Cut from the same cloth
… is more than just a reference to the Lara Klawikowski pieces worn by cover stars Unathi Nkayi and Roxy Burger, in the image to the right. It also speaks to the fabric of who these two women are with regards to the importance they place on balancing work
Featuring Unathi Nkayi and Roxy Burger
“Inote the obvious differences,” is the opening line of the poem ‘Human Family’ by the late author and activist Maya Angelou, which culminates in the words, “We are more alike, my friends, than we are unalike.” As we navigate through a society that was constructed on patriarchal ideologies, those words couldn’t ring truer for the 21st-century woman. During the process of retelling the stories of Unathi Nkayi, 40, a musician and judge on MNET’S Idols SA, and Roxy Burger, 32, who hosts E! Entertainment’s How Do I Look? SA, it became apparent that these two have a lot more in common than one might expect, and by virtue of this, they perfectly personify Maya Angelou’s words. “Wow, I can’t even imagine having an eight-month-old right now,” Unathi tells Roxy while makeup artist Caroline Greeff blends her foundation. Five am is the call time for the shoot, which is taking place at Sunshine Studios in Joburg, and both women have arrived full of energy as the conversation takes a turn to a role that they place the upmost importance on: motherhood. Roxy, who less than a year ago gave birth to a baby girl, Adrienne, explains the difficulties she’s had trying to consolidate being responsible for an innocent life and the reality of the society we live in, where rape and murder of women prevail. “To be completely honest, since the birth of my daughter, news like that absolutely terrifies me,” she says. She admits to having always suffered with anxiety, but the fear she feels when she hears these stories is nothing short of horrific. “I had to seek out professional help in order to cope with my anxious thoughts and I would encourage anyone who feels this way to do the same,” she adds. Unathi has been in the parenting game a lot longer with her two children Sinako, 13, and Imbo, seven – she, too, understands the importance of being protective over your kids, although she’s resigned herself to the task of preparing her children for the world rather than shielding them from it. “That’s the role of a parent,” she says. ➻
“the way I treat my kids is very deliberate. I’m aware that they don’t necessarily listen to what we say, but copy what we do. That’s one of the reasons why I’m so driven and focused when it comes to my work. I want to lead my kids by example and instil in them the work ethic I have,” Unathi says. A multidisciplinary media powerhouse, she transitioned seamlessly from radio to TV, all while sustaining a career as a recording artist. She comes across personable and relatable, and is suited more to the sister-you-never-had category, rather than the aloof and mysterious figure that has become synonymous with celebrity. This is one of the qualities that has endeared her to the nation.
Juggling multiple jobs may be a tough ask, but it’s worth it for Unathi, who says the rewards by far outweigh the sacrifice. “I love that my jobs speak to different parts of me that want to be heard and celebrated,” she says. “My talk show, Show Me Love, allows me to be amongst women and discuss things that we ordinarily wouldn’t on a normal platform. I’m on a panel with three other broadcasters who are incredible at what they do, and I get to speak to women about women – it’s so fulfilling. On Idols SA, I get to experience music and people, the two things that I love so much. I get to watch human beings evolve right in front of me and be a part of making their dreams come true. As for music, that’s my greatest passion. It gives me the opportunity to express myself sonically, as well as visually when I have to create my stage performances and music videos.” With a career that spans nearly two decades, Unathi has managed to create longevity in an industry that’s known to give people 15 minutes and then toss them to the side for the next best thing.
It wasn’t an easy journey, however, for the Grahamstown native, who credits the hurdles she had to overcome earlier in her life for making her wilful and resilient. “I grew up as a loner. Six months after I was born, my family moved to Namibia for four years, and then Cardiff, Wales, for another eight years. So for the first 12 years of my life I grew up out of SA, and by the time we came back, I was different from everyone else. There I was, a Xhosa girl who couldn’t speak her mother tongue yet spoke English better than the white people in her school. Where my friends would be playing netball, I would be on the hockey field. Those experiences, combined with the way my parents raised me, really taught me to love myself and be comfortable with who I am as an individual. That stayed with me throughout my career, in the sense that I never compared myself, or allowed myself to be compared, to anyone else. I stayed on my own path and never let what others were doing distract me.”
Unathi explains how she has been passing these lessons along to other women she mentors. “You know, I always tell my sisters in the industry, ‘It’s not about being the It-girl, don’t let anyone call you that, because that’s a temporary position and someone else will eventually steal your spot,’” she says. As so many other self-made women will attest to, her rise has not been without detractors and attempts to pull her down, but the songstress developed a thick skin. She laughs as she quotes a line her mother would always recite to her, “Mtan’am, even Jesus Christ was hated, so who are you in the bigger scheme of things?” Recently, a publication printed a story claiming that Unathi’s marriage ended in divorce because she committed adultery, she is not taking this lying down. “We’ll be in court next June because of that,” she says.” My personal life is non-negotiable. I take lies and defamation of character very seriously.”
She’s tenacious and fierce, and it comes across in the conviction with which she speaks. But, at the same time, she’s warm and down to earth. This side was highlighted on set as she refused to let Glamour’s editor-in-chief, Asanda Sizani, tape the bottom of the Charles & Keith shoes she’s pictured in on the left, and insisted on doing it herself. Her desire to be an aid and an inspiration to others comes across in her latest album, Brave, True and Strong, where she touches on various topics, including the inner battle of being a working mom and the power of prayer. Her fitness journey, which she has been documenting on social media, has also been a means for her to encourage others to take better care of themselves. “We’re all so young, why do people give up on their bodies?” she questions. “I recently met a 19-year-old struggling and crying because of her weight,” she says. For Unathi, cutting out bread made the most significant difference, particularly around her mid-section. “I always say, ‘Don’t look at the final phase. Because that might be too much pressure; it’s about taking it one day at a time.’ I know I’m living on borrowed time, and I know I’ve got to make the most of what I have and live life to the best of my abilities.” ➻
“don’t emulate anyone’s success. You need to run your own race and make your own way. Your destiny is unique in that it’s yours! Stay true to who you are and the success will come,” says Roxy. Despite having only entered her 30s, she has been on our screens for what seems like a lifetime. Witty, bold and full of enthusiasm, her voice is immediately recognisable to late ’80s and early ’90s kids all over the country. From children’s programming to reality TV, radio production and now E! Entertainment’s How Do I Look? South Africa, Roxy has been diligently working hard, diversifying her TV portfolio and interviewing just about every recognisable name on the planet, including former president Thabo Mbeki.
Roxy’s work ethic is something she acquired from an early age. “From the second I stepped foot on set, I knew that this was something I wanted to do. I was an avid fan of The Power Edition, which played on Saturday mornings, I even started nagging my mom about wanting to be on KTV. I eventually looked up MNET’S phone number and called them. They advised that I get an agent and start the audition circuit. My very first agent, Deirdre Smerczak, was an incredible mentor and I owe my success, in part, to her,” she says. Another influential female figure in Roxy’s life and career is, of course, her mom. “I know it’s clichéd to say, but I owe my mother everything. I would drag her to endless auditions and not once did she ever complain about it. She wiped my tears when I didn’t get a gig after being shortlisted, and celebrated with me when I achieved my goals and dreams,” she says. “She’s my biggest supporter, and I hope I can do the same for my daughter one day, whatever career path she decides to take.”
Though it may seem like once you get a foot in the door, it becomes easier to establish yourself in the industry, for Roxy, who started out as a pre-teen, it proved a difficult task for her to be taken seriously as she grew up. “Transitioning from a kid’s presenter to an adult was one of the most difficult obstacles I had to face,” she explains. “Producers didn’t take me seriously, plus I looked incredibly young for the longest time and people only saw KTV when they looked at me.” She laments about the terrible advice she was given to fix this problem: “I was told to go model in a bikini for a men’s magazine to shake off my juvenile image, but it was so not me! I’m glad I stopped listening to others and started doing what I felt was right for the path I was on.”
The suggestion that the only way a young woman can be taken seriously is if she takes off her clothes is a sexist ideology, and not the only one Roxy encountered in her career. “Good old misogyny still prevails. I’ve felt the prick of the gender pay gap,” she explains. “I mistakenly found out that my co-host on a show I was working on was earning nearly double my rate, yet we were spending the same amount of time on set and had the same amount of screen time. Actually, I had way more experience than he did.” She acknowledges that women are now shattering these imposed glass ceilings and she aims to shut down some of her own stereotypes. “There’s this rhetoric that life ends when you become a mom, which is not true. You don’t become less employable, less sexy or less interesting. This notion is ridiculous. We’re raising the next generation of awesomeness, please don’t get in our way,” she says.
Roxy isn’t about to slow down now, as her work has become an important part of who she is. “My job allows me to feel creatively fulfilled, and that’s a beautiful thing,” she says. “It nourishes that insatiable need to constantly create. Whether it’s through presenting, writing for my blog (roxyburger.co.za) or creating a digital strategy, it’s this constant churning out of ideas and collaboration with like-minded people that makes it really special.”
With the November issue’s aim to bring different women together in order to share stories and experiences for growth, Roxy acknowledges the power of sisterhood. “It’s about crying on each other’s shoulders, celebrating each other’s triumphs and forgiveness. It’s about growing apart and growing together, and all the little moments in between. It’s a life shared.”