re able to expand your mindset, challenge the status quo and break those boundaries.
TVOA: thank you so much.
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