Cover story – Somizi Mhlongo on success
SOMIZI MHLONGO, 44, speaks candidly about second chances, living with an incurable illness and his newfound respect for money. Oh, and he’s found love...
Every era has its dominant mega superstar: a person with the X factor who enters the game and changes everything. These celebs are loved by young and old alike as their light and power are infectious. America has Beyoncé, while Britain is blessed with Adele. In South Africa, we have Somizi Mhlongo. He’s the star of our time. You switch on the radio, you hear his voice. On TV, adverts, online and at functions, he’s everywhere. Heck, if you attend a glamorous event like an awards ceremony, chances are SomGaga – as he’s fondly called by his fans – is the MC. It’s Somizi’s time. And wuuu shem, is he basking in the light. It’s 9am on a sunny midweek morning, and we’re at the posh Flames restaurant at the Four Seasons Hotel in Joburg for breakfast.
After beverages are served, we start reciting his multiple income sources: co-host of The Fresh Breakfast with DJ Fresh on Metro FM; judge on M-Net’s Idols SA; Fatti’s & Moni’s influencer; star of reality show Living the
Dream with Somizi, on DStv’s Mzansi Magic; creator of platinum-selling fitness DVD Grind with Somizi, co-host of
V-Entertainment on Vuzu Amp; ambassador for McCafé, DStv and the Department of Water and Sanitation; and in-demand choreographer and MC. And to top it all, his recently published biography, Dominoes: Unbreakable Spirit, is a best-seller. “Out of everything, I love the MC-ing the most,” says Somizi. “I throw myself onto crowds if I want to; I even sip on the audiences’ drinks – that’s how much fun I have at gigs.” >
And work isn’t the only thing that’s making the entertainer glow. He’s in love, and can’t hide it. Because Somizi is so famous, he’s cautious about who he lets into his life. He’s been burnt many times: some of the men he dated used him as a stepping stone to start their own careers in entertainment. So, he’s been single for a while. I try to find out who this mysterious man is. “We met in July at the exclusive Louis Vuitton and Moët & Chandon event, at which the top 20 customers in Joburg were invited for the launch of the new champagne,” he says.
Somizi happened to be the only celeb there. The pair had a quick chat and two days later, the yet-to-be named man found Somizi on social media, and so they began chatting via DM on Instagram. A date followed, and they’ve been hanging out ever since. He ticks all the requirements Somizi listed on his reality show. “He’s physically attractive and is business savvy and mature. And he isn’t in the entertainment industry. I saw him as I walked into the event and was curious about him. It’s obvious that we were both sussing each other out,” recalls Somizi. The TV star says respect, communication and honesty are the basic foundations of a successful relationship. And that’s all he’ll say about that.
Back to his jam-packed work schedule. In August, the entertainment powerhouse jetted off to Los Angeles to host the red carpet at the 2017 MTV Video Music Awards. As he prepared to leave, the industry was abuzz with his best-selling biography, Dominoes: Unbreakable
Spirit. Why did he feel fans needed the memoir? “I’m the chosen one and I can’t waste this platform. There are certain people you look at and they give you hope. American talk show host and comedian Ellen DeGeneres is that person for me. Her story is inspiring. I believe from the bottom of my heart that I’m not merely meant to just exist. Even though at some point in my life I was down and out, I knew there’d be a happy ending. That’s why I wrote the book. I wanted to change the mindset of people who were celebrating my downfall because through me, they now see God,” says the father of one. “It’s doing so well because people enjoy my truth.”
But Somizi’s human too. On Living The Dream With Somizi we saw him being treated for exhaustion as a result of his demanding schedule. “It’s too much right now. I went to see the station manager at Metro FM. I took off my glasses and asked her to have a good look at my tired face. I tried to move to a different time slot. She looked me in the eyes and said: ‘Somizi, never complain about having too many blessings because you prayed for them. There are people who’d do anything to have one of the jobs you have.’ It’s right there and then that I chose to keep quiet. So, I’m not complaining, but my body is. I have to be extra careful in terms of looking after myself.” Home is where the media personality finds solace. He lives alone, which is a bonus because he needs time to clear his head. “It’s beautiful when I’m alone. The minute I park my car and walk through the door, I’m like ‘hallelujah!’ because I’m always surrounded by people. Having quiet time is wonderful. Home is the place where it feels safest. I relax on the couch and watch a lot of TV so I can unwind.”
In his book, written by friend and seasoned journalist Lesley Mofokeng, Somizi refers to an inner voice that keeps him sane. “It speaks to me all the time. No matter how high I am on life, the voice is calming. I could be surrounded by celebs in a private lounge, or sky high in a private jet with alcohol flowing, the voice will always say: ‘Drink in moderation.’ There’ll be drugs and cocaine doing the rounds at a party, and the voice will ask: ‘You didn’t use them then, why are you doing it now?’”
As loved as Somizi is, last year he found himself at the receiving end of criticism. The media personality was paired with Khanyi Mbau and Ntombi Mzolo on a mid-morning show on Metro FM called Whose Show Is It Anyway? It was later taken off air because fans didn’t approve.
How did it feel not to be doing well, I ask. “That was the best biggest mistake of my life. But in hindsight, it prepared me for better things to come because now I’m on the biggest breakfast show in the country. Some people start at community radio stations, but my training happened at Metro FM.”
Although Somizi co-hosts the show with DJ Fresh, some listeners feel he doesn’t say a lot on-air. “It’s called contentment and slaying in your own lane. I am because Fresh is; I respect him so much. He’s the God of radio! So imagine me trying to compete against him? Whatever I do and say on the show is how it’s meant to be. I won’t listen to people on how I should behave. Plus, it doesn’t affect my pay cheque. I could say two words and it won’t change anything.”
In Dominoes, the star also opens up about living with a terminal disease. There’s an extract that reads: “My life was perfect in the eyes of everyone, but inside I was dying. How was I goingtodealwiththis;isthereacureforit?There’snocureforit.
“MY INNER VOICE SPEAKS TO ME ALL THE TIME. NO MATTER HOW HIGH I AM ON LIFE, THE VOICE IS SERENE.”
“IT’S MY TIME NOW! IF YOU BELIEVE IN YOURSELF, IT WILL DEFINITELY HAPPEN FOR YOU. I ALWAYS PREACH THAT CELEBS SHOULDN’T COMPETE FOR FAME.”
Do I take treatment and survive it, or am I going to die within six months? To this day, I haven’t had the courage or the need to say which one it is between cancer, HIV and diabetes.”
I wonder if the illness frightens him. “No. I even forget that I have it. It doesn’t weigh me down at all,” Somizi responds. “I’m not dying. With or without this illness I’d be able to go to heaven, and so it doesn’t take what’s important away from me. I’ve come out about it because I want to help someone also living with this and emphasise that it can be conquered. It takes your mindset, faith and the power of prayer to get you through it. Anyone who has any of these three illnesses must look at me, who was once frail, but managed to rise above it.”
The Flames restaurant is serene, which serves as the perfect environment to have this chat with SomGaga. He hasn’t taken off his larger-than-life sunglasses. He looks at me and says: “I’m not scared of death. I think it’s the most peaceful thing that can happen. I went for an operation for my teeth last year and that was the first time I experienced a medical operation. They gave me an anaesthetic to make me sleep. It was a great feeling to vanish for a little while and then wake up when they were done. I feel like death is permanent anaesthesia. If it was painful, then people would die with their faces distorted. But often times that’s not the case.”
He checks out the view of Joburg below us and carries on: “My life is so good – to the point that I tell God that I don’t want to die now, but if His plan for me is now, then that’s okay too. Everything else is a bonus in my life right now because it’s that great. I’m not scared of losing my fame either because I can look back at it and smile. I’m fortunate enough to get a second chance to secure my future.”
He isn’t lying; Somizi is truly living the dream. “I have multiple salaries that are guaranteed,” he continues. “I’m loving it. I’m excited to have full-time jobs because at some point, I only had one. Back then, I’d look at those with five or more jobs in awe. It’s my time now! If you believe in yourself, it will definitely happen for you; the secret is knowing that everyone has their time. There’s enough in the pie for everyone. I always preach that celebs shouldn’t compete for fame. Just because I have a dance and fitness DVD, it doesn’t mean no one else should have. Let’s have 10 of them at the same time! I love saying: ‘Slay in your lane.’ Usain Bolt runs in his own lane and if you touch him, you get disqualified. Life is like that too.”
Somizi isn’t shy to admit that he once lost it all – he had to give up his home, had his car repossessed and owed cellphone companies money all because he mismanaged his finances. He admits that going back to that difficult phase is the one thing that does frighten him, yet he’s happy because it keeps him on his toes and drives him to never get comfortable. “I used to have three cars until I downgraded. I sold the other two because I didn’t need them. It was a beautiful scene as the new owners came to collect them. I had an outer body experience as I remembered how, just a few years ago, I stood by the door as the bank repossessed my car. This time around, money was coming into my account. I’m so proud of myself. I don’t need to prove to anyone that I’ve made it.”
Mature and wiser, Somizi says he doesn’t deprive himself of the good life but unlike in the past, he’s more cautious. When out with friends, whereas the old Somizi would offer to foot the bill, now he splits it equally among them. “I buy everything cash now. I don’t know if I’m still blacklisted or not, but it doesn’t affect me. Using a credit card is more dangerous than having a debit card. Choosing an expensive car versus buying a house is also dangerous. It’s a pity that you learn all these things when you’re older.”
On raising his daughter, Bahumi, during those tough times, Somizi credits the 21-year-old’s mom Palesa Madisakwane, who stepped in and took care of her. The pair have a healthy co-parenting partnership. Somizi says he’s the strict parent. “I don’t worry about what she reads about me in the papers because she’s 10 times more spiritual than me.”
Somizi can’t help but boast about how talented his daughter is. “She’s meant for showbiz. Funnily enough, I haven’t contributed a single percent in her career. I could help to fast-track her trajectory, but I believe the ones who really make it are those who actually work hard for it. I didn’t use my parents’ names either.”
At 44, Somizi is living his best life. He still wants to travel the world, own more properties and just enjoy his money. He says the interview can’t end without him appreciating his manager, Thato Matuka. Did he’d be this successful?
“I knew I was going to be big, but not this big. My respect for God is on another level. I wish I could stand on a mountain and really be the testimony that God is indeed alive. It gets to a point where one day I wouldn’t be shocked if I became a preacher to speak about my testimonies. As I say in my book, my spirit is unbreakable – it fights back for me.”