CityPress - - Front Page - BIÉNNE HUIS­MAN bi­enne.huis­man@city­

It hasn’t been all moon­shine and roses, but to­day Sanele Xaba is com­fort­able in his own skin, push­ing beauty bound­aries with the world at his feet. His mother, Sithem­bisile Xaba, and father, the now late Peter Koop­man, split soon af­ter his birth in Dur­ban in Novem­ber 1994. When Sithem­bisile left the hos­pi­tal, his rel­a­tives asked whether she had taken the wrong baby – as her in­fant’s skin and hair were as pale as milk.

Sithem­bisile as­sured them he was the right one and, as a sin­gle mother em­ployed as a med­i­cal tech­nol­o­gist, she went on to raise her son to never doubt him­self.

“My mother was a Zulu woman and my dad coloured. Ap­par­ently on my dad’s side, my great-great-grand­fa­ther had al­binism,” says Xaba, speak­ing to City Press be­tween re­hearsals on Thurs­day for SA Menswear Week at the Cape Town Sta­dium.

Xaba took to cat­walks this week to show­case fash­ion by nine lo­cal de­sign­ers. He worked for ev­ery­one from in­dus­try vet­eran Amanda Laird Cherry to ris­ing star Mo’ko Elosa over the four days.

Xaba fol­lows in the foot­steps of Re­filwe Modis­elle from Soweto, who be­came South Africa’s first run­way model with al­binism when she ap­peared for de­signer David Tlale in 2005.

She was fol­lowed by the porce­lain-skinned Thando Hopa from Le­na­sia South. Hopa has been a state pros­e­cu­tor and fash­ion brand am­bas­sador for de­signer Gert-Jo­han Coetzee since 2012.

Xaba, Modis­elle and Hopa have used fash­ion as their plat­form to cre­ate aware­ness around their ge­netic con­di­tion – a lack of pig­men­ta­tion af­fect­ing the eyes, hair and skin – which, in Africa, has been known to lead to dis­crim­i­na­tion and even be­ing mur­dered.

Xaba was one of a few black pupils at Dur­ban’s Open Air School, and cer­tainly the school’s only “un­der­cover black”, as he puts it. Those chal­lenges aside, he be­came head boy in ma­tric.

He does not re­fer to him­self as “an al­bino”, he says. At 21 years of age, he de­fines him­self as a black man, but his jour­ney to self­ac­cep­tance was long. He con­tem­plated sui­cide in his early teens.

“When I reached pu­berty, I was ter­ri­bly in­se­cure; I had so many ques­tions for my mum, like: ‘Why is my hair dif­fer­ent?’ and ‘What’s up with my skin?’

“Peo­ple would turn around and stare. I mean, they would ac­tu­ally trip. I got an­gry, even though I knew th­ese peo­ple lacked education.

“At the time, I thought: I don’t want to be dif­fer­ent; I don’t want to put on sun­screen ev­ery day!”

This changed when he was scouted by a Dur­ban modelling agency at the age of 15.

“Modelling helped me to boost my hum­ble con­fi­dence. I got to ac­cept my­self.”

Now he wants to use his pro­fes­sion to help nor­malise what the main­stream con­sid­ers “dif­fer­ent”.

“I don’t want peo­ple tagged as ‘dif­fer­ent’ to feel the need to iso­late them­selves to be ac­cepted,” he says.

Mean­while, Xaba is pop­u­lar in fash­ion cir­cles, says Jen Deiner, head pro­ducer for Group of Cre­atives, the or­gan­is­ers of SA Menswear Week.

“The de­sign­ers love Sanele. His look works well across aes­thet­ics. He has a strong ca­reer. He is a busy young­ster go­ing places. He is also just a re­ally sweet guy,” she adds.

The sweet guy with a ready laugh is also sin­gle. His first and only love, Keri-Leigh Hope, a fel­low model and jour­nal­ism stu­dent at the Dur­ban Univer­sity of Tech­nol­ogy, com­mit­ted sui­cide in 2014.

He pulls up his slen­der shoul­ders. “Af­ter that, there were a few en­coun­ters with women, but I al­ways get dumped be­cause I work too hard. I am proud of that, ac­tu­ally.”

In Au­gust last year, he moved to Wood­stock, Cape Town, where he is now signed with top agency Boss Mod­els.

Off the planks, he has a nine-to-five of­fice job at fi­nan­cial ser­vices group San­lam, where he was re­cently em­ployed on con­tract fol­low­ing an in­tern­ship. When he gets home at night, he burns the mid­night oil study­ing to­wards a BCom law de­gree through Unisa.

“Ja, I have no time to slack off,” he says. “I am also very picky about who I spend my time with: peo­ple who are gen­uine and im­pact my life pos­i­tively.” His plans for the fu­ture? He has pos­si­ble modelling gigs lined up in Ber­muda, New York and Lon­don.

He hopes to open his own agency in Dur­ban spe­cial­is­ing in “mod­els with unique looks and colours” by the time he is 30.


Sanele Xaba (cen­tre) was one of the mod­els sport­ing vi­brant cre­ations by Jo­han­nes­burg-based de­signer Tzvi Karp at the se­cond in­stal­ment of SA Menswear Week, which was held at Cape Town Sta­dium


GO­ING PLACES Male model Sanele Xaba (cen­tre) at SA Menswear Fash­ion week wear­ing de­signs by Tzvi Karp. The fash­ion ex­trav­a­ganza took place at the Cape Town Sta­dium this week

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