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...

True Love - - News - By PHILA TYEKANA Pho­to­graphs NICK BOULTON

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.”

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