Tumi Morake shares lit­tle wis­doms in her new book

Come­di­enne, TV pre­sen­ter and now au­thor, Tumi Morake shares mem­o­ries and her mom’s life lessons in her first book


SHE’S al­ways been re­mark­ably gifted – she made it big as a come­di­enne, rode the air­waves as a ra­dio host and turned to TV where she be­came a sought-af­ter pre­sen­ter and ac­tress. Now multi-tal­ented Tumi Morake (36) can add au­thor to her long list of achieve­ments. Her first book, And Then Mama Said . . . , is a col­lec­tion of mem­o­ries in­spired by her mother, Te­bogo.

Ini­tially she was ex­cited about shar­ing her mem­o­ries with fans, Tumi tells DRUM. But dur­ing the writ­ing process she be­came ner­vous about hav­ing to re­visit old wounds.

“It was an emo­tional jour­ney hav­ing to re­mem­ber some ex­pe­ri­ences, but it was also very ther­a­peu­tic,” she says.

It wasn’t easy to re­live the race row at Jacaranda FM, the Jaguar car crash and be­ing body-shamed while she was pre­sent­ing Our Per­fect Wed­ding – but Tumi buck­led down and put pen to pa­per.

“I wrote most of the book at my in­laws’ house, away from my play­ful kids,” says Tumi, who shares Bonsu (9), Lesedi (6) and Althea (4) with her co­me­dian and ac­tor hus­band, Mpho Osei-Tutu (36).

“I was given from Novem­ber last year un­til March this year to fin­ish writ­ing, but I wrote most of it in the last month in a panic be­cause a lot hap­pened that in­ter­rupted my writ­ing.”

In June Tumi’s life was up­ended af­ter her younger sis­ter, Vo­nani (28), was bru­tally at­tacked in a do­mes­tic vi­o­lence in­ cident. “I am in the East Rand at a hospi­tal as my sis­ter is be­ing treated for burn wounds af­ter hav­ing her head pounded and thrown on the floor in front of her tod­dlers,” Tumi tweeted at the time.

“I love her. My heart is bleed­ing. I won’t call men trash, but my God you can do bet­ter men.”

Deeply pained by the in­ci­dent, Tumi took time off from writ­ing to sup­port Vo­nani. “Luck­ily my sis­ter was able to get out of that abu­sive re­la­tion­ship. It’s not easy for many vic­tims of abuse to leave. That’s when the real heal­ing be­gins – when you leave.”

Vo­nani is do­ing much bet­ter now but Tumi still feels guilty she wasn’t there to pro­tect her baby sis­ter. “My heart sinks ev­ery time I think about it,” she says. “I blamed my­self for not see­ing the signs.” The vi­o­lent at­tack made her ques­tion her re­la­tion­ship with her sis­ter. “I asked my­self, had I not made her com­fort­able enough to feel like she could talk to me about any­thing? But I’ve learnt it’s not about me,” Tumi adds. She’s learnt a lot over the years, some of which she shares in her book. “My pri­vate and pub­lic per­sonas are mod­elled around my mom who was funny and charm­ing. When she spoke you wanted to lis­ten,” she says of Te­bogo, who passed away in 2011 af­ter con­tract­ing pneu­mo­nia fol­low­ing a long ill­ness. “Ev­ery chap­ter has at least one phrase that my mom used to say to keep me mo­ti­vated.” We look at some of Tumi’s life stages as recorded in the book, and the lessons learnt along the way.

‘ It’s tal­ent and hard work that make one suc­cess­ful’


Mama used to say she would hap­pily live on bread and wa­ter as long as Vo­nani and I were ed­u­cated. I wanted to be that: Mama’s grad­u­ate daugh­ter of whom she could be proud.

In Jan­uary I re­ceived a let­ter from Wits. I had to travel to Jo­han­nes­burg to write an en­trance exam to be ad­mit­ted for first year [ for a BA de­gree in dra­matic arts].

Be­fore, Mama had man­aged to get me to Jo­han­nes­burg but this time I was on my own. I ar­rived at Park Sta­tion in down­town Jo­han­nes­burg and had to fig­ure out my way to Wits from there.

I was just a small-town girl try­ing to make her way to a uni­ver­sity. Park Sta­tion is where God showed me that I have never walked alone, and never will. As I made my way out of the bus ter­mi­nal with much trep­i­da­tion, I bumped into Kwaku, a for­mer se­nior from high school.

We walked to the cam­pus to­gether, and he lit­er­ally stayed with me un­til I was set­tled in my res­i­dence.

Mama’s les­son: “She taught us the im­por­tance of com­mu­nity – whether you’re a se­cu­rity guard, cleaner, doc­tor or a min­is­ter, we’re cut from the same fab­ric. Hu­mil­ity is ev­ery­thing.”


I loved the open­ness and hon­esty of drama school. Be­ing in drama school felt like a call­ing, and I be­gan to find free­dom in my own truth.

I’d had a brief sex­ual en­counter with a girl in high school, and for the first time I was un­afraid to share the story and speak to les­bians about what it meant to them to nav­i­gate this world as openly gay. I had never been around “out” les­bians be­fore.

That kind of ac­cep­tance meant a lot to me. I had spent so much of my life try­ing to fit in, with fam­ily, at school, in so­ci­ety, and here I was in a space that en­cour­aged oth­er­ness and free­dom.

Mama’s les­son: “We need to stop box­ing peo­ple and al­low them to go through phases un­til they know their true selves.”


It was a night­mare to try to fit in any­where in the en­ter­tain­ment in­dus­try. My ac­cent was too black or not black enough. I was not fat enough to be Mama Themba, but not thin enough to be Thembi. And my favourite: not town- ship enough, but then again, too ru­ral.

I stopped try­ing. Who­ever wanted what I was of­fer­ing would have to come and get it. The big dif­fer­ence, I found, is that at drama school we were not a group of in­se­cure peo­ple with some­thing to lose.

Mama’s les­son: “Noth­ing is guar­an­teed, and I didn’t want to miss any op­por­tu­nity.”


If com­edy thrived on so­ci­ety’s dark cor­ners and grey ar­eas, then it could be a chan­nel for de­mys­ti­fy­ing the very taboos that feed op­pres­sive sys­tems. I de­cided to write a stand-up spe­cial based purely on men­stru­a­tion.

The piece would need to chal­lenge, to speak back. It also had to be funny, oth­er­wise it would just be a mono­logue. I iden­ti­fied my po­lit­i­cal po­si­tion as a black fe­male come­di­enne over the months that I worked on this project. Whether I do it con­sciously or not, my iden­tity politi­cises my com­edy.

Mama’s les­son: “It’s tal­ent and hard work that make one suc­cess­ful.”


I was get­ting in­creas­ingly com­fort­able and mak­ing the show [OPW] my own. How­ever, the feed­back I got from the peo­ple who had hired me made me won­der if I was miss­ing some­thing. I did not get fat on the show, I had ar­rived fat.

I chose to fo­cus on fine-tun­ing my pre­sent­ing skills. Most of the au­di­ence was al­ready en­joy­ing my cheeky sense of hu­mour and my re­lata­bil­ity. But I was not notic­ing enough fat-sham­ing on­line to make me think my body was a cri­sis for the pro­duc­tion com­pany.

Mama’s les­son: “I lost weight be­cause I fell ill – my doc­tor told me I was on the brink of hav­ing heart fail­ure. It wasn’t be­cause I was afraid of what peo­ple would say.”


RIGHT: Tumi is proud to re­lease her first book, in­spired by her late mom, Te­bogo (BE­LOW). She wrote it be­tween Novem­ber last year and March, dur­ing some of the most try­ing times of her life.

ABOVE: With her sis­ters, who she calls her “ride or dies”. BE­LOW: Tumi with hubby Mpho Osei-Tutu and their kids (from left), Althea, Lesedi and Bonsu.

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