By Ithuteng Mashabela
In 2002, the unimaginable happened to her: she accidently missed her third year Journalism and Media Studies exam. After what she calls the best sales pitch of her life, she convinced Guy Burger to let her write a make-up exam. Today, Khwezi Magwaza is the editor of South African teen publication, Seventeen Magazine, and an incredibly accomplished player in the media industry. With a resume that boasts names like Elle Magazine, Y-FM and Heat Magazine, Magwaza is already a young veteran of the industry. The sassy and street-wise 27 year old ex-Rhodent made her TV debut as the producer and presenter of South Africa’s first television gossip show, ‘The Real Goboza’. Despite the fame and fortune, the cameras and lights, she looks back longingly on her days as a Rhodent. Activate takes a walk down memory lane with Magwaza, and talks to her about her life after Rhodes.
What was your first impression when you initially arrived in tiny, dust-bowl Grahamstown with its tumble-weed worthy streets?
I fell in love with G-town the first time I visited there. It looked like one of those Ivy League university towns from the movies with its green lawns, big arches and old classrooms. It just felt like a place where learning happened and students ruled.
What are your fondest/most embarrassing memories created at Rhodes?
Missing my final year journ exam. I thought that the paper was being written in the afternoon, so as I walked diligently to the exam hall I bumped into my classmates having a drink in the sun… when they told me they wrote that morning I just felt the blood drain from my body. I had never been so embarrassed and stressed in all my life.
What’s the strangest job you ever took up to make ends meet?
There have been so many but the most memorable was actually not even in media. Few people know that, when I got to Jo’burg, I was a waitress for the longest time before I got a real gig. One day, R200 away from flat broke, I applied to be a waitress at an Indian restaurant in Rosebank. It was during the Summit on Sustainable Development and there were all these foreign dignitaries in town – I even served a guy who I swear was Maumma Gaddafi! That job was crazy. I couldn’t understand what the chefs were saying because everyone spoke Hindi, but I made it work for me and earned more in tips than the salary on my first job – I even bought my first car with that money. And to this day I’m still crazy about butter chicken and Bollywood music!
Favourite subject(s) and lecturer(s)?
My first love was always Drama. Janet Buckland was one of my favourite lecturers. She was just real, I loved that. I also really loved working on Activate, RMR, in the TV department and on CueTV. Our TV lecturer, Liesel, was hectically strict but it was good because, now that I’ve worked in TV, I can appreciate the work ethic she was trying to instill.
Did you have a role model, mentor figure or someone you looked up to when you were at Rhodes?
I was all about picking up skills and expertise from whoever was willing to share. I must admit, we totally idolised older students like Nicole Fox, Natalie Dixon, Unathi Nkayi, Siki Mgabadeli and Sherwin Bryce Pierce. To us, they were the mark to beat.
Do you remember much about Tri-Varsity? Did you participate?
I was not sporty at all but I did love painting my face purple and donning my Rhodent T-shirt in support. There were some very cute RU basketball players during our time so basketball matches were a huge social event.
What do you think of South Africa’s journalism and media industries?
We are the leaders of Africa’s media revolution and are at the cutting edge of some of the biggest communication technologies in the world – Mxit was started in SA for instance. Job prospects are great, actually, if you’re young, driven and talented – but because of the tough economic environment it’s become cowboy country, where the most successful people are the ones who make things happen for themselves. So if you’re about the cushy job with benefits, best you get into another field.
The South African Seventeen Magazine has recently been awarded for excellence in its field. How do you feel about having taken the publication so far in so short a time?
You know, honestly, being awarded any award within this first year of my editorship is more a tribute to the team that works on the mag and the former editor, Justine’s vision. When I took over last year, I never worried about what it would be like, what I could do differently or what needed to be fixed because the ground work had been done. My job now is to make sure that we fulfil the vision to take the magazine to the next level by growing our audience and making sure that our shareholders make some money.
What is your vision for young women in South Africa?
I’d like to see less teen pregnancy, fewer girls not educated, less talk about sugar daddies and men who drive BMW’s. I’d love to see fewer young women in abusive relationships and fewer of them selling themselves short by putting themselves in compromising sexual situations. I’d like to see them worrying less about what their dress size says about them and more about their health and how beautiful they actually are. Generally I’d just like to see more self-love, self-acceptance and self-respect. When that happens, I think more young women in SA will be able to get serious about being independent and owning their spaces.
Words of wisdom for all the aspiring journalists out there?
When life handed me lemons I learned to diversify and never stopped trying to accumulate skills. Oh, and I know they don’t teach this in JMS1 so I’ll share – start saving for a rainy day on your first pay cheque!