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

Glamour (South Africa) - - Contents - Words by YOLISA MJAMBA

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 (rox­y­ 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.”

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